Should I post the Vice Presidential Profiles entries in chronological order (John Adams-to-Joe Biden)? Or should I just randomly post the VP Profiles so that every entry is a surprise like a prize in a Cracker Jack box?
How well would you say you know California history compared to general US and Presidential history?
Obviously, my main area of interest and expertise is Presidential history and U.S. history because those two topics are so closely intertwined — you can’t have one without the other. I love all history and do my best to be as knowledgeable as possible on as many historical subjects as possible. With Presidential history being the focus of my studies and my work, I’m strongest when it comes to United States history from the ratification of the Constitution to the present.
As a native Californian, I’ve always enjoyed the history of my home state, so I’d say my knowledge of California history is pretty solid. No area of study approaches the level I’m at with Presidential history, but I was born and raised in California’s capital city and, with the exception of a four-year sabbatical of sorts, I’ve lived in Sacramento my entire life. Sacramento is a very historic city — not just in California’s history, but in American history, particularly when it comes to the 19th Century, Westward Expansion, the Gold Rush, and the Transcontinental Railroad. Living in Sacramento has helped feed my interest in California’s history because, as the seat of government, there are plenty of important museums and terrific state archives to search through. Sacramento is also a great place to get your fix if you happen to be a political junkie; my favorite spot in the city has long been Capitol Park, and I couldn’t even attempt to estimate how much time I’ve spent wandering around inside the State Capitol Building or reading and relaxing among the scores of wide varieties of trees and plants in Capitol Park (Sacramento’s climate allows for a ton of different types of trees and plants to grow and it seems like one of everything is planted in Capitol Park). Monuments and historic sites are just as plentiful as the tree and plant life, and I never get tired of exploring downtown Sacramento, or strolling through Capitol Park with someone and taking them to a spot where you can literally see the Governor working at his desk through a window of his corner office. Those are the types of things that motivate a continued interest in learning more-and-more about California’s history. I doubt that my knowledge of California will ever surpass my knowledge of Presidential history, but the Golden State’s history definitely appeals to me, and I love doing things like checking out some of California’s historic missions or going back-in-time to the 1840s by visiting Coloma or Sutter’s Fort.
I was wondering if you'd heard of/seen the new graphic novel biography of Andre the Giant? I'm not a wrestling fan, but I saw it on my library's "New" shelf and read it, and I enjoyed it.
I have definitely heard of Box Brown’s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend (BOOK | KINDLE), but haven’t seen it yet. I’ve heard a lot of people rave about the book, though — whether they are wrestling fans or not — so I think I’ll have to pick a copy of it up.
Okay, ladies and gentlemen…I received a great response to this year’s edition of the Presidential Rankings and always get requests for more projects that are recurring series with entries spread out over several days similar to how the 2014 Presidential Rankings were published. Ranking other important figures from history or various government positions doesn’t appeal to me, but profiling some of our political leaders — especially those who are often overlooked by history — definitely interests me.
So, this sneak peek is of the next big project here on Dead Presidents — a feature that I’ve given an extraordinarily creative and original title: "Vice Presidential Profiles". Hopefully the name of the project won’t confuse too many people, but just in case, the idea of the recurring series is to profile the Vice Presidents.
Once the Vice Presidential Profiles series begins (which will happen soon), I’ll be posting individual entries that look a lot like the entries for the Presidential Rankings. The entries will feature biographical information and political data on each Vice President, along with photos or portraits (so you actually can learn what some of the people who were a heartbeat away from the Presidency actually looked like), as well as a handful of random facts or trivia about every individual VP.
Does the President have to be dead? Because I was always a big fan of President Clinton’s dog, Buddy, who passed away not too long after Clinton left the White House.
Theodore Roosevelt’s menagerie was pretty impressive, too, and I think that it should be a misdemeanor if any conversation about Presidents and their pets fails to include Calvin Coolidge’s raccoon, Rebecca. Yes, you read that sentence correctly: President Coolidge had a pet raccoon named Rebecca. Seeing our more recent Presidents walking their dogs around the White House grounds is a familiar sight to us today, but if we had been around during the Coolidge Administration, we probably would have seen “Silent Cal” roaming the halls of the White House with Rebecca the raccoon hitching a ride by hugging the President’s neck.
(Incidentally, there is a fantastic website which focuses solely on Presidents and their pets — the Presidential Pet Museum! The website is a fun virtual destination for the history and stories of Presidential pets, but the curators are also in the process of building an actual Presidential Pet Museum in Virginia which is slated to open sometime in 2015.)
Have you ever had dreams involving the presidents (or other historical figures)?
I’m sure that I probably have and I’m guessing that some of them were appropriately creepy and/or embarrassing. Unfortunately, I can’t ever remember my dreams, good or bad. Even if I wake up in the middle of a dream, the details immediately dissipate, so I can’t even remember if it was good or bad.
Any change of adding a search bar to the site? If you have a particular interest, it's impossible to find anything!
There is a search field on the main deadpresidents.tumblr.com page (on the right side of the page, below the page links and the banner ad), but I don’t know of one if you’re accessing the blog through the mobile version.
