Ben Buchwalter

Obama Will Set VP’s Role, Biden is not Cheney
December 22, 2008, 4:58 pm
Filed under: General Politics | Tags: , ,

Josh Marshall of TPM wrote today that the Joe Biden model of the Vice Presidency could be closer to the Dick Cheney model than we might hope. It’s an interesting argument based largely on the fact that Joe Biden is old enough that he would likely not run for President in 2016 (he would be 74) and therefore does not have to weigh the politics of extensive VP involvement, just as Cheney did not. 

Vice President Cheney’s clout within the Bush administration is heavily tied to the fact that the he early — and quite credibly because of his medical history — disavowed any plans to seek the presidency in his own right. We’re in the midst of a four decade trend toward more and more powerful and influential vice-presidents (in the sense of clout not constitutional prerogative). But the big brake on the veep’s role in decision-making has always been the fact that everyone else who wants to be president someday has a strong interest in keeping his power in check.

But I think that Biden will only have as much power as President-elect Obama allows. The Obama machine has been incredibly well oiled since it began more than two years ago and I don’t think this will change after Obama is inaugurated. From what I can tell, Cheney was so involved in the Bush presidency because Bush wanted and needed that. He simply did not have the knowledge and political ability to do it by himself.

But despite his inexperience, Obama is a competent leader and skilled politician. I don’t see Biden making a play for extensive powers without Obama squashing it. But if Obama wants an involved VP, then it will happen.

There are a few areas in which Obama could use the Vice President’s help. First, there is foreign policy, Biden’s strong suit. As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, the choice of Biden as VP was a clear sign that Obama would look to his running mate for support on issues of national security and international diplomacy. But some early Obama cabinet picks shows that he would also look elsewhere for help. This was especially apparent in his choice for Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, another high profile foreign relations authority.

It’s still early to predict what Biden’s role will be in the White House. But I predict that Obama will set the tone for that role and Biden, whether he wants to or not, will have to obey.



NYTimes on VPs

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