Exclusive: Biden Plans to Limit Role of Vice President

Dialing back his predecessor’s expansive view of the office, Vice President-elect Biden plans on “restoring the Office of the Vice President to its historical role” as adviser to the president and tie-breaker in the Senate, an aide to Biden said Saturday.

The declaration results from an attention-getting article coming from the Las Vegas Sun, which is reporting Sunday in a story by Washington Bureau reporter Lisa Mascaro that the new Congress “will reassert its constitutional independence from the White House by barring the vice president from joining in internal Senate deliberations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in an interview with the Sun.”

“The move is intended to restore checks and balances to a system that tilted heavily toward the White House in the Bush presidency,” Mascaro writes. “By giving Vice President Dick Cheney regular access to Senate Republican caucuses, at times with White House advisers in tow, party unity became more important to many Republicans than upholding their responsibilities to provide legislative oversight of the executive, experts say.”

The paper says that when Reid was asked whether Biden will be allowed to attend Senate Democratic caucus meetings, Reid said: “Absolutely not..”

Elizabeth Alexander, spokesperson for the Vice President-elect, e-mailed in response: "Vice President-elect Biden had no intention of continuing the practice started by Vice President Cheney of regularly attending internal legislative branch meetings — he firmly believes in restoring the Office of the Vice President to its historical role. He and Senator Reid see eye to eye on this.”

Cheney has vastly enlarged the office’s power, even claiming at one point that it had a special status beyond both the executive and legislative branches, by virtue of the role of president of the Senate. That’s a largely ceremonial function, except in the case of breaking ties.

Biden articulated his view of the office in St. Louis in early October, during his vice presidential debate with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Asked about the incumbent’s interpretation of the vice presidency, Biden said: “Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history. The idea he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.”

“The primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote,” Biden said., “The Constitution is explicit. The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress. The idea he's part of the Legislative Branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive and look where it has gotten us. It has been very dangerous.”

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