You read that correctly; there’s been genuine talk within Democratic circles of bringing Barack Obama back to the White House.
On paper, it makes logical sense. The team of Obama and Joe Biden won in 2008 and 2012, so there’s no reason why it cannot do the same in 2024.
Given Vice President Kamala Harris’ deep unpopularity, a return of Obama may boost the incumbent president’s election chances. While the Democrat’s first African-American president is unable to return to the White House as leader of the free world due to the two-term limit, there’s no constitutional restriction on the number of terms a vice president can serve.
Although it’s common for former vice presidents to run for the presidency (Biden himself is a notable example), an ex-president has never served in the office of VP. So, will Barack Obama make history with a return to frontline politics and serve as President Biden’s running mate in 2024?
It’s Never Been Tested
There are two constitutional amendments to consider, namely the 12th and 22nd Amendments.
The 12th Amendment took effect in time for the 1804 presidential election. Fundamentally, its introduction paved the way for how presidential elections are decided in the United States, with candidates standing alongside running mates (whereas before the vice president was elected based on the number of electoral college votes once the president had been elected).
The 22nd Amendment was introduced nearly 150 years later in 1947, two years after Franklin D. Roosevelt had been elected for an unprecedented fourth term. While the idea of term limits had been long discussed, Congress voted to apply a two-term limit to the presidency which has been in force ever since.
Crucially, neither Amendment explicitly mentions the office of vice president, leading to two conundrums; a vice president could technically serve multiple terms until their resignation or death, and a two-term president could remain in the White House by taking a vice presidential role instead.
The Last Line
Ultimately, Obama is ineligible for the office of vice president. One of the final lines of the 12th Amendment states that “no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice President of the United States.” As Obama is ineligible for the office of President, he therefore cannot stand as Biden’s running mate.
It has never been tested, so a desperate Democratic Party could give it a go and hope the Supreme Court does not object. In reality, that’s unlikely to happen.
By pushing Obama, only for the Supreme Court to tell them “no”, the Democrats would suffer an embarrassing political defeat and an effective concession that Harris is not up to the job. Given Biden’s low approval ratings, there’s hardly going to be a long line of voluntary replacements either.
Shay Bottomley is a British journalist based in Canada. He has written for the Western Standard, Maidenhead Advertiser, Slough Express, Windsor Express, Berkshire Live and Southend Echo, and has covered notable events including the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.