Vice President Bill Clinton? Not So Fast

by Chris Tognotti

So, everybody kind of suspects that Hillary Clinton is going to end up the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. Sure, we don't know it to any iron-clad extent, but absent another charismatic Democrat catching on — basically, if Bernie Sanders manages to capture the nation's affections — this looks like a pretty smooth sail. Which means she'll probably have to pick a vice president at some point — so why not her husband? Could Bill actually be Hillary Clinton's VP, or is it forbidden by the rules of the office?

There's a certain charm to the idea, even though picking your spouse as your running mate — especially a spouse who's already served two terms in office — could easily be electoral suicide. And as luck would have it, it's an issue that's been broached before, with the Washington Post (among others) asking the question back in 2008, during Hillary's first run at the White House.

Unluckily, however, the answer doesn't seem all that simple. In short, legal and constitutional minds are divided as to whether Vice President Bill would be legit or not, and since it'll never be put to the test, there's no reason to think it'll get any clearer. Basically, there are two factors in play. First, the 12th Amendment, the conclusion of which states the following about vice presidential eligibility:

... no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

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Now, when that was ratified in 1804, there was nothing in the constitution regarding term limits. That didn't come about until 1951, with the ratification of the 22nd Amendment, which states:

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.

So, here's the rub: whether or not Bill could return to the White House as VP depends on how you interpret these passages, and how they relate to one another. According to the 12th Amendment, he can't be vice president if he's ineligible to be President.

But the only way in which he'd be constitutionally ineligible, per the 22nd Amendment, is if he's "been elected to the office of President more than twice," and there's a fair argument to be made that this gives him an out. Namely, even were he pressed into service as President because something happened to incapacitate Hillary, he wouldn't have been elected to get there, right?

Simply put, this is an area of uncertainty and contention in consitutional law circles. But there's nothing uncertain about the potential for hilarity if it was allowed — just think of the possibilities!

Bill Grumpily Attending State Functions

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It's a pretty well-worn criticism of the Vice Presidential gig — you're regularly being pressed into ceremonial service when someone dies, gets promoted, resigns or retires, you name it. Basically, unless you're a power-consolidating uber-VP like Dick Cheney, your responsibilities are often somewhat limited, and you have to imagine that elder statesman Bill would struggle adapting to that role.

Bill As First Lady


Obviously, Vice President Bill would both be the first spousal VP, and the first First Husband, too. It could be a worthwhile look at how gender-based assumptions figure into the highest-profile spousal role in America — how many people will scrutinize his charcoal-gray State of the Union suit and ask him who the designer is, for example?

Flipping The Ticket

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This, obviously, is the worst-case example of why a former President shouldn't be allowed to be VP. Let's say the Clintons (or any former presidential/candidate duo) get a bright idea to score Bill a third term — just get him in as VP, then have Hillary resign a week into her presidency. Boom! Ticket flipped.

Just imagine it — Dick Cheney miraculously winning the 2008 presidential race against Barack Obama with George W. Bush as his VP, only to resign immediately after his inauguration, ushering in a third Bush term.

Obviously, it's a scheme that has perilously little sense for the person who has to resign, but then again, plenty about the idea doesn't make a ton of sense.

Images: Getty Images (4)