Honestly, I’ve always found Tumblr’s search engine to be downright abysmal, so whenever I want to find something on my own site, I just go to Google and do a site-specific search. For example, if I was looking for some of the things I’ve written on Franklin Pierce, I’d simply go to Google and enter “site:deadpresidents.tumblr.com franklin pierce” in the search field. I’d suggest just doing that if you have a specific subject you’re looking for.
I have written millions of words about history and the Presidents here on Tumblr, but few of those words have been about me or my personal life. I answer questions about myself once in a while when people are curious about the guy behind my work, but most of my readers know that I very rarely post anything personal, and I don’t ever ask for anything from you; for me, your support and the kind feedback that I usually receive about my writing is enough and I always appreciate it.
When I was 19 years old, I started running an after-school program for elementary school children (ages 5-12) in Sacramento. It was a pilot program taking place in a half-dozen schools in our school district and it failed at six of the seven schools, so when the grant which funded the program expired after three years, the school district chose not to reapply for the grant. The program did not fail at my school, though; the students in my program showed continued improvement in attendance, behavior, classroom grades, and standardized test scores every year that they were in my program. My program was such a success, in fact, that our site re-applied for the grant’s recertification on our own, as a stand-alone program. And despite applying for another grant by ourselves, without any significant support from anyone but our school’s parents, students, and staff, we received approval for three more years of funding. It remains the most important and rewarding thing that I have ever done in my life.
Audreyanna was in my program throughout her time in elementary school, and I grew close to her and her mother over the years. I had wonderful relationships with the families and students in my program and within the community, and have always hoped that my former students were able to learn at least half as much from me as I learned from them. As the families and students have gotten older, many of them have lost touch, but Facebook helps me to see how far so many of my former students have come. Audreyanna and her mother were more than participants in my program, though; they became something like family to me, as quite a few of my former students did.
I’m sharing this GoFundMe effort because I know how hard Audreyanna has worked to get to where she is today. I’ve always known that she could do whatever she set herself out to do. I know that is one of those phrases that sounds like a cliche, but it is quite simply the truth. For years, Audreyanna was like a daughter to me and I can’t help but be immensely proud of her. Audreyanna’s GoFundMe project isn’t some crazy pipe dream; it’s a pragmatic step towards advancing further in the career field that she has chosen and has worked diligently to accomplish. She’s hoping to raise funds that would allow her to take the classes necessary for her to become a registered dental assistant.
My readers don’t know Audreyanna, but you know who I am, and since thousands of people will read this, I’m not going to hesitate for a second if I can write a few paragraphs that could possibly steer some support towards a person that I have always cared about as if she was my own daughter, have constantly been proud of, and who is working so hard to achieve her goals.
The Week of Four Governors: An Exercise In Continuity of Government
A few days ago, I was asked a whole bunch of questions about the Presidential line of succession, Acting Presidents, the process for Presidential succession, and what happens in the case of multiple vacancies in the line of succession — as an example, if the offices of President, Vice President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate were all vacant and the official next in line to the Presidency (the Secretary of State) would have to assume the office of President.
Interestingly, this weekend here in my home State of California, there will be a rare display of the continuity of government process in action, featuring the position of Governor of California rather than the President of the United States.
The Sacramento Bee notes that California Governor Jerry Brown will be traveling to Mexico on an official trade and investment mission from Sunday afternoon until late Wednesday. Whenever the Governor is out of the state, the Lieutenant Governor takes charge of California as the Acting Governor, so Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom will serve in that role from the time of Governor Brown’s departure on Sunday until Tuesday morning, when Newsom will be leaving the state for business, as well.
With Governor Brown and Lieutenant Governor Newsom out of the state, the President Pro Tempore of the California State Senate (and fellow Sacramentan) Darrell Steinberg will assume the role of Acting Governor from Tuesday until Wednesday. Governor Brown is scheduled to return home to California on Wednesday, but not before Senator Steinberg also has a trip scheduled outside of California! When Governor Brown, Lieutenant Governor Newsom, and Senator Steinberg are all absent, the Speaker of the California State Assembly, Toni Atkins, will become Acting Governor of California for at least a few hours until Governor Brown finally arrives back from Mexico. Although Atkins will only spend a few quiet hours as Acting Governor on Wednesday, during that brief window of time, she’ll become the first openly lesbian Californian to serve in that role.
Interestingly, whenever the Governor of California is out of the state and the duties fall to the Acting Governor (usually the Lieutenant Governor), those duties are, technically, quite substantial. Traditionally, the Acting Governor does not take any dramatic action or alter the policy of the elected Governor while he or she is briefly absent from the state. However, during the Governor’s absence, the Acting Governor can actually issue executive orders, make political appointments, and sign or veto legislation. During Jerry Brown’s first stint as Governor of California (1975-1983), he decided to challenge Jimmy Carter for the 1980 Democratic Presidential nomination and spent a significant amount of time outside of California while campaigning in other states. California’s Lieutenant Governor, Mike Curb, was a Republican and opposed to many of Brown’s policies. While Governor Brown campaigned out of state in his bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination, Lieutenant Governor Curb — serving as Acting Governor — vetoed legislation Brown had planned to sign, issued executive orders establishing different policies than that of Brown, and appointed Republicans, Brown opponents, and Curb loyalists to various political vacancies. When Governor Brown returned to California after his campaign-related absences from the state, he attempted to overturn Lieutenant Governor Curb’s actions while serving as Acting Governor, but the California Supreme Court ruled in Curb’s favor, deciding that the executive powers of the Governor’s office indeed devolved on to the Acting Governor (Curb) in the absence of the actual Governor (Brown) and it was within the rights of the Acting Governor to discharge those duties.
