GTKYG – Chain of Succession

Welcome back to the “Get to Know Your Government” series.  Today, I want to talk about a subject that might not be known by too many people outside of history buffs and Constitutional Law scholars, but that I feel will be heading to the forefront of conversation in 2018.

The American Presidential Chain of Succession.

As I covered in GTKYG-Presidential Removal Processes, there are a few ways that a presidency can end prematurely.  When that happens, the Vice President assumes the role of President, and under the powers granted to them under the Second Section of the Twenty Fifth Amendment, they are allowed to nominate their choice for Vice President.  This happened when Gerald Ford assumed the presidency following Richard Nixon’s resignation.

But, how far does the chain of succession go?  What if there were a situation where multiple people died at once, or were removed from office?  What happens then?

In that case, it goes down the line to then person in the chain.

Following the President and Vice President, the Speaker of the House is third in line. The Speaker is the elected head of the House of Representatives.  That position is currently held by Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin.

After them, it’s the President pro tempore of the Senate.  This position is an honorary one, awarded to the Senator who has served the longest in the Senate.  Currently, that position is held by Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah.

If, by some chance, all four of these people are unable to assume the presidency, or turn it down, the chain of succession goes through the Cabinet, by order that the position was created, starting with Secretary of State, Treasury, Defense, Attorney General (the original four positions from Washington’s first Cabinet), then through the rest of the positions, in the order that they were added.

CHAIN OF SUCCESSION

Below is a list of those positions, those mentioned above and the Cabinet positions, along with who is in the position, and their party affiliation, if available.  OPEN represents that the position is not currently filled, or has an acting head who has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

  1. President Donald Trump (R)
  2. Vice President Mike Pence (R)
  3. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R)
  4. President pro tempore Orrin Hatch (R)
  5. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R)
  6. Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin (R)
  7. Secretary of Defense James Mattis (I)
  8. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R)
  9. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke (R)
  10. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue (R)
  11. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross (R)
  12. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta (R)
  13. Secretary of Health and Human Services OPEN
  14. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson (R)
  15. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao (R) NOT ELIGIBLE FOR PRESIDENT
  16. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry
  17. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
  18. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin (I)
  19. Secretary of Homeland Security OPEN

If, and I mean IF, by some infinitesimal chance that everyone in the list above is not able to assume the office of President, then the chain would go through Congress, in order of the leadership bodies first (Majority Leaders, Minority Leaders, Majority Whip, etc.), then through each person in order of their tenure in office.

THE DESIGNATED SURVIVOR

I’m not talking about the ABC show with Keifer Sutherland, but the idea that the show is based off of.

Before any joint session of Congress where the President, Vice President, and Cabinet get together, one member of the Cabinet is chosen to spend the event in a bunker somewhere.  They’re taken to a non-disclosed, secure location, where they’re kept under guard.  This is in case the unthinkable happens.

In case the Capitol is attacked, and everyone inside is killed.

If that were to happen, then the Designated Survivor would be sworn in as President, and they would be tasked with restaffing and rebuilding the government.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

It’s important to understand how things work, especially the government.  If something falls apart, we need to know how it can be fixed.

Really?  Ok, here’s why…

We are in uncharted waters with the Russian Investigation.  I’ve written many times about how many people are tied up with Russia, or have their own looming legal troubles.  There is an above zero percent chance that multiple people in the chain of succession could be indicted at once.

Here’s the list again, along with why they might not be able to, or interested in, taking the presidency.

  1. President Donald Trump (R) – Russia, RICO, Obstruction Investigations
  2. Vice President Mike Pence (R) – Russia and Flynn
  3. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R) – Russia, Money laundering at RNC
  4. President pro tempore Orrin Hatch (R) – Clean, but REALLY OLD
  5. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) – NY Fraud Investigations, Russia
  6. Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin (R) – Abuse of Public Trust, Taxpayer Funded Trips
  7. Secretary of Defense James Mattis (I)
  8. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R) – Russia
  9. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke (R) – Abuse of Public Trust, Taxpayer Funded Trips
  10. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue (R)
  11. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross (R) – Russia, tied to Putin family in Paradise Papers, Money Laundering ties with Paul Manafort
  12. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta (R)
  13. Secretary of Health and Human Services OPEN
  14. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson (R)
  15. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao (R) NOT ELIGIBLE FOR PRESIDENT – Immigrants are not eligible for the Presidency.
  16. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry – Abuse of Public Trust, Taxpayer Funded Trips
  17. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos – Russia.
  18. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin (I) – Abuse of Public Trust, Taxpayer Funded Trips
  19. Secretary of Homeland Security OPEN

The craziest of the rumors I’ve heard have Trump, Pence, and Ryan all being indicted and/or removed from office at once.  If that happens, then Orrin Hatch would be the next in line, but he’s 83 years old, has hinted at retirement, and reportedly might have dementia or Alzheimer’s.  After him, the next clean person in the list is Jim Mattis, Secretary of Defense.

Is it likely that we end up with President Jim Mattis?  No.  It’s not impossible, but highly unlikely.  This is one of those crazy scenarios that just isn’t likely to happen.  Then again, I said the same thing about Trump becoming President.

BREAKING THE CHAIN

There is one other part to keep in mind.  Remember when I said earlier that if the Vice President becomes the President, they get to choose their own Vice President?

That could come in to play, and could be used to elevate someone up the chain, especially if there is some kind of Quid Pro Quo in place to provide a stable transition of power.

Let’s face it, Mike Pence is likely to become the 46th President of the United States, and it will happen before 2020.  If it has to happen, I’d rather it happen late next year.  Under the 22nd Amendment, if a Vice President serves more than half of their predecessors term, they can only run for election once.  If they serve less than two years of a term, then they could run for two terms.  If it’s late enough in the year, he won’t be able to cause too much harm, and will be stuck in his own legal quagmire with Russia.

Assuming Mike Pence comes to power, he would get to choose his own Vice President, pending approval of both houses of Congress.  One of the rumors I’ve heard would have him choosing a “safe” choice that would serve as a place holder while he’s going through his own legal mess.  Someone who’s integrity isn’t under question, and knows the lay of the land.

And that’s how we could possibly end up with President James Mattis.

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