Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Presidential Line of Succession Explained

Next in line?

Let's Debunk The Internet

I'm getting a lot of messages on Facebook and emails telling me that Nancy Pelosi may be the next Vice President of the United States. The idea behind this is that if Joe Biden is removed from office through the use of the 25th Amendment because of his inability to do his job or impeached for high crimes or misdemeanors, then Pelosi as Speaker of the House automatically becomes Vice President under Kamala Harris who would automatically become President. 

The notion that this would take place comes from the fact that the Speaker of the House, whoever that is, is third-in-line as a matter of ascension. The presidential line of succession is the order in which officials of the United States federal government assume the powers and duties of the office of the president of the United States.

There is an important distinction to be made here. That distinction is important, and Americans need to understand how it works. The importance of that distinction has to do with the "simultaneous" death, incapacitation, or removal of the president and vice president. Not merely the death, incapacitation, or removal of the president "or" the vice president. Both positions have to be vacant "simultaneously."

If the incumbent president becomes incapacitated, dies, resigns, or is removed from office, then the order of succession specifies that the office passes to the vice president. The order of succession also states that if the vice presidency is "simultaneously" vacant, or if the vice president is "also" incapacitated at that "same instant," the powers and duties of the presidency pass to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. 

The keyword is "simultaneously." So what happens if there is not "simultaneous" death, incapacitation, or removal of both the president and vice president? What happens if one or the other is still functioning? What happens if the President or the Vice President dies, is incapacitated, or is removed from office?

The answer to that took place in 1973. Yes, just a matter of a mere 48 years ago. And as for what took place, the Speaker of the House stayed the Speaker of the House. 

In the 1972 Presidential Election, incumbent Republican President Richard Nixon from California defeated Democrat U.S. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. Spiro Agnew was President Nixon's vice president. Agnew had served as Vice President since 1969 as a result of President Nixon winning the 1968 Presidental Election. 

Spiro Agnew was President Nixon's vice president until he resigned in 1973. Agnew is the second and most recent vice president to resign the position. The other vice president to have resigned was John C. Calhoun in 1832. So yes, Agnew resigning took place in our recent history. 

Why did he resign, and what came as a result of that? Well, if memory serves me right, Agnew was the Governor of Maryland before being chosen by Nixon as his running mate in the 1968 Presidential Election. Agnew had become Governor of Maryland after defeating a Democrat opponent who was for segregation and against interracial marriage. When Agnew entered office as Governor, he cut taxes, allowing citizens of that state to keep more of their hard-earned money. He created clean water regulations that were new to the nation at the time. He repealed laws against interracial marriage in Maryland. 

Political enemies targeted Agnew, and by 1973, Agnew was being investigated by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland on suspicion of criminal conspiracy, bribery, extortion, and tax fraud. Supposedly, Spiro Agnew took kickbacks from government contractors when he was a Baltimore County Executive and then as Governor of Maryland. Believe it or not, those kickbacks supposedly continued even after becoming Vice President of the United States. This was a shock that made all of the newspapers at the time. Of course, even though he said he was innocent, Agnew finally pled "no contest" to a single felony charge of tax evasion. It was then that he resigned as Vice President. 

On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned. As for Agnew, he was never convicted and spent the remainder of his life out of politics. As for any involvement in the Watergate scandal, Agnew was never connected to it. 

Just as a side note, I remember all of this taking place because that was the year that I went into the Marine Corps. 

So now, with the Vice President resigning, did the Speaker of the House become Vice President? If we believe the misinformation on the Internet today, then Democrat Speaker of the House Carl Albert should have become Vice President in 1973. But that didn't happen because that's not how the system works. 

In fact, President Richard Nixon replaced his former-Vice President Spiro Agnew with Republican House Minority Leader Gerald Ford. Ford served as the House Minority Leader from 1965 to 1973. He was tapped for the job of Vice President after Nixon consulted with Congression leaders. It's said that Nixon wanted someone else at first, but was told by the Democrat-controlled House and Senate that Ford, who was seen as very respected and liked in the House, would be confirmed.

