Section 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.
Section 3. Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.
Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
This man certainly shares my point of view about Mrs. Pelosi. It would be a catastrophe if she was ever let into the oval office. Praise the 25th!!
The point has been made several times in recent months that Nancy Pelosi is third in line to become president. If something should happen to both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, Mrs. Pelosi would become president, a prospect some find dismaying, not to mention the end of civilization as we know it.
The worriers need not head for the hills. The 25th Amendment almost guarantees that Mrs. Pelosi will never make it to the White House as chief tenant.
The Constitution states that if the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, “the same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by law, provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Disability, both of the President and Vice President …” But, despite several close calls down the years, including two protracted cases of severe presidential disability, Congress was laggard in filling in the details.
James Madison, fourth president, was the first to have a vice president die in office. In fact, Mr. Madison had two vice presidents die on his watch. George Clinton died during the first Madison term, and Elbridge Gerry during the second. That has happened to no other president. Mr. Madison served almost half his eight years in office without a vice president. Had he died in office, Congress would have had to fill the vacancy. It might have been a contentious business.
The first president to die in office was old William Henry Harrison in 1841, only a few weeks after his inauguration. He was succeeded by John Tyler, who immediately got into a controversy about whether he was actually president or merely an acting president. The Constitution is not clear on the point, but Mr. Tyler insisted that he was president, no ifs, ands or buts, and so things have stood ever since. He finished out the term without a vice president.
In fact the country has sometimes functioned for years without a vice president. James Madison, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson all had to serve without vice presidents after they succeeded men who had died in office. So, briefly, did Ulysses Grant, after Henry Wilson died at his desk toward the end of Mr. Grant’s second term.
Congress at various times specified who should succeed to the presidential office should both president and vice president be unable to serve. But the problem of an incapacitated president was never addressed head-on, despite two scary episodes. On July 2, 1881, President James Garfield was shot and lingered on, incapacitated, for more than two months. He finally died on Sept. 18, and was succeeded by Vice President Chester Arthur. But during those two months, the nation was essentially without a president. Although he may have signed a few documents, Mr. Garfield was obviously unable to function properly as the chief executive of the nation. When Attorney General James G. Blaine suggested that the Cabinet declare Mr. Arthur president, everyone, including Mr. Arthur, opposed the idea.
Even worse was what happened on Oct. 2, 1919. President Woodrow Wilson, just back from Europe and the peace negotiations at Versailles, was barnstorming across America trying to win support for his League of Nations. Exhausted, he had just returned to Washington when, according to one account: “On the morning of Oct. 2, Mrs. Wilson found her husband unconscious on the bathroom floor of their private White House quarters bleeding from a cut on his head. Wilson had suffered a stroke — a massive attack that left his left side paralyzed and impaired his vision. … For seventeen months the enfeebled President lay on his bed on the brink of death, barely able to write his own name.”
For the next year and a half, Mrs. Wilson controlled access to the ailing president. The press and the Congress could find out almost nothing beyond the occasional reassurance that the president was improving. He did improve slightly, but he never fully recovered. People began to call Mrs. Wilson the first woman president.
Still, nothing was done. Twenty-five years later, Congress listened to President Franklin Roosevelt on his return from the Yalta conference. He was wan and gaunt, obviously near the end. A few weeks later he suffered the stroke that killed him. He died within hours, but he might have lingered on, comatose, for weeks or months. He was succeeded by Harry Truman, who finished out the term without a vice president.
Finally, 22 years after the death of FDR, the 25th Amendment became part of the Constitution. It covers several contingencies, notably that if the vice president dies in office, the president shall nominate someone to fill the vacancy, that person to take the office after being confirmed by a majority vote in both houses of Congress.
That provision has been used only twice, under somewhat bizarre circumstances. In October 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew, under indictment for corruption, resigned his office. President Richard Nixon replaced him with Gerald Ford. The following year, Mr. Nixon, under the threat of impeachment, resigned the presidency. Mr. Ford succeeded him and selected Nelson Rockefeller to be vice president. It is hard to imagine how that messy series of events would have been dealt with had the 25th Amendment not been in place.
One hundred and eighty years after the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, a weakness in the Constitution was rectified. We should be thankful.
One of my favorite actors of all time, the man, the myth, the legend... Alec Baldwin. No one could do it better.