Fortunately for Brown, who is now serving his second stint as Governor, he likely won’t have to worry about his Gubernatorial duties being hijacked by the opposition during this week’s trade mission to Mexico like they were 35 years ago by his Republican Lieutenant Governor Mike Curb. This week’s four Governors in four days are all Democrats and Jerry Brown loyalists.
Following up on that Clinton/Biden question, does Biden have any shot at the Democratic nomination and/or presidency, or will his age bar him from any serious consideration?
If Hillary Clinton doesn’t seek the Democratic nomination in 2016 (and, don’t get me wrong, she is definitely running in 2016), Biden would begin the primary season as the frontrunner. Name recognition, eight years as Vice President, a consistently solid favorability score, an extensive coalition of former campaign workers and longtime supporters, and a headstart in fundraising would definitely put Biden at the front of the line if Hillary wasn’t in the race.
Biden’s age could be a potential issue, but the ages of Dole in 1996 and McCain in 2008 really didn’t become as big of a problem as many people thought it would be. Same deal with Reagan in 1980 and 1984, although there were a few worries about Reagan during the ‘84 campaign when he seemed sluggish and tired and somewhat confused during a few appearances. Reagan’s opponent in 1984, former Vice President Walter Mondale, saw a possible opportunity by making Reagan’s age an issue but Reagan shut it down with one of the greatest moments ever to take place in a Presidential debate. When asked about the age difference, Reagan said, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” It was such a brilliant comment that even Mondale couldn’t stop laughing and the questions about Reagan’s age immediately disappeared. Biden definitely has the ability to use his verbal talents to disarm any questions about age.
Also, even though Biden will be 74 years old on Inauguration Day 2017, he’s healthy, active, and energetic. When Reagan ran for re-election in 1984 at the age of 73, his events were very carefully choreographed — even more so than regular White House or campaign events, which are already strictly regimented — because he had dealt with some health problems. Of course, he had been shot in 1981 and came far closer to dying from his wounds than most people realized at the time, and Nancy Reagan had been extremely protective of his physical well-being following the assassination attempt. Bob Dole led an active, hard-working lifestyle despite his age and was Senate Majority Leader until resigning during the summer of 1996 to focus on his Presidential campaign, but he had been severely injured during World War II and was disabled, so that was a concern when he faced Bill Clinton since Dole was 73 and Clinton hadn’t even been born when Dole was nearly killed in Italy during World War II. McCain was 72 years old when he faced Obama in the 2008 election, but he was also disabled from his military service when he was shot down, captured by the North Vietnamese, and brutally tortured while being held as a prisoner of war for nearly six years in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”. So, the three recent major Presidential nominees closest in age to how old Biden will be in 2016 had potentially worrisome health problems. After Biden’s unsuccessful bid for the 1988 Democratic Presidential nomination, he suffered an aneurysm and a blood clot, but there’s been no recurrence of those health scares in the past quarter-century, and I don’t think Biden’s age would be that big of a problem if he did run.
Unfortunately, there are more serious problems that Vice President Biden would face if Hillary Clinton decided not to run in 2016 and Biden entered primary season as the frontrunner. First of all, let me point out that I’m such a big fan of Joe Biden that I would not only fully support his candidacy, but I’d work on behalf of his campaign if offered an opportunity. However, if Hillary declines to run in 2016, the Democratic Presidential nomination process would be a free-for-all. Every Democrat in the country with Presidential hopes would jump into that race if they knew Hillary was sitting 2016 out because they know that Biden is more vulnerable than Hillary. We’d end up seeing debate stages full of potential Presidential contenders doing whatever they could to squeeze in some television time and create name recognition. In other words, it would be like the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Republican Presidential nomination battles.
Believe me, there are numerous Democrats sitting on the sidelines right now, watching from the periphery, and publicly supporting Hillary Clinton’s possible bid for the Presidency in 2016 because they know right now that she’s the frontrunner, the uncrowned nominee, and someone who might end up being able to find them a place in her Cabinet if they are strong enough as surrogates on her behalf in 2016. But many of those Democrats who are “Ready For Hillary” are also “Ready To Be There Just In Case Hillary Isn’t Ready”. They are quietly building organizations that can either be used to support Hillary in that surrogate role in 2016 or to activate into their own exploratory committees if Hillary doesn’t run.
