The curse of the vice presidency and legendary congressional hearing stunts

Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama in December 2016.

This was excerpted from the July 30 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

(CNN)For much of US history, the job of vice president cursed the unfortunates who were saddled with it -- most notoriously John Nance Garner. But vice president for Joe Biden might be a job worth having.

For decades, the president's number two was largely ignored and limited to boring ceremonial duties: Before his death, Franklin Roosevelt didn't even tell Harry S Truman about the atom bomb. The indignity heaped on number twos has been encapsulated by Robert Caro in his most recent biographical volume on Lyndon Johnson — who was treated like dirt by the Kennedy brothers — and in the HBO comedy "Veep," when the hilariously self-serving Selina Meyer repeatedly and pathetically asks: "Has the President called?"
Some veeps did eventually find places among history's most significant presidents, like the 20th-century trio of Truman, Johnson and Theodore Roosevelt, who all succeeded dead superiors. The job has also improved in recent years: Though current Vice President Mike Pence appears to view his role as showering praise on his boss every time a camera is near, the three vice presidents before him were unusually influential: Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Biden himself had genuine authority and significant assignments.
    In 2020, the spot on the Democratic ticket could be even more attractive to ambitious candidates. Biden, who has promised to pick a woman, says he wants someone fit to take over if he couldn't reach the finish line, since he'd be the oldest president inaugurated for a first term. And as an ex-vice president himself, he wants a subordinate partner, not just someone to break Senate ties and go to foreign funerals. Given the crisis Biden will inherit if he wins, his vice president would get a hefty share of work — including high-profile trips abroad on Air Force Two and a chance to build her own brand.
    And it's hard to see a President Biden running for a second term that would begin when he is 82. So his vice president could automatically become the Democratic front-runner in 2024, and might even be able to avoid a prolonged primary campaign altogether.

    2019 vs. 2020

    Normally over 2 million pilgrims attend the Hajj. But this year, only around 1,000 worshipers were allowed to make the pilgrimage, after Saudi Arabian authorities imposed strict crowd control and hygiene measures. On Wednesday, pilgrims socially distanced around the Kaaba. It was a far cry from what the walk around Islam's holiest shrine normally looks like -- crowded with Muslims from across the world as shown below, from August 2019.

    From Trump with love

    Sometimes it's hard to spot the difference between the President of the United States and a Kremlin spokesman. Donald Trump's deference to Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to be adequately explained, but it's undeniable that he often seems to be reading a list of Moscow's talking points -- especially when he's recently spoken with the ex-KGB man.
    On Wednesday, Trump confirmed to Axios that he had not rais