Let's say Vice President Cheney's doctors say his heart can't stand the strain of running the federal government and insist he resign. Can Cheney stay in office until his successor goes through the congressional approval process (see this "Explainer") to make sure he can break a possible tie vote in the Senate?
No. There has to be a vacancy in the vice presidency in order for the process as laid out in the 25th Amendment to fill a vacancy to begin. This does not mean that before Cheney stepped down the president couldn't get informal commitments from enough members of Congress that they would vote for a designated successor in order to avoid a potential tie. If there were a tie in the Senate, the nomination would fail because without a vice president in office there is no mechanism to break a tie, and a tie automatically means a proposal does not pass. In that case, the president would have to select another successor and start over again.
Unlike confirmation for the Supreme Court or the Cabinet, which only require Senate approval, the 25th Amendment requires that a new vice president be confirmed by both houses.That decision was made to create as broad an approval as possible for a person who could become president without having been elected to the office. Until a vacancy in the vice presidency is filled, the next two people in line for presidential succession are the speaker of the House, now Dennis Hastert, and the president pro tempore of the Senate, now Strom Thurmond. Of course if during the midterm elections in 2002 the Democrats regain control of either the House or the Senate, and then Cheney resigns, the Democrats could block the confirmation of any vice president, preferring to have a Democrat ready to step up to the presidency in case that office became vacant. But crazy political scenarios like that never actually happen, do they?
Explainer thanks Paul B. Stephan of the University of Virginia School of Law and Don Ritchie of the Senate Historical Office.
Photograph of Dick Cheney on the Slate Table of Contents by Doug Mills/Reuters.