Vice Presidential Severance
According to CNN, Dick Cheney tendered his resignation on Day One:
For the entire time Cheney was vice president, he had a secret letter of resignation pending. He wrote this letter because he saw a gap in the U.S. Constitution. If a vice president is alive but incapacitated, there’s nothing in the Constitution that allows for that person’s removal. Worried that he might find himself in that position, he created the unprecedented letter.
Cheney said he gave the letter to his counsel, David Addington, with instruction that it was to be delivered to President George W. Bush if Cheney were to become incapacitated.
Come to think of it, it is a bit surprising that wasn’t included with the 25th Amendment. Doug Mataconis says this was probably because it was seen as unnecessary, but I’m not so sure. While the Vice Presidency isn’t what it is now, when the Amendment was passed in 1967 the sitting president was one who ascended from the vice presidency. One who was, for that matter, not exactly a pillar of good health himself. It would have been relatively easy to include the VP.
The 25th Amendment states, among other things, that a president can be declared incapacitated with a majority of his cabinet. That makes things with the Vice President a little bit different because unlike the President, it’s not his cabinet and therefore has no specific loyalty to him. But there are safeguards in place to prevent a cabinet from hijacking the presidency (second season of 24 notwithstanding) and they would work just as well with the vice president.
It could make for an interesting TV show episode, anyway.
The vice presidency is a funny job. It is second to the president, but does not report to him in an official capacity. He cannot be fired for insubordination. He can be dumped when it comes to re-election time, though that assumes that the president is eligible to run for re-election (and the non-existence of a few very, very implausible scenarios). Beyond that, he can basically send the vice president home. Which may leave the vice president cooling his heels in Wyoming, Delaware, or an apartment in DC, but doing so as The Vice President of the United States.
I bring this up because I wonder if Cheney’s letter actually could become something that presidents demand of their vice presidential picks. I don’t know the legalities involved, but would if Barack Obama had said “Senator Biden, if you want to be my vice president, I want to have a letter in my hand with your resignation if everything goes sideways.”
It’s a tradition with cabinets that they submit their resignation at the end of the first term even if they know their resignation will not be accepted. It would be easy to imagine that with the vice president, where the resignation actually matters.
On the other hand, that would probably be a solution in search of a problem. The only time in recent memory a president wanted a vice president gone before the term was up, the vice president dutifully resigned. On the other hand, can you imagine a spat like Pataki-McCaughey on the national level?
Now that would make for an interesting TV show episode.