Would Palin Be "In Charge" Of The Senate?

Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin has been criticized for her response Monday to a question from a third grader concerning the role of the vice president.

"A vice president has a really great job because not only are they there to support the president's agenda, they're there like the team member, the teammate to the president," Palin said. "But also, they're in charge of the United States 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. And it's a great job and I look forward to having that job."

Palin's claim that the vice president is "in charge of" the Senate has garnered the most ire, with critics casting it as reflecting a fundamental misunderstanding of the vice presidential role.

Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, told Horserace that the only power specifically outlined in the Constitution for a vice president is to preside over the Senate and have a vote in case of a tie.

No further formal policy making roles were specified, Shapiro said, because when the Constitution was drafted, the vice president was the runner up for the presidency, and was expected to come from a different faction or party.

The vice president's role, CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen told Horserace over email, "might be relevant depending upon what the balance in the Senate is after the election."

"Some veeps, like LBJ, had extraordinary influence in the Senate because of their long time there," he added. "Palin, of course, doesn't have that advantage."

But Shapiro is willing to give Palin the benefit of the doubt for saying the vice president is "in charge of" the Senate, suggesting she is using "her usual homespun language" to describe what could ultimately be a powerful position, as it has been for Dick Cheney.

"Governor Palin was responding to a third grader's inquiry," Maria Comella, Palin's spokeswoman, said about the response. "She was explaining in terms a third-grader could understand that the vice-president is also president of the U.S. Senate."

The scope and power of the vice presidency, Shapiro says, ultimately depends on how the president structures his administration. He notes that a Republican vice president can have a significant role in developing policy in Senate caucuses. Cheney, he noted, has been very active in lobbying senators and pushing President Bush's agenda.

"It depends what you mean by 'in charge,'" Shapiro said, noting that the vice president is the titular head of the Senate. "Is there anyone 'in charge' of the Senate? Is the speaker 'in charge' of the House?" He argued that at no point did Palin articulate a role for a vice president that overstepped the limits of the Constitution.