Sort of a local story. Not getting as much attention as all the other stirring in DC is that our neighbor to the south, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, is now the President Pro-Tem
of the US Senate.. a job that normally goes to the most senior senator in the majority. Who cares? If nothing else he is now 3 heartbeats away from the presidency. What about heartbeat #4?ok
.. unless you are really bored you ought to stop reading now.
If you think you know your civics really well, do you really understand the presidential line of succession? A little snippit
of my past is that my career started as a defense analyst. In college I had courses focused on things like nuclear counterforce
targeting and central front warplaning
. No joke. It is a good thing that the end of the cold war made both of those skill sets obsolete overnight, but it does keep many things in perspective. An occasional
topic that would come up is a exactly how the Presidential chain of succession worked (you have to know who gets to push the button). I actually once had a whole class focused on what happens in some of the Tom Clancy like scenarios where the Presidential chain of command gets wiped out. Even the best civics classes do not explain the real screwey
possibilities out there.
What am I talking about? Most everyone knows the VP takes over when the Presidency is vacant. Actually the presidency is never vacant, the VP becomes President instantaneously. The swearing in of the Vice President they do is completely pro forma
. Most also know that if the VP is not around you go looking for the Speaker of the House and then the President Pro Tem
of the Senate, assuming they were born in the US and old enough to be president that is, otherwise they get skipped over theoretically. For years that would have meant nonagenarian Strom
could have become president, a scary thought in itself. After that the cabinet secretaries in rank order of seniority based on when the department was created. (again dependent on the persons holding those positions being eligible by nativity and age) So the Secretary of State is first all the way down to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. For decades the Postmaster General was in that list as well. I think they still need some new law to put the Secretary of Homeland Security in that list although I think by default that person is there automatically at the end becasue the department was created last. There have been some attmepts in recent years to rejigger the order so the Homeland Defense moves up the list.
The fine print isn
’t really that clear. It turns out that the Speaker or President Pro Tem
, if they assume the presidency, serve out the remainder of the presidential term. However the cabinet secretaries only act
as president and would be replaced by either the speaker of the house or the president pro tem
once someone gets appointed to either of those posts. Which one? Well, that is the question. Essentially, whichever one gets appointed first. And if the President Pro tem
becomes president, does he or she have to give it up when a Speaker of the House shows up? No. which makes this real complicated. There are even some completely untested secret rules in the House about who becomes the House Speaker pro-tem in case the speakership is vacant. Whether such a person could become the president is vague and probably untenable. Since that list could go through the 435 house members before being exhausted it would essentially obviate the provision for the Senate President Pro-tem or below from ever being needed in the line of succession. Wasn't it much clearer when Al Haig was put in charge?
So theoretically, there is this bizarre-yet-possible scenario where the house and senate race each other to appoint a top person. Whichever gets appointed first becomes the president. If the house and senate were controlled by different parties at the time..... the legal wrangling after the 2000 election would look like small claims court. Of course, if a plane rams into the capital during the state of the union speech, you probably lose a quorum of the supreme court as well.
So yes, this is all nuts. But people forget that the Cold War world was pretty nuts. Anyone remember watching the watered down movie "The Day After" or its much more accurate British version "Threads"? All those missiles were real, armed, and ready to launch 24 hours a day.. and yes, people really did think through things like who would be president. The massive luxury bunker under the Greenbrier
Resort is evidence enough of that.Ok
, back to your regular programming.