As I mentioned, Biden would be the frontrunner, and Biden would have significant advantages because of his leadership role in the party over the past eight years, his incumbency (it’s easier to draw a crowd to a thinly-veiled campaign event if you land in Air Force Two, drive through town in a Vice Presidential motorcade, and are already a heartbeat away from the Presidency). But Biden would have disadvantages, too. In case you haven’t noticed, Barack Obama isn’t exactly the most popular boy in school anymore. Biden hasn’t had a separate Vice Presidential agenda since 2009 — he’s connected in every way to the Obama Administration, and that could actually hurt him with voters suffering from Obama fatigue. Now, if you ask me, I personally think that Biden should get a free pass from any controversy or political messes simply because he looks badass with his mirrored aviator shades, bomber jacket, and that Ric Flair-style comb-over that Biden does with his hair. Unfortunately, I’m one of the few people in the world who thinks that the fact that Biden looks like the world’s hippest grandfather translates into Presidential leadership material.
But, seriously, a Biden candidacy will be automatically linked to the Obama Administration and, for those with Obama fatigue, it’s easy for Biden’s opposition to claim that he’d be nothing more than a continuance of the current Administration — basically a third term. If Obama’s popularity continues to plummet, that could be dangerous. And I don’t see Joe Biden pulling an Al Gore and running as far away from the President he served diligently for eight years in hopes of distancing himself enough to win the election. Biden’s too loyal and too invested in what Obama has done. In 2000, Gore was so worried about the Lewinsky scandal and Clinton’s impeachment that he all but stood on the roof of the White House and shouted, “No, I don’t know anyone named Bill Clinton,” or invited Clinton to go golfing with him, brought the press along, and then pushed Clinton into a pond while screaming, “You are a dirty liar and I did all of the good things during this Administration while you were being a dirty liar, you dirty liar.” Distancing himself from Clinton — the best pure politician of the last 40 years — ended up costing Gore the 2000 election. Biden wouldn’t distance himself from Obama, and his opponents wouldn’t allow the voters to forget that.
If Hillary Clinton doesn’t run, Biden will begin the primary season as the frontrunner and it’s not impossible for him to win. The difficult part would be getting the Democratic nomination; I think Biden matches up just as well as Hillary does against the major contenders rumored to be seeking the GOP nomination. Biden’s toughest match-up against any of the potential Republican nominees would be Jeb Bush, but I think that Bush is Hillary’s toughest match-up, too. But Biden would have to win the Democratic nomination first in order to get to that general election, and I just think it would be such a chaotic nomination process without Hillary, that Biden could run into trouble. Elizabeth Warren has sworn up-and-down that she’s not running, but if Hillary doesn’t, the clamor for Warren and the encouragement for someone to break that glass ceiling that Hillary has frequently referred to may urge Warren to make a bid for the White House (although I think it’s still a little early for her and that she doesn’t match-up quite as well with many of the possible GOP candidates). Brian Schweitzer, the former Governor of Montana, has been putting his name forward and visiting early primary states for the past few months, so he might be testing the waters for a run even with Hillary in the race. Governor Schweitzer has a populist attitude which might appeal to some groups, particularly moderates straddling the center of both parties, but he’d find out quickly enough that he’s not in Montana anymore. I can’t see Governor Andrew Cuomo or Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, two popular New York Democrats, making a strong enough connection nationally to put together the impressive showing in early primary/caucus states necessary for launching a full-blown Presidential campaign.
So, who would be Vice President Biden’s biggest challenge in 2016 if he didn’t have to worry about Hillary Clinton running for President? It’s Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. Governor O’Malley doesn’t have significant name recognition right now, but he’s been accepting speaking engagements throughout the country — and, for some strange reason, a lot of those speeches tend to be in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Governor O’Malley is dynamic, charismatic, and a popular two-term Governor of Maryland about to be term-limited out of office. Until last year, O’Malley had spent two years as the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association — a position that gives Governors like O’Malley the opportunity to make trips to dozens of states, speak to tons of potential voters and possible delegates and surrogates (fellow Governors, Mayors, State Legislators, unions, local party organizations, etc.), raise money for other candidates (an important role since that often inspires loyalty and offers of future support from grateful candidates across the country), and introduce himself to scores of Americans — usually fellow Democrats — while gathering their information (names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, the issues they care most about, etc.).
O’Malley has long been a supporter of the Clintons — both Bill and Hillary — but he’s also extraordinarily ambitious and the fastest rising star in the Democratic Party that most people don’t know about. If Hillary Clinton runs for President in 2016, Martin O’Malley will be one of he strongest surrogates, most influential advisers, and a powerhouse fundraiser. If Hillary doesn’t run, nobody besides Vice President Biden has a better built-in campaign organization than Governor O’Malley. It’s been done on the down-low because of his close ties to the Clintons, but I guarantee that O’Malley could have a campaign on the ground and running full speed within hours of Hillary’s decision if she chooses not to run. Without Hillary, Biden could win, but Governor O’Malley would probably beat him. And once the American people who are unfamiliar with Governor O’Malley get to hear him speak and know him better, he’s going to be a rock star like the 1991-1992 version of Bill Clinton and the 2007-2009 version of Barack Obama. That’s how talented Martin O’Malley is — and he’d beat any of the Republicans we often hear bandied about as 2016 contenders.
