Some in the media would have you believe that Gov. Sarah Palin has no idea the job duties of the position she is running for. In order to highlight this supposed deficit, they focus on a satirical video that was taken quite a while ago, but when that didn’t work, they decided to focus on a recent question and answer session.
Q: Brandon Garcia wants to know, “What does the Vice President do?”
PALIN: That’s something that Piper would ask me! … [T]hey’re in charge of the U.S. Senate so if they want to they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom. [Emphasis Original]
This article then goes on to make fun of this answer citing the U.S. Constitution’s Article I. Good tactic. The problem is that there’s a bit of contortion going on with this line of attack—about as much as is going on Gov. Palin’s answer.
President of the Senate
The crux of the argument on both sides has nothing to do with casting a tie breaking vote, and all to do with the phrase “President of the Senate.” The article I quoted would have you believe that this is a formality, and casts it aside in order to bash Gov. Palin’s comment.
Moreover, the U.S. Senate website explains that the modern role of Vice Presidents has been to preside over the Senate “only on ceremonial occasions.”
But that doesn’t refute the fact that the Vice President is “President of the Senate.” Whenever Vice President Cheney shows up to the Senate floor, he is in charge.
Now, that doesn’t mean that he makes policy, and here’s where Gov. Palin’s response is weak. The President of the Senate’s job is not unlike the moderator at some of your church business meetings or other groups where the moderator’s job is to keep business moving. And just like that church group, the moderator does not have a vote unless you gave them a vote.
So, is that power?
Yes and no. Since the President of the Senate is the moderator, it is the moderator’s job to control the flow of the motions, etc. I’m not sure what would happen if Vice President Cheney were to be there every day, because when he’s not…
The President pro tem also serves in this role in the Vice President’s absence, or if the Vice President assumes the office of President of the United States. In practice, freshman senators are traditionally assigned the role of presiding over the Senate in order to learn Senate procedure.
So whatever power or influence is gained by being the “President of the Senate” is admittedly small.
But that really isn’t what she said
Though you could take this to mean that she thought she could actually be a part of legislation, as this liberal media group did, that’s not what she said. Read it again:
[T]hey’re in charge of the U.S. Senate so if they want to they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom. [Emphasis Original]
Is the Vice President in charge of the U.S. Senate by virtue of being “President of the Senate”? Yes. Same as the Pastor is in charge of the business meeting, or the moderator is in charge of your civics club. They are in charge of the meeting, not necessarily the contents and the motions that are made.
Can the Vice President “really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes”? I don’t know of any Administration that has not used the Vice President’s office to lobby senators and congressmen on different bills. And yes, if she were to become President of the Senate, though she didn’t have a vote she could attempt to be more present in the Senate and use her dual position to talk to Senators about the President’s goals. It’d be silly to presume she wouldn’t.
I guess it really all depends on if you’re looking for a “gotcha” or not. And in this case—if the answer was meant to be literal—this is a weak one at best.