Lawmaker Proposes Altering Line of Succession

As the White House reveals that it has an administration-in-waiting in the event of a calamity in Washington, one representative has come up with a proposal to preserve continuity of federal policies in the event that both the president and vice-president are deceased or incapacitated.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-California, introduced legislation Thursday that would make sure that the president can outline a line of succession to guarantee his successor is from the same party.

"The death of a president at a time when the office of the vice president is vacant could vest the presidency in the opposite political party and radically change federal policy," Sherman said. "The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon illustrate the need for Congress to consider the issue of presidential succession and ensure continuity in federal policies."

Sherman first proposed the legislation in November, but it got set aside as Congress debated other issues, said Sherman spokesman Matthew Farrauto.

Currently, the line of succession is designated by the Presidential Succession of Act of 1947, which lists the line of succession as president, vice president, House speaker, president pro tempore of the Senate, followed by Cabinet Secretaries, beginning with the Secretary of State. 

Sherman's bill, the Presidential Succession Act of 2002, wants to prevent a situation in which the House speaker or president pro tem of a different party takes over. 

His bill would require the president to file an official document with the Clerk of the House of Representatives, designating the third in line of succession as either the Speaker of the House or the House minority leader.  Similarly, the president would file with the Secretary of the Senate, designating the fourth in line as either the Senate Majority leader or Minority leader. Thereafter, the line of succession would continue through the cabinet provided by current law.

Farrauto said not much play has been made of the bill yet even though the White House announced Friday that it does indeed have 70-150 senior administration officials working in two secure bunkers on the Eastern seaboard in case of an emergency.

Congress has a plan for continuity of government in case of emergency, but it is not activated.  The House Judiciary Committee Thursday discussed revising the plan.

Farrauto said Sherman is hopeful other lawmakers will catch on to the justifiable and hopeful qualities of the bill.

"It's one of those proposals that other than just being practical and having good foresight, it doesn't have tangible political benefits," he said.

The bill does not change the Constitution, which dictates that Congress can decide the line of succession after the vice president.

In 1792, Congress did so, making a law to give the Senate president pro tem third rite of succession and the House speaker fourth. That law was changed in 1886 to give two cabinet members third and fourth spots.

In 1947, President Truman, a good friend of House Speaker Sam Rayburn, D-Texas, urged Congress to give the House Speaker the privilege of being third in line since he was elected by the people. Congress complied.