After spending eight years as Obama’s Vice President, I’m positive that Biden would have no interest in settling for the Vice Presidency again; he has his eyes set on the White House. If that’s not a possibility, I would not be surprised to see Biden attempt to reclaim his old seat in the U.S. Senate. Biden loved his time in the Senate, he is perhaps more knowledgeable about the inner workings of the Senate than anyone else alive right now, and another stint in the upper chamber of Congress would keep him far more active than continuing as Vice President under another Administration. Biden hasn’t been shy about teasing a possible Presidential run in 2016, but that’s going to be tough (and likely not winnable) if Hillary Clinton indeed runs. However, Biden has also openly said that he has no interest in retiring once his term as Vice President ends on January 20, 2017.
Another big obstacle to a Clinton/Biden ticket in 2016 are the ages of both candidates. Hillary Clinton is already going to face questions about her age if she runs in 2016. If elected, she’ll be the second-oldest President in American history on Inauguration Day 2017; Hillary will be 69 years, 86 days old — just 263 days younger than Reagan was when he was inaugurated. Biden will be 74 years, 61 days on Inauguration Day 2017, so he’d be the oldest President in American history (nearly five years older than Reagan was in 1981) as well as the oldest Vice President in American history (a full three years older than Alben Barkley, who is currently the oldest VP in history and was 71 years, 57 days old when he became Truman’s VP in 1949).
So, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden will undoubtedly face questions about their age if they run for President in 2016, just as Bob Dole did in 1996 and John McCain did in 2008. In fact, Biden will not only be older than either Dole or McCain was when they ran for the President, but if he were elected President in 2016, he’d be older on Inauguration Day than any other President was upon LEAVING office. Political parties prefer to balance their tickets during Presidential elections geographically, ideologically, experience-wise, and by age. If Hillary or Biden are nominated for President by the Democrats in 2016, the age issue will attempt to be addressed by nominating a running mate who is younger. There’s no way that the Democrats would nominate a 69-year-old President alongside a 74-year-old Vice President.
I've honestly been wondering this for so long. Why do people give Biden so much crap, and make him the butt of a lot of jokes?
Vice Presidents always tend to be easy targets and since Biden is so affable and open, people seem to underestimate him. Quite frankly, I don’t know where the Obama Administration would be without Vice President Biden. It’s no secret that Obama has been terrible with building relationships with Congress (and that’s certainly not solely his fault), and can be aloof at times because that’s just one of his personality characteristics — he’s not cold, he’s just a very serious, focused, cautious person. On the other hand, Biden is open and candid — sometimes to a fault — and it makes it easy to poke fun at him. Biden lacks a filter and often says things that he probably shouldn’t say — not necessarily because he’s saying something inappropriate, but more so because he’s so authentic. Like I said, some people find that to be a fault, but I find that to be incredibly refreshing, especially in a political leader who has basically spent his entire adult life in elective office.
But Biden has built bridges between the White House and Congress that have helped accomplish the big things that the Obama Administration has actually been able to get done. That’s because of Biden’s masterful political skills and the relationships and connections that Biden forged through nearly 40 years in the Senate. Biden likes to be underestimated because Biden knows exactly how gifted he is. He has never lacked that confidence — not even when he first ran for the Senate. I mean, Joe Biden is a guy who was so confident in himself that he ran for the Senate (and won) even though he wasn’t yet Constitutionally eligible to actually take his seat until a few weeks after the election.
Plus, a lot of people don’t truly know Joe Biden’s story. They know that he’s been around forever and that he spent decades in the Senate, but he’s never been the stereotypical fat cat incumbent clinging to his spot on Capitol Hill. Biden has always been active, always been a fighter, and always been straightforward. Biden earned everything that he has ever obtained and he worked for the people of his constituency in Delaware every day since his 1972 election, and he’s continued that work on behalf of the people of the United States every single day since he was elected Vice President. I wish that everyone would read more about Joe Biden, learn his story, and see how much he has overcome and how hard he has worked to get to where he is today — Jules Witcover’s Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption (BOOK | KINDLE) is a great place to start.
On a personal basis, I don’t hesitate to stay that Vice President Biden is probably my favorite politician alive today; it’s a close race between Biden and Bill Clinton. But from a professional standpoint — removing any of my personal biases or political beliefs from the equation — I think Joe Biden is probably the best Vice President in American history. Dick Cheney was a more powerful Vice President, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into excellence. Al Gore was the most influential VP up to that point, but his relationship with President Clinton wasn’t as symbiotic as Biden and Obama’s. Barack Obama is the mind and the conscience of the Obama Administration, but Joe Biden is the heart and soul.
