Should Biden consider a veteran for vice president?

Should Biden consider a veteran for vice president?
© Getty Images

The vice presidency has received its fair share of media attention lately, as the nation eagerly awaits Joe Biden's announcement of who he will pick as his running mate on the Democratic ticket. 

Although Biden has committed to picking a woman for the job and has also indicated that he is leaning toward choosing a woman of color, he has not revealed much else about the criteria he is considering for the final decision.

As the Biden campaign announced that it has extended its vice presidential search for as long as two more weeks, this begs the question, is Biden consider military service in his running mate? Should he?


There has been much discussion on the history of presidents and military service. Although Article II of the U.S. Constitution lists only three requirements for being president — to be a natural-born citizen of the United States, of at least 25 years of age, and a resident of the United States for 14 years, a majority of past presidents — 26 of 45 — have served in the military.

Generally, veteran candidates for political office are more likely to work across the aisle, as trustworthy due to their history of serving their country, and often have valuable perspectives on matters such as foreign policy and national security due to deployments during wartime.

However, despite veteran-status enjoying a largely positive public perception and, at times, seeming like a prerequisite to the White House, the U.S. has not had a president with military service since George W. Bush, who was a member of the Air National Guard, and has not had a president with combat service since George H.W. Bush.

This recent trend of a non-veteran president will continue in 2020, regardless of who the victor is. It is well-known that Trump avoided the draft during Vietnam with five deferments, once for bone spurs in his heels and four times for college. Although not discussed as often, Biden also received five deferments during Vietnam; likewise, four for school and one for teenage asthma.

As put bluntly by combat medic and former member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, Amelia Keane

"I certainly don't agree with someone taking a deferment and to avoid service to their country, particularly when they have aims of public service at the time . . . They should do their full duty to the country, and if there is a draft, they should make every effort to serve their time just like other Americans had to do."



Thus, particularly for 2020, when we have two draft-dodging septuagenarians running for the nation's highest office, the vice president has taken on a somewhat new role in public attention.  


Accordingly, should we care about whether the vice president is a veteran, even if only for this election cycle?


According to Claude Berube, a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy: 

"Since 1992, the election of presidents and vice presidents with military deferments or no service at all has become normalized." 

Biden could change that by selecting a woman veteran as vice president.

The founding fathers initially created the vice president's role as a type of consolation prize for the runner-up in presidential elections to prevent that candidate from interfering with the presidency. 

Since then, the vice presidency has evolved to gain critical votes and key constituencies under the electoral college system, by balancing out the geographical appeal of a particular presidential candidate. However, after the election, vice presidents are often forgotten.

As Thomas Marshall, vice president under Woodrow Wilson once joked:

"Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea; the other was elected vice president of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again." 

Moreover, despite the prestige associated with military service for president's themselves, fewer vice presidents have served in the military. In keeping with the recent trend away from service, two recent vice presidents (Biden and Dick Cheney) had several deferments during Vietnam.

Assuming that Trump intends to keep Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceFormer Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Pence vows for law and order everywhere Trump met with chants of protest as he pays respects to Ruth Bader Ginsburg MORE as his running mate, the Republican ticket will not have any military service to offer voters. 

Although Pence often speaks emotionally about the Bronze Star his Father earned during the Korean War and his son's service in the Marines, Pence himself has never served in the military.

Thus far, Biden has not highlighted military service or veteran-status as essential criteria for the role of his vice president. 

Of the various names being discussed as finalists for his consideration, only one, Senator Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthMcConnell focuses on confirming judicial nominees with COVID-19 talks stalled Biden courts veterans amid fallout from Trump military controversies John Fogerty: 'Confounding' that Trump campaign played 'Fortunate Son' at rally MORE (D-Ill.), is a veteran.

Duckworth served as an Illinois Army National Guard Officer and in the Iraq War. On Nov. 12, 2004, her helicopter was shot down, and she lost both legs and the use of one arm.


According to long-time political strategist and Obama advisor David AxelrodDavid AxelrodThe Memo: Warning signs flash for Trump on debates GOP hunts for leverage in revived COVID-19 talks Pelosi says there shouldn't be any debates between Biden and Trump MORE, Duckworth "has one of the most extraordinary stories in politics . . . It's a heroic story, but it's also an incredible story of resilience, perseverance, patriotism, and empathy."

Further, in addition to being a veteran, Duckworth has experience working on veterans issues, having also served as the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and as an assistant Secretary of V.A. during the Obama administration.

Importantly, veterans should not be overlooked as voters, which may weigh in Duckworth's favor. In 2016, veterans were a key constituency for Trump — he carried the veterans' vote at a 2-to-1 ratio over Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Trump pledges to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, designate KKK a terrorist group in pitch to Black voters MORE

The vice president of the United States has been referred to as "the nation's most important understudy," It is fair to say that in the 2020 presidential election, the role is more critical than ever. 

Biden would be wise to choose someone with a proven record of service to the country for the role — a veteran.

Rory E. Riley-Topping is the founder of Riley-Topping Consulting, where she continues to work with various veterans organizations. Riley-Topping served as a litigation staff attorney for the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), where she represented veterans and their survivors before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. She also served as the staff director and counsel for the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs for former Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.). You can find her on Twitter: @RileyTopping.