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Old 11-07-2019, 08:37 PM
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Can an acting president (of the US) do anything the president can or are they just a seat warmer?


NOTE: This has nothing to do with current politics. I was watching a TV show where Air Force One goes missing with the president and the Secretary of State is sworn in as acting president (I know, I know...tv show managed to contrive it so the Sec State got it).

My question is, if the president is missing (no one knows what happened...could be dead, could be going walkabout, could be walking the Appalachian Trail) and a temporary president is sworn in can the temporary president do anything the president can while they have the seat? Let's say start issuing executive orders? Order troops deployed or moved? Launch nukes? That sort of thing?

I get that they will not have a lot (or any) support from the rest of the government to do such things till the disposition of the original president is known but still...could they succeed in pulling off some unilateral shenanigans while they have the position? Or are they literally only authorized to keep the seat warm and be there to respond to only the most pressing questions that only a president can respond to?
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Last edited by Whack-a-Mole; 11-07-2019 at 08:41 PM.
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Old 11-07-2019, 09:04 PM
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A presidential pardon might be another one they could do with their five minutes as president.
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Old 11-07-2019, 09:17 PM
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Here's the relevant portion of the 25th amendment. The phrase I bolded at the end suggests no limits to the powers of the Acting President.

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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.
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Old 11-07-2019, 09:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Julius Henry View Post
Here's the relevant portion of the 25th amendment. The phrase I bolded at the end suggests no limits to the powers of the Acting President.
Is enacting the 25th amendment the same process as dealing with an absent president or a temporarily disabled president (by disabled think something like a coma)?

By which I mean, I thought the 25th amendment amounted to permanent removal of the president from office because they cannot fulfill their duties for some reason.

I do not think that is the same thing as an acting president who is there to fill the seat while the president is incapacitated but expected to recover in some time...just too much time to leave the seat vacant.
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Last edited by Whack-a-Mole; 11-07-2019 at 09:47 PM.
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Old 11-07-2019, 09:57 PM
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Here's the complete text of the 25th Amendment:

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Amendment XXV
Section 1.

In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

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.
Section 4 is the process for dealing with an absent or disabled President. In your scenario of a President who is MIA, the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet would transmit a declaration to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House a written declaration that the President is unable to perform his duties (due to being MIA), and the the Vice President becomes "Acting President". The "Acting President" has all of the powers and authority of the President. When the President kills the terrorists or is rescued by the maverick Secret Service agent or what have you and returns, he would transmit a declaration that he's back and able to resume his duties, and then would do so.
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Old 11-07-2019, 10:08 PM
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Originally Posted by gdave View Post
When the President kills the terrorists or is rescued by the maverick Secret Service agent or what have you and returns, he would transmit a declaration that he's back and able to resume his duties, and then would do so.
Great, thanks.

As an aside (and a different question from the OP really) can the original president, once resuming powers, undo something like a pardon by the acting president? I am guessing most other things like executive orders and troop movements can be reversed...political ramifications of such things would probably take longer.
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Old 11-07-2019, 11:15 PM
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But in the hypothetical given by the OP, there is no Vice-President, because the SecState is next in line. The Veep, Speaker and President pro tem are all either MIA or dead for the SecState to be acting President, during the "inability" of the Prez to act.

Since there's no Veep, the 25th can't be invoked. The vacancy would be temporarily filled by the SecState under the Presidential Succession Act.
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Old 11-07-2019, 11:25 PM
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Getting back to the OP's actual question, Article I, Section 1, Clause 6 provides that if both the presidency and vice-president are unable to act, the officer designated by Congress "shall act as President" until the disability is removed or a President is elected.

So that sounds like the SecState in this hypothetical can carry out all the functions of the President, but only until the Prez or Veep turns up/recovers from coma/finished hiking the Appalachian trail, or there's a new president elected.
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Old 11-08-2019, 08:16 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
But in the hypothetical given by the OP, there is no Vice-President, because the SecState is next in line. The Veep, Speaker and President pro tem are all either MIA or dead for the SecState to be acting President, during the "inability" of the Prez to act.

