Bernie Sanders is the first real statesman to run for the White House in decades. By focusing on the real issues (as opposed to shallow distractions such as flags, non-existent threats, and celebrity scandals) and refraining from attacking his opponents, he is gaining support across the spectrum at a greater rate than any of us could have imagined three months ago. At the same time, Senator Elizabeth Warren, who shares Sanders’ Progressive ideals and has been supportive of his campaign, could be his most likely running mate.
What would a Bernie – Elizabeth Administration look like – and what would it mean for this country and the entire world?
Before delving into the possibilities, it’s important to understand the reality of how American government works. Historically, the American people overestimate the legal powers of the Executive Branch. They give presidents too much blame when things go wrong and too much credit when things go right.
When it comes to domestic issues, however, the President has relatively little power. Congress does. Bernie has been very forthcoming about this issue. During his recent appearance on Face The Nation, he said, “electing Bernie Sanders as president is not enough…We need a mass grassroots movement.” A big part of that will be making certain that a Sanders Administration has a Congress it can work with – not the obstructionist legislature that has hamstrung Obama over the past eight years.
This said, let’s imagine Bernie Sanders as President and Elizabeth Warren as vice-president. If Congress has so much power over domestic issues, what can the Executive do?
As President, Bernie would have the legal power to veto legislation. He can nominate federal court judges and appoint members of his Cabinet. Although both of these are subject to congressional approval (through the confirmation process), Bernie would have considerable influence by offering or withdrawing support for members of Congress when election time comes around. Voters listen to a popular president, and all politicians know this.
Likewise, the president can propose a federal budget, requesting how money is spent. Again, the executive can only make requests. The power to allocate those funds still resides in Congress. That said, a President Sanders would again exert power and influence over the issue by taking his case directly to the electorate. It would then be up to all of us to pressure our Senators and Representatives into agreeing with the President’s request – or plan on looking for new jobs after the next election.
This is a big part of what Bernie is talking about when he speaks of a “a mass grassroots movement that looks the Republicans in the eye.”
And what about Elizabeth Warren as Vice-President?
As the first U.S. Vice-President under George Washington, John Adams said, “In this, I am nothing – but may be everything.” When it comes to executive power, this is true; Warren’s primary function is to step in should President Sanders be unable to carry out his executive duties. However, as VP, Elizabeth would also preside over the Senate. In an evenly-divided Senate, it would be up to Warren to cast the deciding vote. While recent “supermajority” rules have diminished this power somewhat, Warren – like Sanders – would still have great influence. For example, the VP can appoint a temporary Senate president (“president pro tempore”), which is usually a Senator of the majority party who has served the longest.
Below is the agenda that Bernie and Elizabeth stand for, and that they will push to the America people and seek immense grassroots support:
- End the influence of Citizens United
- Cancel or reduce the burden of student loan debt
- Ensure that billionaires and large corporations contribute to the U.S. Treasury
- Institute single-payer, universal health care for all
- Break up banks that are “too big to fail” and hold them accountable
- Tax corporate polluters
- Expand and strengthen federal social insurance programs (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid)
- Free college education for all
Already Bernie has Hillary Clinton, Wall Street and the corporatist right-wing sweating. With Elizabeth Warren on the ticket, the sweat could quickly turn to desperation.
And so they should. Sanders-Warren in 2016! Imagine it.