Lyndon Baines Johnson is one of those few Presidents or political leaders who is instantly identifiable by his initials — “LBJ” — an exclusive club also populated by TR, FDR, and JFK but few others. Richard Nixon spent years and tons of energy working to become a member of that group, going as far as naming his autobiography RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. But LBJ’s initials became a recognizable brand long before he became President; he also had the added advantage of being able to monogram everything in his home with his initials since they were also shared by his wife (Lady Bird Johnson), his two daughters (Lynda Bird Johnson and Luci Baines Johnson), and even one of his dogs (“Little Beagle Johnson” — which wasn’t one of the dogs President Johnson was famously photographed picking up by their ears, those beagles were named “Him” and “Her”).
But where did the name “Lyndon” come from? LBJ’s middle name — “Baines” — was his mother’s maiden name, but “Lyndon” wasn’t a family name. In fact, LBJ didn’t have a name for the first three months of his life. The man who would one day become the 36th President of the United States spent the first three months of his life just being called “Baby”. Of course, he couldn’t spend the rest of his life with the name “Baby”, so LBJ’s parents, Sam Ealy Johnson and Rebekah Baines Johnson, finally came to an agreement on what he would be called. Since LBJ was a far better storyteller than I will ever be, I’ll let him explain, courtesy of the LBJ Library’s always-incredible Oral History Project, as well as LBJ Library Director Mark K. Updegrove’s awesome book, Indomitable Will: LBJ In The Presidency (BOOK | KINDLE).
According to LBJ: "I was three months old when I was named. My father and mother couldn’t agree on a name. The people my father liked were heavy drinkers — pretty rough for a city girl. She didn’t want me named after any of them.
Finally, there was a criminal lawyer — a country lawyer — named W.C. Linden. He would go on a drunk for a week after every case. My father liked him and he wanted to name me after him. My mother didn’t care for the idea but she said finally that it was alright, she would go along with it if she could spell the name the way she wanted to. So that is what happened.
[Later] I was campaigning for Congress. An old man with a white carnation in his lapel came up and said, ‘That was a very good speech. I want to vote for you like I always have. The only thing I don’t like about you is the way you spell your name.’
Who do you think the Democratic Candidate in 1992 would be, if one of Bill Clinton's scandals had actually cost him the nomination?
Probably Jerry Brown, and, I’m a huge fan of Governor Brown — I wish he was young enough to be a viable option as the Democratic nominee in 2016, but he’s not. But If Brown had been the Democratic nominee in 1992 instead of Clinton, George H.W. Bush would have rebounded and been re-elected — even with Ross Perot in the race.
Hi, I noticed you use affiliate links when linking to your book recommendations. While I love the blog and would be happy to support it, it would be nice if there was a clear disclosure in the main sidebar or in the post for the sake of transparency, as per FTC guidelines.
Thank for the message and for the concern. My understanding from reading through the FTC’s totally exciting 50+ page guidelines and speaking with legal connections (specifically, lawyers who specialize in publishing/editing) leads me to believe I’m usually in the clear, although I’ve certainly made some mistakes as I’ve learned about the process. It’s a very fine line with subtle differences when it comes to reviewing books or suggesting books, largely depending on whether I actually purchased the titles, requested them from publishers, had them sent to me unsolicited, and how I mentioned these various books when I’ve either reviewed, suggested, or just included hyperlinks to them. It’s still a learning process for me, but I’m told that I usually cover my bases pretty well. A lot of people actually ask me why I mention that so-and-so has sent me a book that I talk about and some accuse me of just flat-out bragging, but as people like you understand, there are actually legal reasons that require me to mention how I got this book or that book.
I’m definitely still working on being FTC compliant whenever necessary. It’s not something that I have to do with every single thing that I post and, unfortunately, the FTC doesn’t allow a simple blanket disclosure on my main page to cover every possibility (which would make everything SO much easier), so, as I said, it’s a work in progress, and I appreciate the good looking out.
Given the term limit malarkey, hypothetically, what is the longest time a modern American president could serve in office?
Today, the longest that a President could possibly serve is 9 years, 364 days. A Vice President who assumed the Presidency can be elected to serve two four-year terms as long as they served less than two years of the unexpired term of whomever they succeeded.
For instance, Lyndon Johnson served 1 year and 59 days of John F. Kennedy’s expired term following JFK’s assassination. He was re-elected in 1964 and would have been eligible for re-election in 1968, bringing his total service to 9 years, 59 days.
On the other hand, Gerald Ford served 2 years and 164 days of Richard Nixon’s unexpired term following Nixon’s resignation. Had Ford been re-elected in 1976, he would have been ineligible to seek the Presidency again in 1980 because he finished more than two years of Nixon’s unexpired term
Since this was implemented — with the 22nd Amendment in 1947 — the last President who wasn’t affected by the limits was Harry Truman. Since he was President at the time of the Amendment’s ratification, it didn’t apply to him, so he actually would not have been restricted by term limits had he wanted to seek a third or fourth term. Truman’s successor, Dwight Eisenhower, was the first President to be Constitutionally term-limited.
I have just read about the 1896 and 1900 presidential elections and found that Charles Dawes perhaps influenced William McKinley more than Mark Hanna did, Can you recommend any books on Dawes?
