Would the system of presidential succession work if necessary?

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., will become the longest-serving Democratic U.S. senator next year, but she won’t run for president.

AP file

This could be the line of presidential succession after Vice President Kamala Harris when the new Congress convenes in January: Nancy Pelosi, 82, and Dianne Feinstein, 89.

Having two octogenarians (and three Californians) close to the Oval Office did not happen. The slate for early 2023 is likely to look like this: Vice President Kamala Harris, 58, a former California attorney general and U.S. senator, likely House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, 57, a California Republican, and Senate President Petty’s champion Murray of Washington, 72. .

The narrow escape from the 1980s line of succession revives long-standing concerns about continuity, and it’s not just a matter of age. Suppose, McCarthy, a scathing critic of all that Biden became president? Is this what the American people chose in 2020?

The debate over presidential succession is as old as the nation itself, and cannot be stopped there.

“Continuity conditions also create the very instability they are supposed to prevent,” said Matthew Glassman, a senior fellow in government affairs at Georgetown University.

But, Glassman and other experts say, not only is changing the system difficult, it also lacks the urgency of other issues facing Congress and the White House.

Feinstein third in line?

The latest challenges came this month, when Democrats won control of the Senate in 2023. Feinstein, a California Democrat, has fielded several memory problems, raising questions about her fitness to serve.

The Bee asked shortly after the Senate’s decision does she want a job, she said three times that she was thinking about it. A few weeks ago she said she wasn’t interested.

since then Murray was nominated by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, R-N.Y., to the job. Senate Democrats plan to meet next week to approve the pick.

But should the position of Senate President be included in the line of succession?

The succession dispute

The job traditionally goes to the senior member of the majority party, which would be Feinstein. About Tem Senate Strom Thurmond, a Republican from South Carolina, took office when he was 98 in 2001. His successor, West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, died in office in 2010 at the age of 92. He was followed by Democrat Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who was 88 when he also died in office. The current president, Sen. Patrick Leahy, 82, D-Vermont, is retiring.

The position has no real power. Often, the president opens the day’s session of the Senate and participates in other ceremonial duties.

“There are no stressful management details. Even in the position of the chairman, it is necessary to carry out the tasks of the parliamentarian. It’s not too difficult,” said Stephen Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

The original line of succession had the president followed by the vice president, followed by the speaker. In 1886, two congressional offices lost their seats because the secretary of state was considered next in line to the vice president. The members of Congress claimed they had no leadership experience, according to the Senate Historian’s Office.

The Speaker and the President returned to their places in line in 1947, after Franklin Roosevelt’s death in 1945, prompted a new look at the situation. But this time the speaker was preceded by the president pro tem.

President Harry Truman claimed that the speaker was the chosen leader of the elected representatives. The members of the chamber elect the speaker.

“As the same argument could be made for an interim president, Truman’s decision may have reflected his strained relationship with Acting President Kenneth McKellar, 78, and his warm friendship with House Speaker Sam Rayburn, 65.” story on st Senate website said.

“After all,” the story said, “it was in Rayburn’s hidden office, where he went for a glass of bourbon, that Truman first learned of his elevation to the presidency.”

Another change in the order of succession made it difficult for the legislature to take over the presidency. Until the passage of the 25th Amendment in 1967, the office of vice president remained vacant when the president died before the end of his term.

Amendment passed after President Dwight D. Eisenhower 1955 heart attack and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 required the president to appoint a vice president when the position became vacant. A majority of both houses of Congress was required to approve this nominee.

Two vice-presidents have been appointed. Gerald Ford, then the House Republican leader, was nominated six weeks after Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973 and was confirmed and sworn in 19 days later. Ford became president in August 1974 and nominated former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller for work. Despite the controversy on some tax deductions, and skepticism from conservatives that he was too moderate, he confirmed.

Biden, who turned 80 last week, became the first octogenarian to hold the office. Reportedly in excellent health, concerns about a presidential legacy are hardly new, and only during emergencies..

Smith noted that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks sparked what he called an “intense” interest in succession. This is what happened with the uprising in the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

But the prospect of Feinstein’s inclusion in the succession has not sparked serious talk of a system change. Asked if there were any concerns, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, said, “I don’t know.”

Glassman doubted the topic would come up again anytime soon; it’s too disgusting to talk about.

“You’d have to have both the president and the vice president under a cloud for that to happen again,” he predicted.

David Lightman is McClatchy’s chief congressional correspondent. He has been writing, editing and teaching for nearly 50 years, with stops in Hagerstown, Maryland; Riverside, California; Annapolis; Baltimore; and since 1981 – Washington.

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