Senate President Pro Tem should not become US President

One thing which has always bothered me in the list of Presidential Succession is having the President Pro Tem of the Senate 3rd on the list to become President if the President died. The President Pro Tem is usually the longest serving member of the majority party. Many questionable people have served as President Pro Tem over the years. As a Democrat, I would not want Robert Byrd to ever become President. I doubt even the most fanatical Republican would have wanted Strom Thurmond to serve as President.

I believe strongly that the law regarding Presidential Succession should be changed immediately to have the Majority Leader replace the President Pro Tem on the list of succession. Any tragedy which would have resulted in the death of the President, Vice President, and Speaker of the House will surely require the political skill of someone such as the Majority Leader. Here is a list of those who have served as Majority Leader.

Ted Stevens is the current President Pro Tem. His only accomplishments in the Senate are funneling as much pork as possible to Alaska. Ditto Robert Byrd. Strong Thurmond was barely cognizant during his last term. I am aware that Byrd served as Majorty Leader back in the 1980s. No order of succession will ever be perfect. However, I’d rather take my chance on a Majority Leader than the President Pro Tem.

Anyone have a reasonable argument as to why the President Pro Tem should remain on the list?

This is my own view, but I strongly, strongly doubt that any PPT would ever become president. In the cases of Byrd, Thurmond, Stevens, Stennis, and however far back you want to go, I am quite confident that a PPT would decline or otherwise resign the position in order to allow the Secretary of State to succeed the others in a decapitated government.

Yeah, I agree that the PPT shouldn’t be in the line of succession, generally speaking. I also have a minor qualm about someone who was not elected becoming the president, as in a cabinet secretary. I think it’s pretty sad and extraordinary that Ford became president… but I’m not sure what the right answer for succession is, so there we are.

Majority Leader is not an office, it is party position with no legal standing. I can’t imaging that it would ever make it into the succession process. Just get the Senate to change the way they choose the President Pro Tem, that seems to be the solution.

Actually, after writing that I’m not so sure. Is the Majority Leader just a party position? It has lots of clout, but that’s only because of the way the party system works in Congress, correct?

Giving the PPT post to the most-senior party member is tradition only. There would be nothing preventing the majority party from, in effect, selecting any one of themselves as the President if the situation should arise.

The succession line needs to go through people with constitutional offices. Since party leadership is nowhere in the Constitution, it doesn’t seem appropriate to put the majority leader in the mix. The odds of the president, vice president, and speaker of the house all dying before replacements could be made for the veep and speaker vacancies are remote to say the least.

It does put an elected official in office, as opposed to a appointed one.

How about changing Senate rules so that the offices if Majority Leader and President Pro Tem are merged? That is, the PPT is always the majority party’s leader, not the party’s most senior senator.

Slight hijack: The Vice-Presidency is such an obviously useless post I think it should be abolished, or merged with the Secretariat of State – that is, the SS would be first in the line of succession. That way, whoever succeeds a midterm-dead president will already have experience and connections in a very important part of the federal government, possibly the most important part: foreign relations. But we might add a requirement that the prez candidates announce their SS nominees before the election, maintaining the “running mate” tradition.

Heavens, NO! Would you really have wanted Alexander Haig one heartbeat away from the presidency? Veeps who have advanced on the death of the president haven’t done all that badly- judging from LBJ and HST.

Not to mention Teddy Roosevelt.

If it helps any, according to this site, the president pro tempore wasn’t a full-time office until 1890. Before then, it was, apparently, anyone who the Senate wished.

I had initially thought of the question as I contemplated a terrorist scenario such as attempted simultaneous assassinations of the President, Vice President, and Speaker of the House. This would be different than many of the cold war scenarios which had the majority of the House/Sentate/Executive branch destroyed in a nuclear attack.

If such a scenario happened today, I would think the Senate would immediately appoint John McCain as President Pro Tem who could then assume the Presidency. This could be a reasonable compromise as the Gov. of Arizona would then appoint a Democrat to replace McCain in the Senate.

Of course who would McCain appoint as Vice-President?

By that logic, wouldn’t you also have to change the rules so that the offices of the House Majority Leader and Speaker are also merged?

And what would happen if, say, the Libertarians ever captured 3 Senate seats and effectively denied either of the two major parties a majority. The might vote with Democrats on some issues, Republicans on others, and they’d certainly want to have influence on who gets the “ceremonial” offices.

This sounds like a stretch now, but IIRC there were four national political parties represented in Congress just before the Civil War, and alliances shifted all the time.

