With news last week that close aides to President Trump and Vice President Pence tested positive for the COVID-19 Chinese coronavirus, speculation led by never-Trumper Bill Kristol has arisen about a scenario where Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), second in the line of succession, becomes president after Trump and Pence are taken down by the virus at the same time.
The measured scenarios by the likes of Kristol, Forbes writer Seth Cohen and Just the News’ Nicholas Ballasy envision Trump and Pence being incapacitated by the virus while others hope for a more final transition of power.
“Straightforward from here:* President Trump has to self-quarantine due to possible exposure to coronavirus, can’t fulfill duties of presidency in quarantine, steps down.* VP Pence has to self-quarantine, can’t fulfill duties of vice presidency, steps down.* President Pelosi”
Straightforward from here:
* President Trump has to self-quarantine due to possible exposure to coronavirus, can’t fulfill duties of presidency in quarantine, steps down.
* VP Pence has to self-quarantine, can’t fulfill duties of vice presidency, steps down.
* President Pelosi.😉
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) May 9, 2020
— Seth Cohen (@sethacohen33) May 11, 2020
Excerpt from Cohen’s informed speculative article published Monday:
…While nobody has immediate reason to believe that either of our nation’s top two leaders will be infected or would face the same difficult recovery as Prime Minister Johnson, it is possible that if both men were concurrently incapacitated as a result of infection there would need to be a third person to take over the reins of government, even if for an interim period.
That person would be the current Speaker of the House, Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.
Is this at all likely? In these uncertain times nothing can be ruled out. But there is some irony that the President who was elected over the nation’s first major party woman candidate would nonetheless have a role in the elevation of the nation’s first woman president, even if just for a short window of time.
And in a spring that has defied all imagination, that might just be the most unimaginable event of all.”
Excerpt from Ballasy’s Just the News article:
“The White House’s internal challenge with coronavirus has brought the official presidential line of succession into the forefront.
According to the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, the line of succession would go from President Trump to Vice President Mike Pence to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The Constitution states that “in Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.”
The Just the News article links to a Lawfare blog article from March that questions whether there would be a smooth transition to a President Pelosi.
…An analogous situation could soon arise with the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, now codified at 3 U.S.C. § 19. Imagine, as it is easy to do, that President Trump and Vice President Pence die or are temporarily unable to discharge the powers and duties of the Office of the President due to infection by the coronavirus. The 1947 statute says that in that circumstance, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi “shall … act as President” after resigning as speaker and from Congress. Pelosi would wield all the powers of the presidency. Consistent with the law, she could issue whatever executive orders she wanted, fire disfavored political appointees, and in general direct the executive branch as she pleased.
Whether this scenario is a nightmare or salvation may seem to depend on one’s political outlook. But in truth it’s a nightmare scenario for all Americans because there is a powerful (though not airtight) argument that the Succession Act’s placement of the speaker in the line of presidential succession (and after her, the president pro tempore of the Senate) is contrary to the Constitution’s Succession Clause. That clause states that only an “Officer” may succeed and act as president. Most of the pertinent commentary maintains that the term “Officer” here does not include members of Congress. If that is right, Pelosi could not constitutionally “act as President,” even though the statute says she can.
But who would decide the controversy? Imagine that Pelosi declares herself acting president after Trump and Pence become incapacitated. And imagine that, at the same time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (the executive officer next in line under the statute) declares himself acting president on the basis of a legal opinion from Attorney General William Barr proclaiming legislative succession to the presidency unconstitutional. How would the matter be resolved? The answer, as we discuss below, is unclear. The nation could thus be deeply divided, in a hard-to-resolve way, on the very basic question: Who is the (acting) president of the United States?…
The White House put out word to reporters Monday night that Trump and Pence will be keeping distant from each other for the time being, with necessary exceptions.
“NEW on Pres Trump & VP: A senior WH official tells me, “The president & the vp, are maintaining their distance for the immediate future based on consultation with WH medical…They are keeping their distance. But, as needed, they could perhaps interact, if that’s required.”…I asked the WH official, are President Trump & VP staying apart to protect the chain of command? Person said they didn’t want to comment on “continuity of government.” They said Trump & Pence would “maintain their distance, wear a mask, if necessary, & that sort of thing.”
I asked the WH official, are President Trump & VP staying apart to protect the chain of command?
Person said they didn't want to comment on "continuity of government."
They said Trump & Pence would "maintain their distance, wear a mask, if necessary, & that sort of thing."
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) May 12, 2020
Pence in quarantine.
Can we get a #PresidentPelosi in time to save our country from utter disaster – well, worse utter disaster.
— Amy Siskind 🏳️🌈 (@Amy_Siskind) May 10, 2020
Say Pence tests positive and gets crook for a week or two?
And say the same happens to Trump at the same time?
Under the US Constitution, does that not make Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, ummmmm, "President Pelosi"?
Has a certain ring to it? https://t.co/NUgGAHjtUO
— Peter FitzSimons (@Peter_Fitz) May 11, 2020
Close aides to Trump and Pence coming down with Covid nearly simultaneously is how we get President Pelosi.
— Josh Chafetz (@joshchafetz) May 8, 2020