Since there's no Veep, the 25th can't be invoked. The vacancy would be temporarily filled by the SecState under the Presidential Succession Act.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
Getting back to the OP's actual question, Article I, Section 1, Clause 6 provides that if both the presidency and vice-president are unable to act, the officer designated by Congress "shall act as President" until the disability is removed or a President is elected.

So that sounds like the SecState in this hypothetical can carry out all the functions of the President, but only until the Prez or Veep turns up/recovers from coma/finished hiking the Appalachian trail, or there's a new president elected.
Northern Piper is right, of course, the 25th Amendment is actually irrelevant if it's the Secretary of State, not the VP, taking over. Still, the situation is basically the same. The Secretary of State would become "Acting President", with all of the powers and authority of the President, unless and until the President returns.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Whack-a-Mole View Post
Great, thanks.

As an aside (and a different question from the OP really) can the original president, once resuming powers, undo something like a pardon by the acting president? I am guessing most other things like executive orders and troop movements can be reversed...political ramifications of such things would probably take longer.
U.S. law and the U.S. Constitution absolutely do not care about the specific personal identity of the President, only about the powers and duties of the office. A returning President can, or cannot, overturn any official acts made by an Acting President in exactly the same way he can, or cannot, overturn any official acts made by a previous President. Or, for that matter, in exactly the same way he can, or cannot, overturn any previous official acts he himself made.

Pardons cannot be undone. That's the entire point of a pardon. Troop movements could be reversed with a phone call, although of course the physical logistics would complicate things. Executive Orders fall somewhere in between. In general, a President can revoke or cancel any Executive Order he wants to, but the courts sometimes get involved in blocking alterations to Executive Orders, particularly where they may amount to arbitrary or capricious uses of executive authority to the detriment of specific individuals or entities. And so on.
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Old 11-08-2019, 11:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gdave View Post

Pardons cannot be undone. That's the entire point of a pardon. Troop movements could be reversed with a phone call, although of course the physical logistics would complicate things. Executive Orders fall somewhere in between. In general, a President can revoke or cancel any Executive Order he wants to, but the courts sometimes get involved in blocking alterations to Executive Orders, particularly where they may amount to arbitrary or capricious uses of executive authority to the detriment of specific individuals or entities. And so on.
As an example of the latter, Trump has been blocked from overturning the DACA executive order. Although I have not read the court opinion on this, I assume that the reasoning is that people protected by Obama's EO ordered their lives in accordance with it, including registering with the government and generally coming out of the closet and there is no way of undoing that.
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Old 11-08-2019, 02:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hari Seldon View Post
As an example of the latter, Trump has been blocked from overturning the DACA executive order. Although I have not read the court opinion on this, I assume that the reasoning is that people protected by Obama's EO ordered their lives in accordance with it, including registering with the government and generally coming out of the closet and there is no way of undoing that.
The Supreme Court is hearing the argument on November 12th, so we'll find out soon enough, probably in the next six months or so.
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Old 11-08-2019, 11:25 AM
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I would imagine the acting president would retain and possess all the powers of the real president because it is precisely scenarios that could incapacitate the real president (war, terrorism, Air Force One goes missing, etc.) that would make it necessary for an acting president to be there in charge and wield presidential powers - situations that make a strong president necessary.
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Old 11-09-2019, 12:09 AM
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Would an acting president be listed among the numbered presidents?

As an example President Trump is the 45th president of the United States.

Let's assume by some bizarre set of circumstances like in the OP's TV show the Sec State becomes president for a day before Trump resumes the presidency.

