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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Continuity of Government and Presidential Succession

 John C. Fortier and Norman Ornstein at AEI:

  • The Continuity of Government Commission makes recommendations to ensure the continuity of the presidency after a catastrophic event.
  • The core recommendation is that Congress amend the Presidential Succession Act to remove congressional leaders from the presidential line of succession, providing instead for succession solely by members of the president’s cabinet.
  • This change would address constitutional problems inherent in the current framework and provide clarity and stability amid a crisis.
  • Other recommendations deal with presidential incapacity and continuity issues arising during the period between a presidential election and Inauguration Day.
There are serious policy and constitutional objections to having congressional leaders in the line of succession. The Constitution allows Congress to specify which “Officer” shall be in the line of succession, a term that many commentators believe refers to executive and judicial officers, not congressional ones. More broadly, structural considerations make it difficult for legislative leaders to assume a position in the executive branch. 

Congressional leaders cannot easily step in for an incapacitated president, and they may have conflicts of interest in an impeachment and removal scenario. Congressional leaders may be members of a different political party than the president. A political zealot might seek to change the party in the executive branch with a single attack. A freak accident might lead to a sudden change in party; the death of President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush could have led to President Thomas “Tip” O’Neill. The death of President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore might have led to President Newt Gingrich. The situation becomes more tenuous if the vice presidency has been vacant for a time