Dick Cheney has left little doubt about the branch of government he would prefer to serve in: the monarchy. Unfortunately, as a citizen of a republic that rejected the divine right of kings 231 years ago this summer, Cheney finds himself in the unfortunate circumstance of having to select from one of the three branches of government established by the American Constitution.
Like many people who cannot get what they really want, Cheney is having a hard time making a second choice.
Responding this week to a Senate Judiciary Committee subpoena seeking documents regarding the role played by the vice president and his aides in establishing and maintaining an illegal program of warrantless spying on the phone conversations of Americans, Cheney’s lawyers made the “case” — if it the word can be employed so loosely — that the vice president does not have to comply.
Why? Because, they argued, Cheney is not a member of the executive branch of the federal government.
As the vice president’s lawyers did when arguing that Cheney did not need to comply with an executive order requiring that his office maintain records of its use of classified information, the vice president’s defense team is again asserting the bizarre claim that he is a hybrid official who serves in both the executive and legislative branches of government.
When details of that earlier claim surfaced, Cheney was the subject of international ridicule. As the most powerful vice president in American history — a man who is, for all intents and purposes, the definitional player in the setting of U.S. foreign policy and an essential player is setting the domestic agenda — Cheney is more wholly a member of the executive branch than any vice president in American history. While he performs some largely ceremonial duties as the president of the Senate — president over the chamber a grand total of two times during the first Bush-Cheney term — there is no question whatsoever that his primary work is that of an executive branch member.
This is as the drafters of the Constitution intended. The responsibilities of the vice president are, for the most part, outlined in the sections of the Constitution establishing the executive branch. More significantly, the vice president is specifically designated as an official who can be impeached by the House and tried for high crimes and misdemeanors by the Senate.
As members of Congress cannot be impeached, any doubt about the proper place of the Office of the Vice President in the federal firmament is settled by those sections of the Constitution that define how and when a holder of the office might be removed.