Will the Sec State be listed as the 46th president of the United States who was succeeded by the 45th president of the US?
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Old 11-09-2019, 10:57 AM
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What an acting president can do legally and what they can do politically are two different things. Although an acting prez could start issuing executive orders that goes against the grain of the current administration's direction, he could get a lot of friction from WH staff, cabinet, Congress, etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Whack-a-Mole View Post
Would an acting president be listed among the numbered presidents?
No; it's not a hypothetical. VP Bush was acting president when Reagan was shot.
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Old 11-09-2019, 12:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CookingWithGas View Post
What an acting president can do legally and what they can do politically are two different things. Although an acting prez could start issuing executive orders that goes against the grain of the current administration's direction, he could get a lot of friction from WH staff, cabinet, Congress, etc.

No; it's not a hypothetical. VP Bush was acting president when Reagan was shot.
Only while he was under general anesthetic, and apparently it was never officialized because in the rush nobody bothered to issue the declaration and by the time Bush's plane had landed Reagan was awake. It is more clear in three later instances, once again for Reagan and twice for W, when the same happened for other surgeries, with the POTUS issuing the note that they'd be momentarily incapacitated and then another one saying "OK I'm back" and the VP assuming as Acting Prez for a couple of hours at most.

Basically under those circumstances the Acting Prez is there in case there is some emergency that requires immediate presidential action (as in, someone needs to open the envelope with the Launch Codes) while the regular guy is knocked out.
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Old 11-09-2019, 03:51 PM
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Basically under those circumstances the Acting Prez is there in case there is some emergency that requires immediate presidential action (as in, someone needs to open the envelope with the Launch Codes) while the regular guy is knocked out.
So acting prez is a seat warmer till the real prez comes back?

Can they do prez things while keeping the seat warm?
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Old 11-09-2019, 04:51 PM
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Watch for Pence to feed this POTUS extra cheeseburgers.
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Old 11-09-2019, 07:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Whack-a-Mole View Post
Can they do prez things while keeping the seat warm?
Yes. It's just that in cases such as the recent ones, if the POTUS needs to schedule some down time while his doctor pokes around the insides of his abdomen, he will sit down with the VP and CoS previously and run down what is on the calendar for those hours and make sure they are all on the same page and what may or may not be rescheduled or what things may be expected to pop up. If the incapacity OTOH is unforeseen or it's not clear if or when he will be able to return to duty (e.g. falls into a coma), or is the case of the rest of the cabinet agreeing that POTUS needs some serious rubber room time, or while the Big Guy is nonfunctional some unexpected urgebnt matter requiring presidential attention NOW! comes up, then the VP better be ready to do some full time presidenting of his own while the matter is resolved.

One could imagine that in the case of a permanently and irreversibly incapacitated President, future historians could agree to count an Acting Presidency that completely serves out the term as a separate one, with an asterisk. That's one of those that nobody will touch until they are forced to.
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Old 11-09-2019, 02:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CookingWithGas View Post
What an acting president can do legally and what they can do politically are two different things. Although an acting prez could start issuing executive orders that goes against the grain of the current administration's direction, he could get a lot of friction from WH staff, cabinet, Congress, etc.

No; it's not a hypothetical. VP Bush was acting president when Reagan was shot.
Well, Alexander Haig had things under control.
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Old 11-09-2019, 02:24 PM
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When John Tyler succeeded William Henry Harrison, after only a month in office, there was some doubt as to whether he was the President de jure as well as de facto. Tyler himself never doubted that he was, and correspondence addressed to the Acting President was returned unopened.
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Old 11-09-2019, 08:35 PM
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Some say Woodrow Wilson's wife was Acting President in all but name in the last years of his term.
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Old 11-10-2019, 02:00 AM
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The President steps down voluntarily in another piece of fiction even though the Acting President will be from the opposite party. "Leo will know what to do." The Acting President is immediately faced with a crisis; and if Zoe is dead he's "going to blow the hell out of something and God only knows what happens next."

I think "God only knows what happens next" sums up the present-day political situation in the U.S.A.
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