Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Against Laura Roslin and Glen Walken

Matt Yglesias uses the turnover in the office of Senate President pro tempore to complain about that the current presidential succession plan is both foolish (#3 after the president is someone in a ceremonial role that you qualify for by being superannuated?), and perhaps unconstitutional.  Fortunately, there's a plan already drafted.  The Continuity of Government Commission -- a bunch of big names from past Congresses and administrations, with political scientists Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein as the major players -- released their report on the presidency one year ago.  While their main focus was, as the title of the commission suggests, focused on the dangers of a catastrophic terrorist attack.

The Mann/Ornstein report suggests removing Congress from the line of succession.  Furthermore, they also want to remove the tail end of the cabinet, limiting cabinet-level succession to State, Defense, Justice, and Treasury (in that order).  After that, the commission suggests that presidents select in advance "four or five" additional people to complete the line of succession.  This would have to be an actual office (presumably unpaid!), nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.  It could be filled by prominent party politicians -- governors, for example -- or it could be filled, as Mann and Ornstein envision, by senior party politicians.  So Barack Obama might designate, oh, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Walter Mondale, and Tom Foley.  This would serve the commissions goal of making it harder for a terrorist attack to disrupt the American government (by spreading the line of succession around the nation, instead of concentrating them in Washington).  Beyond that, it certainly seems likely that if the president, vice-president, and the Big Four cabinet officials were all dead or incapacitated, Walter Mondale would be a better choice for an emergency president than, say, Tom Vilsack

(Yes, Laura Roslin was a terrific character, and perhaps a terrific president, but still...).

The commission also made suggestions for other weak areas and potential loopholes in the current presidential succession scheme, which is based on a 1947 law (along with the 25th Amendment).  Before 1947, by the way, Congress was not part of the order of presidential succession.

I think the commission's suggestions are a solid solution to a real weakness, and Congress should enact them.  Unfortunately, as far as I can tell from the commission's web page, little if anything is happening...but it should!  Whatever one thinks of the late Senator Byrd, I can't imagine that anyone thinks it's been a good idea for him to be close the presidency over the last couple of years, and the same was true of Strom Thurmand when he was president pro tem.  Hey, Congress!  It's been almost a decade since the September 11 attacks -- fix this stuff!


  1. Walter Mondale is 82 years old. He'd be a better president than (two-term Governor and recent presidential candidate) Tom Vilsack?

  2. In a situation in which the president, VP, and half the cabinet were suddenly dead or incapacitated? Yeah, I'd rather have someone that more than a handful of Americans have heard of, and who has met and worked with a good number of current world leaders, including current ones. Hey, he can always appoint Vilsack VP, and then after six months resign. (I have no idea how Mondale's health is these days, but of course you wouldn't put someone on the list who was not in reasonably OK shape, but there are always going to be a dozen or so retired bigwigs to choose from).

  3. Since this has been linked to again- and has a fun, "Fantasy Congress" kinda vibe to it...

    Okay, I kinda feel like Mondale's a bad choice. Yes, high name recognition, but I doubt his relationship with most world leaders is particularly strong anymore. But that doesn't take away from the usefulness of the idea, it just makes that particular person a poor choice. Using most of the same criteria, we could look at, say, John Kerry. He's got a strong, active relationship with various heads of state, as well as a pretty big leadership role on a major legislative issue (climate change).

    Who would a Republican President choose? Seems like Condi Rice would belong in the line, and John McCain would probably be a popular opinion. But could Bush and Cheney make the cut? If this was Senate confirmable- and thus, well inside the political sphere- could they even be confirmed?


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