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Could Joe Biden Pick Barack Obama as his Running Mate in 2020?

Could Joe Biden Pick Barack Obama as his Running Mate in 2020?

Here’s a quick thought: Could former Vice President Joe Biden, now himself a candidate for the presidency, select as his running mate former President Barack Obama?

 (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

Biden, who announced on Thursday he’s running for President of the United States in the crowded Democratic primary, served two terms as Obama’s vice president from 2009 to 2017. And while some focus has been given to whom he may choose as his own second-in-line to be the president (should he win in 2020), thoughts over whether that individual could be his former boss have been considered in the past.

Truth be told, it’s not likely this scenario would be carried out. Although Obama remains popular among the electorate in the United States, Biden, is more likely to select someone new, who hasn’t served in either role before, to be his running mate.

Still, it’s a fun mental exercise to consider, and one worth looking into given the strong relationship that Biden and Obama had during the eight years they served alongside one another.

Obama himself is ineligible to run for a third term as president, as the 22nd Amendment prohibits an individual from doing so if they’ve won office more than twice. But the wording of that amendment also gives Obama some wiggle-room to run for vice president:

The partial wording of that amendment 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.”

The key words to look at here are “elected to the office.” The amendment forbids Obama or any other president who has served two terms from running again. But it doesn’t say anything about whether they are ineligible from serving as president once more, thus paving the way for a former two-term president to run for the second-in-command post. 

Conversely, there are provisions in the Constitution that could questionably prevent Obama from being able to run — and serve — as vice president. The 12th Amendment, for example, contains such a rule.

“[N]o person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States,” the amendment reads.

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But again, that doesn’t necessarily settle the matter. It’s all up for interpretation. Is a person ineligible to be vice president (and thus, have the outside chance of becoming president) if they’re ineligible to run for president? Technically speaking, the 22nd Amendment doesn’t place any limits on former presidents to serve as president for a third term — it simply prevents them from running directly for the office of president again.

Michael Dorf, a professor at Cornell Law School, gave his opinion on the issue in an interview with the Washington Post in 2015.

“The drafters of this language [of the 22nd Amendment] knew the difference between getting elected to an office and holding an office,” Dorf explained. “They could have just said ‘no person may hold the office of president more than twice.’ But they didn’t.”

Indeed, Dorf even signaled that the present-day Supreme Court’s hands would be tied on the matter. In a case from 1968, the Court ruled eligibility requirements that restrict people from running for federal office had to be read with a narrow interpretation — that is, the letter of the law mattered more than a broad interpretation of the rules. To rule differently now would thwart the established precedent created more than 50 years ago.

Looking at the 22nd Amendment with a narrow lens, it’s clearly written in a way to allow a former president to run as someone else’s vice president. It may not have been the collective authors’ intent for that to have happened, but they didn’t consider disallowing it either.

Again, it’s not likely that Biden, or any other Democratic candidate for president, would choose Obama as their vice presidential pick, and even if they did, it’s very doubtful that Obama would accept the offer. But given Obama’s present popularity — and the fact that the law would allow them to choose him — one could be forgiven if a Democratic candidate made such a suggestion while on the 2020 campaign trail.

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