Kamala Harris, the black woman of Asian descent who has made history by becoming the first woman to become the United State’s vice president, will take on immense responsibility in January next year as the country’s second highest office bearer.
A leading academic and writer on the American vice presidency has said under the traditional arrangement of the vice presidency in the US, the Constitution would give her two major roles and other new roles that have evolved with time.
“The vice president is the president of the Senate and has a tie-breaking vote when the Senate is tied,” said Joel Goldstein.
“And the vice president stands first in line of presidential succession. The vice president’s principal function and purpose is to provide high-level assistance to help make a presidency succeed.”
Goldstein is an analyst best known for his work on the vice presidency.
He is a scholar of the vice presidency, presidency, and constitutional law, having written widely in these all three areas.
Goldstein was speaking at a briefing of international journalists on the role of a vice president during the course of the US elections whose result made Joe Biden, the new president of the world biggest economy, and his running mate, Harris, the vice president.
Goldstein said the role of a VP in America is one that has developed in recent decades, as it was not always that way, but has been more of the development of an evolutionary pattern that has taken place in American public life.
“Then third, that I think that the vice presidency; while it can be looked at as an office in and of itself, and a story in and of itself; it also is an example of the way in which American political and governmental institutions can evolve, and take on roles that are more consequential and different than what was perhaps initially intended,” he said.
Goldstein said the VP office has developed not because of the successor role, but in it trying to make the president in office successful.
“But looking at the successor role, it does remain a constitutional role of the vice president, and an important one. If you consider the fact that we’ve had 45 presidents; nine of those 45 presidents, or 20 percent of them; were vice presidents who became president when their predecessor died, in eight cases. Or in one case, when President Nixon resigned and was replaced by Vice President Ford,” he said.
The analyst added that the US has had 16 instances, either due to presidential succession or to a vice presidential death or resignation, where the vice president had been vacant.
“The 25th Amendment reflected a belief that the vice presidency was the best means of filling a presidential vacancy. Section Three deals with presidential inability and allows the president to; in a situation where the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his or her office; the president can transfer power to the vice president,” Goldstein noted.
The vice president remains as vice president, but functions as the acting president up until the time that the president determines that he or she is ready to resume presidential powers and duties.
“And then may do so simply by transmitting a letter to that effect to the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate. Section Four of the 25th Amendment deals with the situation in which a president is unwilling or unable to declare his or her own inability to discharge the powers and duties of the presidency.
“In that case Section Four provides a means whereby the vice president, and a majority of the president’s Cabinet, by sending a letter to the Speaker of the House and the President pro team of the Senate, can transfer power to the vice president,” Goldstein said.
“Again, the transfer is temporary. The president can resume power when the president’s ability to discharge the powers and duties of the office return. But there’s a series of checks and balances that are built into Section Four, to guard against the situation that the president returns before he or she is ready to do so.”
In addition to the constitutional role that the vice president has, Goldstein said the vice presidency has become an important part of the presidency.
Harris first made history when Biden appointed her as his running mate in August making her the first woman of colour to be appointed to a presidential ticket, something that had not been done by either of the country’s two main American political parties – the Republican and Democrats.
No woman has also won the US presidency either but Harris makes that record, as vice president in the White House.
Once news networks projected Biden as winner, Harris, herself a former rival for the presidency, tweeted a statement and video saying. “This election is about so much more than Joe Biden or me. It’s about the soul of America and our willingness to fight for it. We have a lot of work ahead of us. Let’s get started.”
The California senator of Indian-Jamaican heritage, said although she may be the first female vice-president, she would not be the last as girls now could see the possibilities.
“Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities,” Harris said.
“And to the children of our country: regardless of your gender, your country has sent you a clear message. Dream with ambition. Lead with conviction and see yourselves in a way that others may not simply because they’ve never seen it before.”
Harris’s mother was born in India and among the world leaders who have congratulated her are India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi.
Harris praised her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, who went to the US from India at the age of 19 and also paid tribute to other women who fought to break the glass ceiling.
If Harris would go on and become president, she would be the first female president, and the second biracial president in American history after Barack Obama.