Presidential Succession - Ryan/Pelosi

If Trump and Pence were both impeached tomorrow, the presidency would fall to the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. Given that Ryan’s term expires in a few weeks, would he retain the presidency until the end of the presidential term? Or would it then pass to (potenially) Speaker Pelosi at the start of the new Congress?

Ryan would be President until the end of Trump’s term. He would no longer by Speaker, but President, so having another Speaker in January would be irrelevant.

The former. The Tyler precedent established that in cases of presidential succession, the successor actually becomes President, rather than only assuming the powers of the Presidency. So Ryan would subsequently be President, and his term as Speaker would end - not because it runs out, but because he assumed another office.

Would require they first be convicted.

Currently law, assuming it’s constitutional for a legislator to become the acting president, would have Ryan be the acting president until the end of the presidential term.

It established that a Vice President becomes President. The Constitution was unclear about that (until 1967), but when it’s not the VP, the Constitution just says that some other officer “shall then act as President.”

Considering how unlikely it would be that Trump and Pence would be impeached and removed simultaneously what would probably happen is that Trump would be removed as President and Pence would assume the Presidency while awaiting the results of his impeachment trial. He could then appoint someone to be Vice President, who would then need to be confirmed by both houses of Congress. What happens if Pence is impeached and removed before his VP pick is confirmed is unclear. Do both houses then vote to confirm his pick as VP automatically making the pick President or do they just fall back on the traditional line of Presidential Succession?

If I learned anything from Mitch McConnel, the House could refuse to have hearings or a vote on the VP nominee, and the Speaker would get the job

Yeah, it would be weird if Ryan became President, the House elects another Speaker and immediately the new Speaker becomes President and on and on.

A scenario in which 2/3s of the Senate is going to vote to remove the President and Vice President via impeachment is probably also a scenario in which a majority of both houses are not going to approve the former VP’s pick for a new VP.

I mean, I can imagine weird corner cases where it might happen, but if the VP is so tainted that he has to be removed via impeachment, why would you let him choose his successor?!

Why wouldn’t they be impeached and removed simultaneously? If they were both on trial at the same time, and the Senate had decided to convict both, there would be no reason the Senate couldn’t announce the results at the same time - or that of Pence first, so there wouldn’t be a period when he would technically be president.

Impeachment and trial in the Senate are basically political actions. If Congress decides to remove both a President and Vice President, they could arrange the timing of the trials and announcing the verdict in order to achieve whatever political result they intended. With the two houses in different hands, I’m sure there would be a lot of horse-trading to ensure that a successor would be acceptable to both parties.

My argument is that the Tyler Precedent applies to all cases of presidential succession, not just that of the Vice President. I think that’s a reasonable assumption, in the absence of any precedent of such other successions. I know that the 25th Amendment (which makes it unequivocal that the VP becomes President, rather than only assuming the powers of the President) only applies to the VP, but considering that the Tyler Precedent established the same thing in the absence of the 25th Amendment, I think it’s plausible to assume that the mechanism of presidential succession is the same for the VP as for the others next in line after him.

Btw, as a nitpick: The Constitution itself does not regulate the presidential line of succession after the VP. It authorises Congress to do so, and this delegation was exercised by the Presidential Succession Act of 1947.

And by other laws since then. There are Cabinet-level departments now that didn’t exist in 1947 (most recently, Homeland Security), and their Secretaries have all been added to the line of succession when the offices themselves were created.

These are both solid arguments, but I’m not sure how you guys are so sure. An equally valid argument could be made that in a time of crisis like that the Speaker would be performing a double duty, being both Speaker and acting as President. So that when the Speaker changes, the power to act as President devolves to the new Speaker.

Tyler’s precedent was based upon different language in the Constitution. When inferior officers act as president, the Constitution specifically says that they “act” as such whereas when the Vice President succeeds to the office, the language was more ambiguous (until 1967).

The current Presidential Succession Act forbids that. The Speaker only becomes the acting president “upon his resignation as Speaker and as Representative in Congress.”

Mainly because the alternative would be absurd.

Yeah, suppose we had a situation where the President and VP died or were removed early in their term. Then we’d have the Speaker succeeding and leaving the office of Speaker in the process. So the office of Speaker of the House being vacant, the House would of course immediately elect a new one… who, by that argument, would then also succeed and need to be replaced, and so on.

I believe there has been some grumbling about the current line of succession, in that a member of the legislative branch should not stand in line before other members of the executive branch. I think this is mainly a conservative complaint.

ETA, this well predates Trump and Pelosi. If my memory is correct, this was an active question during the slow unfolding of Watergate.

Having thought about it more, I think this was one of Dick Cheney’s bugbears as VP, but I don’t remember the books I read on him well enough to give even an approximate cite.

Wish I thought of that. :wink: