If you are interested in politics – and you like lists – then here’s a list that may be of some interest to you.
For this is a list, in order, of who the next President of the United States might be if, as seems increasingly likely, something untoward – mostly in the form of criminal charges or impeachment – befalls our beloved Donald over the next few months.
Succession to the US Presidency in order
The line of succession to the US Presidency, as established by the Presidential Succession Act 1947 is listed here:
1. Vice President – Mike Pence
2. Speaker of the House of Representatives – Paul Ryan
3. President pro tempore of the Senate – Orrin Hatch
4. Secretary of State – Rex Tillerson
5. Secretary of the Treasury – Steven Mnuchin
6. Secretary of Defense – James Mattis (I)
7. Attorney General – Jeff Sessions
8. Secretary of the Interior – Ryan Zinke
9. Secretary of Agriculture – Sonny Perdue
10. Secretary of Commerce – Wilbur Ross
11. Secretary of Labor – Alex Acosta
12. Secretary of Health and Human Services – Tom Price
13. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – Ben Carson
– Secretary of Transportation – Elaine Chao
14. Secretary of Energy – Rick Perry
15. Secretary of Education – Betsy DeVos
16. Secretary of Veterans Affairs – David Shulkin (I)
17. Secretary of Homeland Security – John F. Kelly (I)
This is pretty self-explanatory.You probably knew that next in line is Mike Pence. Those with long memories (from the Nixon era) have probably sussed that if Pence fails to make the grade – if, for instance, Pence becomes embroiled in the same scandal that pundits suspect may eventually bring down Trump, then next in line is the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan.
After him, in order of departmental seniority, comes Orrin Hatch, followed by Rex Tillerson and Steve Mnuchin, working their way methodically down the list until they reach Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly at no. 17.
Elaine Chao is not in the running because she is not a natural-born US citizen. She, like almost everyone else on this list is Republican: three exceptions – Mattis, Shulkin and Kelly are allegedly Independent.
So who’s really on next?
If the President is impeached, then the obvious outcome is Pence. Against this sits a narrative circulating the wilder reaches of conspiracy blogging that it is not just Trump who is for the chop. According to these, not only is the Donald up to his neck in collusion with Russia, but Pence and Ryan too.Which means….well, step forward President Hatch, currently fourth in succession as the longest serving senator also member of the Senate majority party.
Except…that’s not quite how it works. Or rather, that is how it works if some disaster – natural or terrorist – takes out the US government from the top down.
The dedicated assassin, or the sneak nuclear attack hitting Washington, while half a dozen from the top of this list, including President and Vice-President are all in residence, would result in whoever was still standing taking office.
In practice, though, as per the 25th Amendment, a resigning President will almost always be replaced by the Vice-President. What hasn’t helped is a muddying of the waters in 1973, shortly before the resignation of Nixon.Because if the strict line of succession had been followed as it stood in late 1973, then we should have ended up with President Carl Albert. Who he?
Well, Albert was both Speaker of the House of Representatives (the position held by Ryan today) and a Democrat. In October 1973, following prima facie evidence of corruption, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned, leaving a vacancy at the very top until Nixon nominee and leader of the minority Republican Party in the House of Representatives, Gerald Ford, was confirmed by both Houses in December
For two months, therefore, the United States was without a vice-President and, as leader of the House of Representatives, Albert could have blocked the confirmation of any replacement, and then stepped up to the Presidency when Nixon was forced to resign some months later.
One suspects that, had a similar situation arisen under Obama, the current crop of Republicans would have leapt at the chance to grab the Presidency. But back then, US politics still maintained, in some quarters, a veneer of respectability.
Albert felt that it would be improper for the Democrats to seize the Presidency when the electorate had clearly chosen a Republican. Had events placed him in the White House, he later said, he would have stayed only as long as it took for Congress to confirm a Republican Vice President, after which he would resign. In the event, he ensured that the Democrats gave full backing to Nixon’s nominee and….the rest is history.
But what if?
Key to the succession is therefore the vice-presidency: if Trump leaves office, Pence takes over: if Pence falls victim to the current Russia investigation, either Trump nominates a new VP who, with Republican majorities in both Houses would likely be appointed with little opposition. Or the VP role remains vacant and in the case of a Trump resignation the Presidency shifts to Ryan or – if there is any truth to current rumours – the Queen might end up greeting President Orrin Hatch at some point in 2018.
Complications – of the sort beloved by writers of speculative fiction – set in after November 2018. If the Democrats retake one or both Houses, then that places a major roadblock on the road to the succession.
Because after Mike Pence would be Nancy Pelosi in the House of Representatives and David Leahy in the Senate.
And with majorities in both Houses, the Democrats would be capable of voting down any replacement VP that Trump might propose.
Would they dare? The example of Carl Albert suggests they should not.But over the past half century US politics has become more polarised. It could be argued that Trump’s presidency lacks legitimacy, given his failure to win a majority of the popular vote: and coming shortly after a Democrat landslide in the mid-term elections, there would be a strong case for arguing that they had a mandate NOT to replace a corrupt Republican VP with another Republican.
Stalemate – opening up the possibility that of a President Pelosi or President Leahy before the next Presidential elections in 2020.
Fiction? Almost certainly. But fun, nonetheless. And you never know. These are interesting times and this would be the most interesting twist yet.
Note: i am not now nore am i ever likely to be a US citizen. What i know about this stuff is as much as anyone can research online: if you are seeking cast-iron constitutional guidance, do your own research or find an expert. Meanwhile, the last bit is speculation: a gift, if you like to political fiction writers. I am pretty sure it will never come to pass. But feel free to comment. Politely.