Saturday, December 18, 2010

Boehner's Opportunity

Next month, John Boehner will take over as Speaker of the House from Nancy Pelosi, who justified her use of a jet to transport her between DC and her home based on her position in the line of succession to the presidency. He has an opportunity to correct a flaw in 3 U.S.C. § 19, the law providing for that succession if there is no Vice President to take over. As his position provides an opportunity for the presidency to switch to the opposing party, if he were to introduce or support legislation to remove the two Congressional members in the line of succession, it would be rightly seen as putting principle above political advantage.

James Madison, widely considered the Father of the Constitution, disagreed with the first Presidential Succession law that placed the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House in the line of succession. To his objections, let me attempt to add a few others:

Using our current situation as an example, if some combination of circumstances removed both President Obama and Vice President Biden from office before another Vice President could be nominated and approved, the odds are pretty good that those circumstances are extraordinarily bad. At such a difficult time, a President Boehner who had a sitting Cabinet almost entirely composed of the opposing party would find it even more difficult to govern. Meanwhile, the House would have its own succession to work through. Presumably, Eric Cantor would move up to Speaker, and the other Republican leaders would each slide up one position, assuming of course that whatever took out both the President and Vice President at the same time didn't also take out the Speaker...

Traditionally, the Senate President Pro Tempore is the senior member of the Majority party, which skews toward really old people. Robert Byrd was 93 when he died in office. Strom Thurmond was 99 years old when he last held the title of President Pro Tempore. The current PPT, Daniel Inouye, is 86 years old. Any scenario I can imagine under which Obama, Biden, and Boehner are either dead, incapacitated, or otherwise removed from office before any of them can get a new VP in place is not one in which an octogenarian legislator should be the Commander in Chief.

In my opinion, the simultaneous vacancy of both President and Vice President is best filled by someone who has been in Cabinet meetings throughout the administration, and already has a good working relationship with the other members of that Cabinet.
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Speaker Boehner should support legislation that removes himself and Senator Inouye from the line of succession, and puts Secretary of State Clinton behind Vice President Biden, where she rightly belongs.

Yes, I just endorsed Clinton over Boehner for POTUS. Weird, but entirely logical.

Threely for this post:

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