I’ve heard it enough times that the myth of Nancy Pelosi ascending to the presidency through the Constitutional scheme, in which the president and vice president are unable to perform their office, has to be dispelled.
Point in fact: No Speaker of the House has ever ascended to the presidency through the Constitutional order of ascendancy. In fact, James Polk was the only person who served as Speaker of the House and later went on to be elected, via a presidential election, as president.
So, how does it work?
The Speaker of the House assuming, or ascending, to the presidency has reference only to an emergency of some sort that either removed both the POTUS and VPOTUS simultaneously, or due to some circumstance in which they were both incapable of performing the duties of their offices.
Anything else, including an orderly removal of the President, brings the VP to the presidency. Once the VP is sworn in as POTUS, the new president selects another VPOTUS, after which that selection must be approved by a simple majority in both chambers of the Congress. There is no situation in which the Speaker of the House becomes the Vice President unless the President were to select the Speaker for the office of VP and the Speaker was approved by the Congress.
Let’s think about the case of Richard Nixon which might have been one of the most convoluted issues we’ve gone through in recent times and where we ended up with a president and vice president, neither of which was elected by the populace.
So, Spiro T Agnew, Richard Nixon’s running partner and legally elected Vice President, was involved in a scandal that resulted in the resignation of the Vice President. At that point, Richard Nixon selected Gerald Ford as his VP and Ford was confirmed by Congress. Subsequently, Nixon has his own scandal, Watergate, that took him down and rather than put the country through a House impeachment and a Senate conviction, he resigned. Ford, an unelected VP, was sworn in as POTUS and subsequently selected Nelson Rockefeller as VP, after which Rockefeller was confirmed by Congress and became an unelected VP.
At that point, in December, 1974, the US had both an unelected President and unelected Vice President until January, 1977. There was never any point during that time that the Speaker of the House was going to become the president.
Let’s bring it home. If joe Biden resigns or, through a 25th Amendment action, is deemed to be unable to fulfil his duties as the POTUS, and is removed from office, Kamala Harris would ascend to the presidency. Once installed as president, Kamala Harris would select a vice presidential partner. The selection would then need to be confirmed by a simple majority in both chambers of Congress.
The only glitch here is that the Senate is currently divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. With no VP, who also serves as the President of the Senate and the tiebreaking vote in any 50-50 Senate vote, assuming everyone voted along party lines, the Democrats would need to woo, at least, one Republican over to approve the Harris selection for VP.
I don’t see the 50-50 make-up in the Senate as a problem to getting a Democrat VP selection approved. Given the alternative, no VP and infighting in the Senate, I’m sure there would be any number of RINO’s willing to vote with the Dems, “for the good of the country.” Let me count the RINO’s:
Mittens Romney, “Weeping” Adam Kinzinger, Lisa MurCOWski, Susan Collins, even Mitch McConnell, who I have no doubt would tell his members to vote for confirmation “for the good of the country”. Remember, the Democrats only need one crossover.
Finally, there was never any time in the run-up to the inauguration of the 46th President of the US that anyone, in the know, thought that Nancy Pelosi might have to assume the office of the presidency. Even the case that we didn’t have a new president on January 20th, based on the inability, at the time, of the Congress to certify the electoral college choice, would not have necessitated the Speaker to ascend to the presidency, and would only have caused the deadline for a selection to be extended, while the current president remained in office, therefore, no such case would have necessitated the Speaker to assume the presidency.
So, there you have it, there it is. I can, pretty much, assure you that Nancy Pelosi will never become the president of the United States and, if we’re lucky, Pelosi will no longer be Speaker of the House come January, 2023… and if we’re really fortunate, Pelosi will no longer be an elected representative for the 12th congressional district of California in 2023.
POSTSCRIPT: I thought I’d add another recent event that addresses the subject of who ascends to the presidency and when. In 1963, President John F Kennedy was assassinated. If VP, Lyndon B Johnson had been in the car with him, instead of Governor John Connally, and Johnson had been assassinated , as well, Speaker of the House, John W McCormack, would have been sworn in and assumed the office of president. He then would have had the task of identifying a vice-president to serve with him. The fact is that such a scenario would never have happened in our modern age because there wouldn’t have been such a scenario where the president and vice-president would have been that closely together in such a risky situation – an open convertible. In fact, the POTUS and VPOTUS would not normally have appeared together except in official gatherings that would probably only occur in Washington, DC. That said, Lyndon B Johnson was sworn in as president as soon as Kennedy was declared dead and he, subsequently, went on to name Hubert Humphrey as his VP. Humphrey was confirmed by the Congress without incident. While there might be wrangling in the Congress over cabinet positions or judgeships, it’s pretty well agreed upon that we would not want to leave the top positions of the leadership of our country, specifically POTUS and VPOTUS, vacant for very long.
2 thoughts on “MythBusting: The Speaker of the House as POTUS?”
Nicely done, Paul. Looks right to me.
Thanks, Jim, good to see you still kickin’.