President Who!

The punctuation mark in today’s title is not a mistake. Today’s article is not a prediction; it is an illustration of the strange territory we may well be entering into. The scenario is somewhat fictitious but it is based on the reality America operates under. At the risk of creating a new genre of literature best described as “political science fiction” I offer you the following.  

The case for the impeachment of Donald Trump grows stronger weekly, if not daily. The reality is that the current House of Representatives will not impeach him and therefore whether the current Senate would convict him is irrelevant. That could change in one of two ways. The least likely is that some new evidence could emerge that changed the attitude of the current House. The more likely is that voters put the Democrats in control of the House in 2019. (I am neither predicting that nor ruling that possibility out at this point.) My scenario envisions the latter option.

While Vice President Mike Pence appears to be innocent of any impeachable offences prior to the election the same cannot be said for the transition or his time in that office. It is not that far-fetched that both Trump and Pence would be simultaneously removed from office. (Another, less likely, scenario is that Pence leaves office and a replacement has not been confirmed by the time Trump is impeached.) In either of those events the Speaker of the House would become President.

Assuming the Democrats take control of the House the most likely scenario is that the current Democratic House Leader, Nancy Pelosi, would be elected Speaker; but that is not a given. Pelosi is not as popular among this crop of challengers, (some of whom would have to be elected for the Democrats to take back the House), as she has been with past “classes”. Many younger Congressional Democrats are anxious for a changing of the guard and youth infusion. I can see a scenario where Pelosi cannot get a majority of the House to elect her as Speaker; (far from a given; but certainly imaginable.)

If the Democrats fail to rally around Pelosi at this writing there is no clear heir apparent. Others in current House Democratic leadership are also long in the tooth which is a major bone of contention with Pelosi. The Constitution does not require that the Speaker be a member of the majority Party or even a member of the House. Theoretically an American who has reached their 25th birthday and has been a citizen for seven years could serve as Speaker. This is significant because the Speaker is third in line for the Presidency. If the offices of President and Vice President were to become simultaneously vacant any eligible to serve Speaker of the House would become President. As long as the Speaker had reached their 35th birthday and was a natural born American citizen (the exact definition of which has never been tested in our courts) they would become President.

That sounds like a pretty wild scenario but then again many nights I stay up later than I planned watching domestic political events unfold on television that leave me shaking my head in disbelief.

Perhaps the most reassuring tale I heard of late came from presidential historian Jon Meacham. William Henry Harrison died after 31 days in office from pneumonia which he contracted while delivering his inaugural address. John Tyler had been elected as Vice President with Harrison. In 1841 the chain of succession was unclear and Harrison was the first president to die in office. After about a month Tyler simply moved into the White House and that settled matters. Maybe American politics has always been a bit zany and we just don’t study history well enough.

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