My proposal includes preserving the “running mate” tradition – essentially, a presidential candidate would run together with his/her chosen Secretary of State, just as now he runs with his chosen VP – and the choice would be a constitutionally binding one, as now. Do you think Reagan could have gotten elected with Haig as his running mate?

What I like even better about the idea is the SOS candidate would have to be eligible for the presidency – so if my system had been in place in 1968, we never would have had SOS Henry Kissinger! :smiley:

No majority party in Congress! Why, that’s exactly as it should be! :smiley: I’m in favor of ballot fusion, instant-runoff voting, proportional representation – reforms that would make sure there would never again be a majority party in either house of Congress or any state legislature. But that’s another discussion, and one in which I invite you to participate – see my new GD thread, “A multiparty system is better than a two-party system!” – http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=269169

If that came to pass, the House and Senate would have to change their fundamental rules, abolish the concept of “Majority Leader,” “Minority Leader,” etc. Perhaps some of the parties would put together a coalition leadership, perhaps committee chairmanships would be distributed in a power-sharing arrangement. These are just details, however, not the crippling obstacles they might be if we had a parliamentary system where the legislature has to have a majority party, or else put together a multiparty coalition, to “form a government.” That’s not a problem here because presidents and governors are elected separately.

Or Madeline Albright. But (putting aside the fact that I think both Kissinger and Albright were pretty good Secretaries), what’s to make the Senate confirm the president’s choice. And if you say “Well, the Sec State position will be elected and not appointed”, why do you choose that cabinet office to get special treatment.

Because it is the single most important office in the Cabinet, and the senior department (which is why the Secretary of State is ahead of say, the Secretary of Defense and the AG in the line-of-succession), and the best preparation for a designated successor to the presidency. What I’m talking about is essentially merging the office of Vice President (essentially functionless, apart from its role as a spare tire) with that of Secretary of State (not functionless at all).

It is the oldest cabinet department, which is why it’s currently where it is in the presidential succession. What makes it “the single most important office”, though? Don’t “Secretary of Defense” and “Attorney General”, at least make a three way tie for that title? My big problem with your suggestion, though, is that the office of Secretary of State is, as you say, an important office, and if it comes up to election, the standards are going to change. As it is now, it’s unlikely the Secretary will become president, and doesn’t need popular approval, so, when the President picks one, he can find someone who can actually do the job. Your way, political considerations come into play, and people will get in there who are popular, instead of neccesarily those who will do a good job as SecState.

Well, the Majority Leader (and the Minority Leader as well) make an extra $17,200 a year more than ordinary Representatives or Senators do, so the party leadership positions do have some official legal status.

Including the leaders of Congress (Speaker and President Pro Tem) in the Presidential line of succession seems a little odd to me anyway, given that we have a presidential separation-of-powers system and not a parliamentary system with the executive responsible to the legislature.

On the one hand, whereas the cabinet secretaries are selected by the president and are part of his (or her) “team”, and presumably represent the values the people want in the White House, you could have a situation where the President and Vice President of one party are succeeded by a Speaker (or Senate President Pro Tem) of the other party. In a country presumably already in shock from the loss of both the President and the Vice President, that could conceivably spark a political crisis. Imagine a (liberal)(conservative) President and Vice President at loggerheads with a (conservative)(liberal) Congress, then both the President and Vice President are assassinated by (right-wing)(left-wing) extremists, putting a (conservative)(liberal) Speaker of the House in the White House.

Of course on the other hand, I can imagine a situation where it might be very useful to put the presidency in the hands of the opposition party; say the President and Vice President have both been impeached and removed from office for gross abuses of power, with overwhelming support from the people (perhaps the opposition party just got a huge majority of both houses of Congress in the mid-term elections, after the shocking revelations about the Administration). In those circumstances, everyone might be disinclined to trust any member of the former Administration’s Cabinet.

Obviously this would be an extremely rare situation. In 1972, both the elected President and Vice President resigned before the end of their terms. However, Nixon nominated Ford for VP who then nominated Rockefeller for VP upon the resignation of Nixon.

However, in a situation in which the simulataneous death of the President or Vice President occurs, who would be better to take the office of President? I think I will stick with congressional leadership rather than the Secretary of State.

This would eliminate any pressure for the President to select a constitutionally able Secretary of State. There is no way Kissinger or Albright would have been nominated for Secretary of State if they were third in line for the Presidency. The fourth in line is the Secretary of the Treasury and I don’t think anyone really wants him/her to ever assume the Presidency.

The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader are usually consensus builders with a long term of service in congress. True, I would have hated to see Newt Gingrich or Jim Wright as President. However, most of the time in post WWII history, the Speaker and the Majority Leader have been people who could assume the Presidency if need be.