Six vice presidents talk about job once considered invisible
NEW YORK (AP) - After interviewing Dan Quayle in Arizona for his documentary on the vice presidency, filmmaker Jeffrey Roth rushed to the airport to catch a flight to Wyoming, where he had an appointment with Dick Cheney the next morning.
There was little time to waste. Suddenly the traffic stopped for a column of cars to pass. It was Vice President Mike Pence and his entourage.
Roth values the irony. At least he can now. He made his flight, President in Waiting has ended and will debut on CNN Saturday at 9pm. East.
He interviewed all six living vice presidents and four presidents about a job that has been viewed as a hoax for much of American history, an appendage of government with few real jobs other than being available to become the most powerful figure in the world in the short term .
"When the constitution was being drafted, Ben Franklin said," We should refer to the Vice President as "his superfluous Excellency," "says President-elect Joe Biden, who served as Barack Obama's Vice-President for eight years, in the film.
Roth's document contains several similar quotes, including the classic by John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt's first vice president, who said the job was "not worth a bucket of warm piss." Cheney said Gerald Ford described it as the worst nine months of his life and urged him not to become George W. Bush's runner-up.
Why would Roth want to spend three years of his life making it?
"For some reason, I've always been fascinated by the vice president's office and thought there was a fascinating story behind it," he said.
Gaining access was his most important task. Two or three veeps wouldn't be enough. He needed them all and everyone wanted to know that the others were participating. Walter Mondale was his first interview; It took Al Gore and Pence a year and a half to set up, he said.
Ultimately, Donald Trump was his only planning mistake.
Nor did Roth want to make the kind of film that breaks up in a high school social studies class and puts all students to sleep.
"It's a difficult group of people to get comedy out of," said Courtney Sexton, senior vice president of CNN Films.
But there are moments when Obama and Biden struggle to edit the language of some of their conversations for public consumption. Both Cheney and his boss, George W. Bush, tell a funny story about their dogs bumping into each other at Camp David.
Cheney is a revelation in the movie when you consider he is considered Darth Vader of the Bush administration. He is engaging and fun, with a keen awareness of his own role and the place of the job in history.
His insider look at what happened on September 11, 2001 and Biden's description of the considerations prior to the murder of Osama bin Laden are particularly revealing.
The film also describes the role of Mondale and its President Jimmy Carter in creating the modern vice presidency. It's a turning point that many viewers are unlikely to be aware of. Roth said it was news to him.
Mondale, a Senator from Minnesota, knew how Hubert Humphrey felt about President Lyndon Johnson's treatment, and "President in Waiting" includes audio recordings of Johnson treating Humphrey essentially as a lap dog. He told Carter that he would only become his deputy if he got a prominent administrative role and an office in the White House. He wrote a memo of his ideas that is still referred to today.
Vice presidents lost their invisibility. Biden talks about being in the room when important decisions are made and being copied into internal correspondence. A repeat of 1945 is hard to imagine, when Harry Truman followed Roosevelt and didn't know that the United States had developed an atomic bomb.
Still, when you hear Bush, the limitations are visible. His Vice President Cheney is widely considered to be the most powerful Vice President or close to him.
"I don't know what the definition of a powerful vice president is," says Bush in the film. "I think people need to realize that the vice president is empowered by the president."
This is also specifically stated by Pence, whose role in the Trump administration is barely examined in the film. Regardless of modern precedent, a president can easily make the role of vice president meaningless again.
In another month, the first woman, Kamala Harris, will join the vice president's club.
Given its title, the film spends surprisingly little time talking about the most important part of the job. No American under 60 has a memory of a vice president who was suddenly elevated due to the death of a president. Ford took over after President Richard Nixon's resignation 46 years ago.
How has this knowledge changed everyone's life? How did you prepare for the opportunity?
Roth said none of the politicians had much insightful things to say on the matter.
"There wasn't much to talk about," he said.
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