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A Heartbeat Away from the Presidency: U.S. Vice Presidents in Retrospect

U.S. Embassy New Dehli
President John F. Kennedy's relationship with Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was not always amicable.

Franklin Roosevelt’s first vice president John Nance Garner famously said the title is “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” It's a role that has always been up for interpretation throughout White House administrations, with the VP ready to step in or step back.

On this hour of River to River, Presidential Historian Tim Walch and Donna Hoffman, head of the Political Science Department at the University of Northern Iowa, sit down with host Ben Kieffer to talk about the many iterations of this second-in-command position.

Vice presidential candidates are often chosen because they balance out the ticket,Walch says. Take Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy.

“LBJ was pretty crass, he was pretty crude and the people around Kennedy often times disdained LBJ,” Hoffman adds. “There was not a good relationship there, but I think Kennedy was a practical enough politician to see what he was and put him to use.”

Dick Cheney has been recognized as one of the most powerful vice presidents in U.S. history and served during the Bush, Nixon and Ford administrations.

“Cheney took on a very expansive notion of executive power,” Hoffman says, recalling his actions in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September, 11 2001.

In contrast, Walch says Joe Biden and Barack Obama had a uniquely close bond, one that mirrored a “brotherhood,” he describes Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump's relationship as somewhat distant. For example, they seldom have lunch alone.


“They do have weekly meetings but they often have one or two other people there to keep the conversation going, or so I’m told,” Walch says.


In this hour. Hoffman and Walch also review the legacies of other vice presidents including Spiro Agnew, Al Gore, Dan Quayle and Walter Mondale.

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa