Keep marching on, friends. Because one day, you will be heard.
This is one of those weird areas where there is a lot of confusion because the Constitution requires the President to take the oath of office before discharging the duties of the office, but in reality, we’ve never been without a President. In the eyes of the government and the military and the Secret Service, there is never an interregnum, even if the oath hasn’t been taken. While it might not be exactly what the Constitution sets forth, the powers of the Presidency instantly changes hands when a President dies or resigns.
Using the Kennedy Assassination for example, the powers of the Presidency passed to LBJ as soon as President Kennedy was pronounced dead. And, even as JFK was being worked on in the trauma room at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, the Secret Service recognized that he wasn’t going to survive and immediately began switching protection to LBJ. Some Secret Service agents regularly on JFK’s detail didn’t even know what to do at the time because there was no precedent for the protection of a deceased President’s family. They questioned who would go with LBJ from Parkland to Love Field — LBJ’s regular Secret Service detail, or the regular Presidential detail (since, to them, LBJ was now President — even if he hadn’t yet been sworn in). Even when people addressed LBJ at Parkland Hospital, minutes after President Kennedy was officially pronounced dead, they addressed him as “Mr. President”. Technically, he hadn’t raised his right hand and taken the Presidential oath, but he was President — and that’s how it’s been with every other transition.
There is never an instant where we don’t have a President because it’s potentially dangerous, and continuity-of-government is an extraordinarily important part of maintaining a democratic republic. The people need to know that somebody is always in charge, and our enemies always need to know that we will never be caught sleeping. That’s why we have “designated survivors” — individual officers in the Presidential line of succession that are taken to a safe place or undisclosed location during events like the State of the Union Address when most of the rest of the people in the line of succession are gathered in one place. That’s also why a nuclear football travels everywhere the Vice President goes, too. If there was a sudden nuclear attack on Washington, D.C. that took out the President and most of Congress while the Vice President was out of town, we wouldn’t wait for the VP to be sworn in as President. The VP has the same type of military aide as the President and the same authentication card for launching nuclear weapons as the President, so if something happens to the POTUS, the VP can take charge as Commander-in-Chief and launch retaliatory strikes, if necessary.
You asked about what would happen if the President hadn’t been declared dead. In that case, there are contingency plans under the 25th Amendment, but it depends on the situation. If there is the possibility of recovery, power can be transferred to the Vice President (or whomever is next in the line of succession) while an injured or ailing President is recovering. The President can transfer power to the VP himself with a letter to the Speaker of the House and President pro tempore of the Senate, and the VP would be Acting President until the President notifies the same two leaders that he is able to reclaim his office and discharge the duties.
But if the President is incapacitated and unable to transfer power to the VP by letter, there is another way to enact the 25th Amendment — and this would also be something necessary if a President was incapacitated and refusing to transfer power (an example of this is Woodrow Wilson clinging to office after his debilitating stroke, or if a President was clearly declining due to Alzheimer’s disease but wouldn’t resign). In that case, the Vice President and either a majority of “the principal officers of the executive department” (the Cabinet secretaries) or a majority of Congress could notify (by writing) the Speaker of the House and President pro tempore of the Senate of the President’s irreparable incapacitation. Then, it would require a 2/3rds majority from both the House of Representatives and the Senate to transfer power to the Vice President or next in the line of succession as Acting President.
The Constitution does specifically require that the President take the oath (or “affirmation) of office “Before he enter upon the Execution of his Office…” and that tends to be the first thing that a President actually does, but a President becomes President at the moment their predecessor’s term ends. Fortunately, we haven’t had any sort of Constitutional crisis where a new President who has not yet taken the oath has issued an order and been rebuffed by someone who says, “Ummm…you didn’t say the magic 35 words.”
All the President’s Men (BOOK | KINDLE) didn’t have enough political intrigue for you?! It’s literally a book entirely focused on political intrigue and featuring groundbreaking investigative reporting by two relatively young and low-level journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post. I mean, the main subject of the book is the biggest and most serious political scandal in American history, an attempt at covering up the scandal (making things even worse), and eventually led to the first and only resignation of the President of the United States.
I’m not really sure what could possibly be added to that in order to make it “sexier” or increase the level of political intrigue. Strippers and Godzilla? Did we need a drunken, obscenely nude Richard Nixon lighting a bonfire on the South Lawn of the White House and then tossing the Watergate tapes into the flames from the Truman Balcony while he fired round-after-round into the air from a shotgun and screamed, “I WON 49 STATES IN 1972! IF YOU WANT ME OUT OF OFFICE, YOU BEST BRING SOME FIREPOWER, PACK A LUNCH, AND KISS YOUR MAMA GOOD-BYE!”
All the President’s Men (BOOK | KINDLE) is one of the most interesting, influential, and important books ever written about a President, the Presidency, or American politics in general. And Woodward and Bernstein followed it up with The Final Days (BOOK | KINDLE), which I’ve always found to be even more fascinating than All the President’s Men.
Maybe those two books didn’t feature the political intrigue that you are used to, but you might be watching too many dramatic political thrillers on television. All the President’s Men and The Final Days recount things that actually happened in real-life.
Not President Mitt Romney does the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge with help from Not Vice President Paul Ryan.
The best part of this is Romney’s deadpan, robotic, “That is cold,” after Ryan dumps the water on his head (while he wears a business suit!). But I would have donated everything I have to fighting ALS if Romney had just let loose and screamed some horrible, shocking, obscenely profane language after he got soaked. Also, did Mitt Romney’s hair just magically reshape itself into perfect condition after he ran his hand through it? I mean, that was impressive. Maybe we should have elected him President if he has magic hair; Mitt Romney might be one of the X-Men!
I understand what you’re saying. This is another one of those instances — as is the case with most questions about Presidential succession or the 25th Amendment — where there are no precedents to follow and a lot of confusion, and where that confusion will remain until something happens that actually puts the 25th Amendment into effect and tests the process.
To refresh everyone’s memories, a President can permanently relinquish his office by resigning, which leads to the Vice President (or the person next in the line of succession) becoming the new President. If that happens, the VP-turned-President can be elected to two full terms as President in his own right unless the VP completes more than two years of the unfinished term of the President he succeeded. In that case, the VP is only allowed to be elected to one term in his own right. As an example: when LBJ assumed the Presidency upon the death of John F. Kennedy, JFK had less than two years left in his term. So, LBJ was able to run again in 1964 (and won), and would have been allowed to run for another term in 1968 if he had chosen to. After that, he would have been term-limited and unable to seek the Presidency again in 1972. On the other hand, when Gerald Ford succeeded Richard Nixon in 1974 following Nixon’s assassination, Ford completed more than two years of Nixon’s term. Ford was unsuccessful in trying to win a term of his own in 1976, but if he had won the ‘76 election, he would have been term-limited from seeking another term as President in 1980.
But a President could also temporarily the powers of the Presidency if he or she were incapacitated or unable to discharge their duties, and then reclaim their duties when they are ready. This has happened a couple of times when recent Presidents have undergone medical treatment which required anesthesia. When that happens, the President invokes the 25th Amendment, and the Vice President becomes “Acting President” until the President feels clear enough to reclaim the full duties of the Presidency once again.
Now, this is where the questions start popping up. When a President resigns and a Vice President permanently assumes the powers, duties, and trappings of the Presidency (as in the aforementioned cases of LBJ and Gerald Ford), the VP becomes President of the United States in full. However, when a President invokes the 25th Amendment and temporarily transfers power to the Vice President, the VP does not become “President of the United States”. Instead, the VP becomes “Acting President”, and remains “Acting President” until the President reclaims the position, resigns, or is removed from office.
Since this Constitutional curiosity has never been put to the test, we don’t know for sure what the answer to your question is. But my interpretation is that the time that a VP served as “Acting President” in an instance where the 25th Amendment was invoked would not count towards term limits if that VP eventually became the President in his own right. Plus, the invocation of the 25th Amendment in order to temporarily relieve an incapacitated President of his duties is not meant to be a long-term solution. The 25th Amendment also has a mechanism for removing a seriously incapacitated President who has little change of regaining the ability to discharge his duty. If things got that serious, a temporary fix would be bypassed in favor of removing the incapacitated President and handing power to the next in the line of succession. At that point, the clock would begin ticking to determine whether the successor would be limited to being elected to one or two terms as President on their own, but that’s a different discussion.
The strangest (and most confusing) thing about the differences between someone who assumes the Presidency permanently and someone who temporarily becomes “Acting President” is that there isn’t any difference in actual power. The difference is in the title, but — whether temporary or permanent — they exercise all of the powers of the Presidency.
However, the quick answer, which is not nearly as interesting as the question is this: We don’t know.
It’s largely due to tradition. George Washington placed his hand on the Bible while taking the oath of office and most of his successors followed suit. As President, Washington’s major contribution was setting precedent after precedent, which helped shape the Presidency into the position that it became. Some of those precedents were common sense; some of them were necessary for a brand-new federal government of a brand-new country; but some of them were choices that George Washington made because he had his own personal style of governing and a strict set of beliefs when it came to honor and respect. John Adams was famously trying to figure out which grandiose title was most deserved and fit best with the man, the position, and the times, but it was Washington who shut down the discussion and said that he’d be referred to as “Mr. President” and nothing more, and that’s how that tradition was born.
After two terms as President, Washington could have continued in office until the day that he died, but he recognized the importance of civilian leadership in a democratic republic returning to civilian life and went home to Mount Vernon after two four-year terms as President. That began another tradition — the two-term tradition that was rarely challenged by Washington’s successors. Ulysses S. Grant sought renomination for a third term as President, but the strength of Washington’s two-term tradition made it difficult for Grant’s candidacy to gain any traction. It wasn’t until 1940 when someone — Franklin D. Roosevelt — did break the two-term tradition, but the country was working its way out of the Great Depression and American involvement in World War II was on the horizon, so voters stuck with FDR and elected him to an unprecedented third term (and then a fourth in 1940). But Washington’s two-term tradition was so highly-regarded that FDR’s decision to run for a third (and the fourth) was controversial and became a campaign issue; Roosevelt even received flak from his fellow Democrats. Two years after FDR died (in office early in his fourth term), Congress passed the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, making Washington’s two-term tradition into law, and it was ratified in 1951.
With the Presidential oath of office, there are few definite requirements, and a bunch of long-standing traditions that, again, mainly started with George Washington, like the placing of the hand on the Bible. Nothing requires Presidents to swear their oath on the Bible. John Quincy Adams didn’t swear the oath on the Bible at all. In fact, JQA took his oath in a way that I think is much more powerful than using a Bible — he placed his hand on a book of U.S. laws to represent his promise to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” After President McKinley was assassinated in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt didn’t use a Bible or any other prop when being sworn in. In Dallas, on Air Force One, there was no Bible, so stewards found a Catholic missal belonging to the slain President Kennedy, and that’s how he 36th President was sworn in.
But the Bible isn’t a requirement for the swearing-in ceremony. Swearing the oath isn’t a requirement, either. Presidents can say, “I do solemnly swear” or “I do solemnly affirm”. Only one President has given affirmed the oath rather than swearing it — Franklin Pierce in 1853, for religious reasons. When Bibles are used, the Presidents usually choose which Bible they want to use and whether or not the Bible is open or closed while taking the oath. Many Presidents choose to open the Bible and rest their hand on a specific scriptural passage, although no two Presidents have used the same passage when taking the oath. Several Presidents have used two Bibles — for example, in 1989, George H.W. Bush took the oath of office with an open Bush family Bible resting on top of George Washington’s Masonic Bible, which had been opened to a random passage. Bush 41’s inauguration was the 200th anniversary of Washington’s first inauguration in 1789, and he also had his Bible (the same one Bush used in 1989) opened to a random passage. Bush 41’s son, George W. Bush, used the Bush family Bible at both of his inaugurations (closed in 2001 and open in 2005). Incidentally, George W. Bush wanted to use the Masonic Bible belonging to George Washington at his first inauguration, just as his father had in 1989, but although it had been brought to Washington, D.C. from its home in New York City (and heavily guarded), poor weather at the 2001 Inauguration resulted in the first George W.’s Bible steering clear of the elements. The Library of Congress maintains a list of the specific Bibles used (if known) at each Presidential Inauguration, as well as the scriptural passages that the Presidents placed their hand upon when taking the oath of office.
Yes. It is ever-evolving as I learn more about him. I sort of have a love-hate relationship with him. I greatly admire a lot of his achievements and derring-do, but he was also a political backstabber and royal buttmunch as well.
understood. some people just can’t handle what we’re dishing out.
I’m returning to graduate school this week. Still wishing I were going into ladyhistory's class.
DON’T WE ALL
i will return for the child within one month
this is your warning
It just needs to be a show about GW, Ben, and Caleb vs. Andre vs. Rogers
with anna, mary, and abigail throwing massive shade about they could get shit done 500000x faster
YES AND THEY ACTUALLY OUTSPY THE HECK OUT OF THE BOYS AND NO ONE EVEN SUSPECTS THEM
Anna Kendrick Plays Ariel in Little Mermaid Parody on SNL [Video]
I feel like I should straighten a common misconception out, because I get a lot of messages about it:
I’m not a U.S. History teacher. I am a U.S. Government teacher, which is quite different.
While my class does intersect with history quite a lot, a government course focuses on the creation…