Role of the Vice President in the Legislative Branch

     The president of the Senate, the Senate's presiding officer, is not a member of the body over which he presides. Instead, the Constitution assigns the office to the Vice President of the United States. Because he is not a member of the chamber, the president of the Senate occupies a much less powerful chair than the Speaker's in the House.

The Vice President's route to his post is much different from the one the Speaker has traveled. In fact the Senate's president is-sometimes-not even a member of the party with a majority of the seats in the upper chamber.

The president of the Senate does have the usual powers of a presiding officer: to recognize mem­bers, put questions to a vote, and so on. However, the Vice President cannot take the floor to speak or debate and may vote only to break a tie.

Any influence a Vice President may have in the Senate is largely the result of personal abilities and relationships. Several of the more recent Vice Presidents came to that office from the Senate: Harry Truman, Alben Barkley, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Dan Quayle, Al Gore and Dick Cheney. Each of them was able to build at least some power into the position out of that earlier experience.

     The Senate does have another presiding offi­cer, the president pro tempore, who serves in the Vice President's absence. The president pro tempore, or president pro tem for short, is elected by the Senate itself and is always a leading mem­ber of the majority party-usually its longest serv­ing member.

The president pro tem follows the Speaker in the line of presidential succession. Other senators occasionally preside over the Senate, on a temporary basis; newly elected members regu­larly do so early in their terms.