Last week’s stunning scenes of violence and unrest that struck at the heart of America’s democratic republic have again resulted in further attention to the 25th Amendment and the presidential line of succession.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are calling on Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to remove President Donald Trump from office, while Pence is opposing such a move.
Last week after the Capitol riots, Trump finally agreed to an “orderly transition” of power on Jan. 20, after Congress formally certified Democrat Joe Biden as the nation’s next president. Trump’s declaration came minutes after Congress’ vote, which came after a mob loyal to the president stormed the U.S. Capitol in a stunning attempt to overturn America’s presidential election, undercut the nation’s democracy and keep Trump in the White House.
The 25th Amendment is designed to protect the U.S. government from random occurrences such as sudden illness or a failed assassination attempt.
The 25th Amendment was passed by Congress on July 6, 1965, less than two years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was ratified on Feb. 10, 1967, and outlines the presidential line of succession, or who becomes president should the president become disabled, resign or be removed from office.
Here’s what the amendment says:
- 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.
According to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School, the 25th Amendment was an effort to resolve the question of what would happen if the president died, resigned, was removed from office or became so incapacitated that he couldn’t fulfill his duties.
The amendment saw multiple use during the 1970s and resulted, for the first time in U.S. history, in an unelected president and vice president.
During the Watergate scandal, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned Oct. 10, 1973, and President Richard Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to succeed Agnew. Hearings were held upon the nomination by the Senate Rules Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, and Ford took the oath of office Dec. 6, 1973.
Less than a year later, Nixon resigned, and Ford immediately took the presidential oath of office. Ford then nominated Nelson Rockefeller to be vice president; on Aug. 20, 1974, hearings were held in Congress and Rockefeller took the oath of office Dec. 19, 1974.
Here’s the line of succession for the presidency of the United States:
1. Vice President Mike Pence
2. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi
3. President pro tempore of the Senate Chuck Grassley
4. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
5. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin
6. Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller
7. Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen
8. Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt
9. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue
10. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross
11. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia
12. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar
13. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson
14. Secretary of Transportation Note: Elaine Chao resigned Thursday. She is not a natural-born U.S. citizen and cannot become president.
15. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette
16. Secretary of Education Note: Betsy DeVos resigned Thursday.
17. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie
18. Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Note: Chad Wolf reportedly is resigning.