Nobody influenced McKinley more than Mark Hanna, but Charles Dawes did play a part in McKinley’s 1896 campaign. Dawes managed the McKinley campaign in Illinois and ran something similar to a whip operation during the 1896 Republican National Convention in St. Louis on behalf of the McKinley campaign (therefore working on behalf of Mark Hanna). Dawes was efficient and successful, and it landed him a place in the McKinley Administration, but he didn’t have as extensive of a role in McKinley’s 1900 campaign and he certainly didn’t approach the power of Hanna.
Dawes is definitely an interesting character, though. At the time of that first McKinley campaign, he was only about 30 years old, so he was rising quickly. He ended up making good money in the banking business after failing to win a Senate seat (he lost his major benefactors when McKinley was assassinated and Hanna died shorty afterward), and served overseas during World War I, returning as a Brigadier General. Following the war, his work on rebuilding shattered economies in Europe earned him a Nobel Peace Prize, and he was elected as Calvin Coolidge’s Vice President in 1924. Somehow, he managed to offend and piss off both President Coolidge and the Senate (which Dawes, as Vice President, was the presiding officer of, Constitutionally) within minutes of taking the oath of office. The Senate took every effort to embarrass him, and President Coolidge could barely bring himself to speak to Dawes. Dawes had better success following his Vice Presidency when President Hoover appointed him the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James (United Kingdom) — at least for a while; eventually he offended King George V over an issue of protocol. The best little bit of trivia about Vice President Dawes is that he’s the only Vice President to ever have a record hit #1 on the pop charts. Dawes was a musician, and he wrote a melody before World War I that was interpolated in the 1950s into a popular song called “It’s All In the Game” and recorded by numerous pop stars of the time, with a version by Tommy Edwards claiming the #1 spot on the Billboard charts in 1958.
I’m one of those crazy people who think that Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy and that he was the lone gunman. I don’t argue with people about it because it’s one of those issues that people are passionate about and nobody can ever change anybody else’s mind.
But if someone wants an argument, I suggest reading Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy(BOOK | KINDLE), because I don’t know how anybody who reads that book — and at 1,648 pages long accompanied with CDs packed with source information, anyone actually reading the whole book deserves a prize — can walk away with questions that haven’t answered.
This is a two part question: In the 1976 Republican Primaries , after Ford barely beat Reagan, why did he not select him as his VP? I understand they weren't necessarily fond of each other, but wouldn't having Reagan as his VP would've almost guaranteed Ford being re-elected. Also, is it true that after his loss in the 1976 election, Ford was deeply depressed and almost suicidal?
Even though Reagan came close to beating out President Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976, he continued to focus on becoming President and I think Reagan would have seen the Vice Presidency as a major step in the wrong direction. If Ford had asked Reagan to be his running mate, I don’t think Reagan would have accepted. I don’t think Nancy would have allowed him to. Nothing could be gained for Reagan by serving as Ford’s running mate. The Vice Presidency was finally gaining influence and significance in the 1970s, but it wouldn’t have done anything to actually further Reagan’s Presidential prospects.
A Ford/Reagan ticket might have resulted in a victory, but Reagan wouldn’t really gain anything from that, either. Ford wouldn’t have been able to run for re-election in 1980 because of the 22nd Amendment (Ford had served more than two years of Richard Nixon’s unexpired term, so he would have been ineligible to be elected again had he won in 1976). But if Ford and Reagan had been elected together in 1976 and the Ford had a rough four years in office, Reagan would have been intimately connected with that Administration, giving his potential 1980 opponent something to strongly use to campaign against him with. He would have been pegged as the successor or as the continuation of that hypothetical Ford Administration. Anything like that would have been a huge risk for Reagan because part of the reason he challenged Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976 (besides believing that Ford wasn’t Conservative enough) was that Reagan was already 65 years old. In 1976! He was older than Nixon and Ford and a full six years older than John F. Kennedy. People forget about that — Reagan was worried, even in the 1970s, about whether his age would be an issue. Even if he had beaten Ford out for the GOP nomination in 1976 and been elected that year, Reagan would have been the second-oldest President ever inaugurated — and that was a full four years before he actually be did become President!
More than anything else, though, President Ford was pissed off in 1976 by the fact that Reagan challenged him (Ford), an incumbent President of the same party, and required Ford to expend energy and much-needed campaign funds just to get a nomination that is usually an automatic for an incumbent President. When Reagan notified Ford that he was going to seek the nomination that year, Reagan said he hoped it wouldn’t be divisive and Ford responded, “How can you challenge an incumbent President of your own party and not be divisive?”. The Ford/Reagan battle in the 1976 primaries really hurt Ford more than anything — even more than Ford’s controversial pardon of Richard Nixon or Ford’s big mistake in the second Presidential debate with Jimmy Carter when he stumbled and suggested that there was not Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. But the GOP primary battle allowed Carter to begin the general campaign with a huge lead over Ford and Ford came extraordinarily close to closing that gap and winning the election — with another week of campaigning, he likely would have beaten Carter. Ford genuinely believed that Reagan (and Reagan’s advisers) were to blame for the fact that Ford had to fight from so far behind against Carter. In interviews embargoed until after his death, Ford admitted, “It burned the hell out of me that I got the diversion from Reagan that caused me to spend an abnormal part of my time trying to round up individual delegates and to raise money.” Ford was also bothered by the fact that even after Ford clinched the Republican nomination, Reagan did very little to help him out during the general election. Recognizing that the focus of Reagan and his team immediately turned towards 1980 following the 1976 Republican National Convention, Ford said, “They didn’t give a damn whether I won or not because they were already planning to run in 1980.”
