Summers PaintingI think the prime factor of the VP isn’t the breaks-a-senate-tie. Or any of the informal influence given to them that can be taken away or given to anyone else quite easily. Rather, the issue is that they are the person in line for the presidency before you get into the constitutionally murky issue of handing it over to someone to the legislative branch. Which is possibly someone of the different party.

My view is that it would potentially be a disaster of epic proportions should both the president and vice president be incapacitated. There could be lawsuits challenging the legitimacy of the POTUS while they are executing their duties (particularly if they are of a different political party than the president). The Constitutionality of it is actually a bit iffy. And even if there weren’t, it’s just bad policy anyway.

Granted, the best way to prevent this from happening is change the line of succession. Which would also be the easier fix. On the other hand, the reason that they did this was that they didn’t want the president to be able to choose his own successor. This is one of the reasons that we don’t want a president to be able to fire his Vice President: You don’t want an embattled president facing impeachment and/or indictment saying to his VP “If you don’t agree to pardon me, I will fire you and you will never be president.”

Whether that’s better or worse than a Pataki/McCaughey situation is uncertain, but I think I will take the latter.

The danger of a president being able to hand-pick a successor (assuming a vice presidential vacancy) has already been nullified when we allowed presidents to appoint successor vice presidents. And second, just as a vice president has to be confirmed, so too do cabinet picks. We’re not talking about putting the Chief of Staff on the list. A Secretary of State would be confirmed in part on the basis of their ability to serve as president if called upon to do so (and if eligible).

It’s unlikely that we’ll ever have a Glenallen Walken situation. There has been some interesting speculation that, in the event that the 2000 election hadn’t been settled, Larry Summers would have become acting president because the Speaker and Senate President Pro Tempore. On the other hand, if you have a Speaker or more likely a Senate President who is considering retiring anyway, I could very much see it happening.


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137 Responses to Against Succession

  1. Peter says:

    One problem with the presidential line of succession is that everyone on the list lives and works in Washington. If the 1961 Goldsboro Incident had happened 270 miles further north, and if instead of three out of four safety mechanism failing the fourth one had failed too, there would have been no one legally in charge of the country.

  2. Mike Hunt Rice says:

    Of course, on TWW, in order for that scenario to take place, they have to have Otter resign the VP position first. Then he ended up being replaced by Lumbergh.

    I think the solution would be for the ranking member of the President’s party to take over. Then again, having the Secretary of State come after the VP makes a hell of a lot of sense. This is the case in NJ now, where the LtGov is also SecState.

    Until 2010, the Senate president became acting governor, so you had one person leading two braches of government, since there was no requirement that he resign. Lest anyone think this is just an academic exercise, 2 out of the last 4 elected NJGovs have resigned. This may come up again in 2016.

    When Dan Conner became actingPres on TWW, they asked him what he felt about having to resign and have to rerun for his seat. He wisely stated that he was going to have to rerun anyway.

    You should use this opportunity to state again that you hate D Wire Newman, since they were on the plane together at that one episode.

    • trumwill says:

      That reminds me I need to do my “What The West Wing Got Wrong” post.

      I suspect that, in the event that they were going to assume the acting presidency for more than a couple days or weeks (as with Walken and presumably Hastert), they would actually resign. But probably not for a couple of days. Especially if it was likely to end up in court.

      This may come up again in 2016.

      Some of us can hope (I’m skeptical, though)! I was about to pedantically correct you and say 2017, but you’re actually right: he would probably resign right away for the transition.

    • trumwill says:

      With regard to Newman, the guy as a wimp and it’s a good thing for the country that the wise and patriotic and not-yet-senile Owen Lassiter kicked his arse.

      (That episode had its Carter and its (dead) Reagan. It needed a George H. Bush.)

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