Rethinking Presidential Succession
The following is a reposting of some thoughts I presented last summer which I hope will perhaps find a receptive ear in the new administration. While it is not a pleasant thought to consider I do think that this is an important subject to be addressed given the world in which we now live.
This subject is one that does need to be addressed and it is one that is often ignored by the media and the Congress. This issue has to do with the fact that the current law is badly flawed and does not reflect the reality of the post 9/11 era
Under the terms of the 1947 act if there is no President or Vice President the office next passes to the Speaker of the House, then the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and finally through the Cabinet in order of the date of creation of the Department.
Now to begin with I have to take some exception with including the members of Congress in the line. I understand that there was some logic in including elected officials rather than appointed ones, but the Speaker is only elected by the voters of one Congressional District out of 435.
Also I see the Cabinet members as perhaps better suited to serve as President since they are executive officers rather than legislative officials. In addition they often reflect the views of the President more closely and since the voters selected him to lead, his or her views should prevail.
But I am realistic to the idea that if Congress is involved that they are going to put their stamp on things and can understand people wanting someone selected by voters serving.
But the next problem is not one I think we can continue to ignore. After the Speaker of the House the next person to serve is the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. This post is currently held by 90 year old Robert Byrd of West Virginia. If the Republicans were in charge the post would be occupied by 84 year old Ted Stevens of Alaska.
I have nothing against the elderly and know many senior citizens who have done some truly great things. But if we are dealing with a major crisis that resulted in the death of the President, the Vice President and the Speaker of the House I am not sure we would want someone in their 80’s or 90’s to take over.
Obviously when this law was passed it was assumed that it would be very unlikely for even the Speaker to serve, but today that is no longer a reality. We need to have someone younger and ready to serve. I would personally prefer to remove any members of Congress from the line, but if we need to have a Senator I would prefer to see someone like the Majority Leader serve.
Or failing that we need to see the Senate change their rules and choose someone else for the post of President Pro Tempore. Currently it goes to the senior member of the majority party, but perhaps they could recognize that it a possible successor and choose someone more appropriate.
When Hubert Humphrey rejoined the Senate they created for him the post of President Pro Tempore Emeritus, an honorary position. They could revive this post for the senior member of the majority party and then select someone more appropriate for the PPT post.
I’m told that on occasion members of Congress surf by our little site. If someone happens to see this post, I’d love to see you do something about this problem.