According to newspaper reports at the time, while President Nixon "sought advice from senior Congressional leaders about a replacement," Democrats in control of Congress "gave Nixon no choice but Ford." 

Gerald Ford was nominated to take the position of Vice President on October 12, 1973. It was the first time that the vice-presidential vacancy provision of the 25th Amendment Section 2 clause had been implemented. The 25th Amendment Section 2 clause states "Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress." 

After being nominated, the United States Senate voted 92 to 3 to confirm Gerald Ford as Vice President on November 27. Then on December 6, 1973, the House confirmed him by a vote of 387 to 35. After the confirmation vote in the House, Gerald Ford took the oath of office and became our nation's 40th Vice President.

Because of the Watergate Scandal, Vice President Gerald Ford had to prepare himself to replace President Nixon. On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, and Gerald Ford became the 38th President of the United States. 

So now you ask, with President Nixon resigning and Vice President Ford becoming President, did the Speaker of the House become Vice President? Again, if we believe the misinformation on the Internet today, then Democrat Speaker of the House Carl Albert should have become Vice President in 1974. But that didn't happen because again that's not how the system works. 

The 25th Amendment Section 1 clause states " In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President." So when Gerald Ford moved from Vice President to President, a vacancy at the Vice President level was created. That meant that the 25th Amendment Section 2 clause again kicked in. Since it states "Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress," President Ford had to nominate a replacement for the position of Vice President. 

On August 20, 1974, President Ford nominated fellow Republican former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to fill the vice president vacancy that he himself had just vacated. After months of a lengthy confirmation process, on December 10, 1974, the Senate voted to confirm Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President by a 90 to 7 vote. The House of Representatives confirmed his nomination by a 287 to 128 vote.  Nelson Rockefeller took the oath of office as Vice President of the United States after the House confirmation on December 19, 1974.

As for Nelson Rockefeller, he became the second person ever appointed Vice President by way of the 25th Amendment. Of course, Gerald Ford was the first. And to date, this was all the last "intra-term" U.S. presidential succession to ever take place in American History. 

Please understand that for almost two months, from October 10th when Agnew resigned to December 6th, 1973, when Ford was confirmed as Vice President, the United States did not have a Vice President. And yes, for almost 4 months, from August 20th when Ford became President to December 19th, 1974, when Rockefeller was confirmed as Vice President, the United States did not have a Vice President. During each case when the position of Vice President was vacant, the Speaker of the House did not ascend to the position of Vice President. 

Frankly, this episode in our history proves that the Speaker of the House is not in line for the Presidency if the President or Vice President have not died, become incapacitated, or have been removed "simultaneously." 

We know that if Joe Biden is removed -- then Kamala Harris will move into the Presidency. She would have to then nominate a Vice President. She would be able to nominate anyone to that position, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Of course, as one reader just pointed out, Harris would not be able to nominate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for that position of Vice President until October 13, 2024, since Cortez would be under the Constitutionally required age of 35 for the office of Vice-President or President. 

If Kamala Harris is removed because of her incompetency, and possibly emotional instability as demonstrated with her constant laughter, then Joe Biden has to nominate a replacement for Vice President. And yes, Biden could nominate anyone to that position, including Rashida Tlaib or even Nancy Pelosi. But as far as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi simply ascending to the position of Vice President merely because a vacancy is created, that's not how the system works. 
 
Sorry, Nancy! 

Tom Correa

2 comments:

  1. Hi Tom. Great blog! One quick correction: if Joe Biden were removed, and Kamala Harris became President, she would indeed have to nominate a Vice President. However, she would not be able to nominate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for that position until October 13, 2024, as Cortez would be under the constitutionally required age of 35 for the office of Vice-President (or President).

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello Macker,
    Thanks for letting me know about that. I really appreciate it. I will make the correction. Don't be surprised if I mention you when I do.
    Tom

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