Cheney back to work; Critics say not for long |

Cheney back to work; Critics say not for long

Susan Wood

The hot topic for political pundits and talk radio hosts in the last few days, Vice President Dick Cheney’s health, has set off a firestorm of speculation about whether he will fulfill his four-year term.

Cheney underwent angioplasty to repair a damaged artery Monday but returned to work the next day.

Although the procedure is considered a non-invasive surgery, the vice president’s four heart attacks and second hospital procedure for his heart disease in four months has caused some concern.

Experts say replacing him won’t be easy, but the dim prospect of his dying or resigning due to health reasons is a reality that has dusted off sections of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.

If Cheney vacates for either reason, President George W. Bush would nominate a replacement who would need to receive the approval Congress by majority votes.

The selection of the replacement becomes interesting with a 50-50 split of Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

Since the vice president breaks a 50-50 tie, his absence poses a challenge for Bush.

Constitutional law experts assume he would pick someone who would be perceived as favorable to the Democratic party and who would appeal to a centrist position.

“If he picks Secretary of State Colin Powell, there’s no problem,” said Randy Riddle, a San Francisco city attorney whose expertise lies in constitutional law.

However, Powell – who experts believe leads the field of candidates – decisively turned down the opportunity to run for president four years ago.

Bush may make the decision that would benefit him in getting legislation passed in the Senate.

Riddle posed the option that if Bush picked a conservative Democrat from the Senate, he may hit two birds with one stone. He could have a candidate whom the Democrats accept and who possibly breaks the tie in the Senate.

If he chose either Florida Sens. Bob Graham or Bill Nelson, Gov. Jeb Bush would select the senatorial replacement.

Riddle predicts Cheney will resign.

“If it keeps being a distraction to him, he’ll probably opt out,” he said.

Erwin Chemerinsky, a University of Southern California law professor, agrees.

He also agrees that it would behoove Bush to bring a nominee forward whom the Democrats are willing to confirm.

“But I don’t think a Democratic senator would ever accept the position because (he or she) would have to give up the Senate seat,” he said of the possible strategic ploy to break the split.

And Cheney can’t cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate during the confirmation hearings because of the Senate parliamentarian rules.

“The bottom line is, if it’s a 50-50 tie, then he can’t do it because (the nomination) only applies if there’s a vacancy,” Chemerinsky said.

Since 1787, the office of the vice president has been vacant for a total of 37 years.

Nine vice presidents have left office to replace the eight presidents who died in office and the one who resigned.

Congress proposed the 25th Amendment, after the late-President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. The concern at that time revolved around the unfilled office of vice president when Lyndon B. Johnson, who also previously suffered a massive heart attack, was forced to replace Kennedy.

Six years later after the amendment was ratified in 1967, it was used for the first time by former-President Richard Nixon. He appointed then-Rep. Gerald Ford as his vice president after the resignation of Spiro Agnew, who was facing charges of accepting payoffs.

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