Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. appeared to incorrectly outline the constitutional role of the job he's seeking in Thursday's debate.
In attacking Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Biden said the vice president's only role is to support the president and to preside over the Senate "only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit."
The Constitution, though, actually says the vice president is always president of the Senate and legal scholars say he has the right to preside at any time. Early vice presidents, such as Thomas Jefferson, actively exercised that role, the vice president still keeps offices at the Capitol, and scholars say it wasn't until the middle of the 20th century that the vice president had an office at the executive office building.
The president pro tempore, usually the senior senator from the majority party, takes over only when the vice president is absent. In recent practice, as the vice president has taken a bigger role in the executive, that's meant the Senate operates almost all of the time without the vice president in the chair.
The Obama campaign didn't return a message for comment left late Thursday, after the debate.
For her part Republican vice presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said she plans to take the vice president's role of president of the Senate seriously.
"I'm thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate and making sure that we are supportive of the president's policies and making sure too that our president understands what our strengths are," she said.
Mr. Biden, who's been in the Senate for three decades, also mistakenly stated that the executive branch is defined in Article I of the Constitution. In fact, Article I describes the legislature, while Article II lays out the executive.