Gerald Ford was, by all accounts, one of the most good-natured, mild-mannered, polite, reasonable, and loyal politicians in American history. That’s one of the reasons that Congressional Democrats all but demanded that Nixon nominate Ford to fill the vacancy caused by Vice President Spiro Agnew’s resignation in 1973. Ford also knew that he needed a more Conservative running mate in 1976 because he and the Vice President that he had appointed, Nelson Rockefeller, were too moderate for his increasingly Conservative party. Ford dumped Rockefeller in favor of the more appealing (to the far right of the GOP) Bob Dole and, later in life, frequently mentioned that the biggest regret of his life was dumping Rockefeller from the 1976 ticket — not because of any disrespect towards Senator Dole, but because Rockefeller had served him well and Ford was ashamed that he had pandered so much in taking that action. But before he chose Bob Dole at the 1976 Republican National Convention, many Republicans pushed for Ford to choose Reagan as his VP and there was nothing mild-mannered or good-natured about President Ford’s response. When Reagan’s name was mentioned, he bluntly said, “Absolutely not. I don’t want anything to do with that son-of-a-bitch.”
So, to answer the rest of your question, yes, Ford likely would have been re-elected if Reagan had been his running mate. However, he likely would have been re-elected if Reagan hadn’t forced him to spend the spring of 1976 fighting for the Republican nomination even though he was the incumbent President.
And, yes, Ford was extremely depressed about losing the 1976 election, but he wasn’t suicidal. It was an understandably devastating defeat — George H.W. Bush has spoken of how devastated he was, too, upon losing the 1992 election to Bill Clinton. General Colin Powell recalled a conversation with Bush at Camp David after the 1992 election where Bush 41 was nearly in tears while telling General Powell, “Colin, it hurts. It really hurts. I just never thought they’d elect him.” It’s an unimaginable sadness for anyone who hasn’t actually been the most powerful person in the world and then had hundreds of millions of people decide, “No, we don’t want you anymore.” But Ford was not suicidal. Some people have suggested that he was in a dark place because it was his wife, Betty, who read Ford’s concession speech in 1976, but in actuality, Ford had been making non-stop campaign swings during the last days and hours of the ‘76 campaign and had completely lost his voice, so that’s why Betty Ford gave the speech as he stood nearby.
I just want to say that I picked up Shooting Victoria at the library based on your review and I'm finding it to be the most interesting book! I'm only on chapter 4, but I've learned a lot already. Thanks for recommending it.
I would also recommend checking out another book on a similar subject and from pretty much the same era — Why Spencer Perceval Had To Die, (BOOK | KINDLE) Andro Linklater’s book about the only assassination of a British Prime Minister, which took place in the lobby of Parliament in 1812.
I agree that a population of 40 million people is probably way too unwieldy for a single state government to handle effectively, but there are so many impracticalities about partitioning California into six different states that I just can’t see it happening. I’m guessing that this question came because an advocate for the six-state partition was on Stephen Colbert’s show recently, but I’ve written about this debate previously, so I’m going to repost some of that because it goes a little deeper into my thoughts on the issue and highlights the major sticking points on partition:
Culturally, California has five or six distinct regions and there have been secessionist movements within the state since the time it became a territory of the United States. Around the time of the Civil War, Californians overwhelmingly lobbied for the state to be split in two, but the federal government had its hands tied with trying to hold the country together and the California split wasn’t given serious consideration in Washington. Those five or six distinct regions of California have different reasons for wanting to split into their own states. Some (the extreme counties of Northern California near the Oregon border along with the Northern California coast) feel so far removed from the rest of the state politically end economically that they see themselves as shut off from the state government apparatus. The citizens of the region of California that has long tried to form a separate state called “Jefferson” feel that Southern California is as foreign to them as Canada is. Among other reasons that Californians support partition are the constant battle over water resources between Northern California and Southern California and the fact that the Sierra counties, Desert counties, and even some of the agricultural centers of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valleys feel either underrepresented in state government or simply out-muscled by the major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, and Sacramento.
Do I think it’s a good idea? I don’t think the proposal to partition California into six different states is a good idea because it’s simply not feasible.In order for an idea to be good (in my opinion), it must be possible. The six-state partition is just not going to happen — how will California’s natural resources be divvied up? How will water be allocated? Where do the prisoners which severely overcrowd every single prison in the state go to?— the nearest facility to where the crime was committed?; the facility that they are currently incarcerated?; who foots the bill for the prison facilities?
But, with that said, there would be benefits to partitioning California into two states — Northern and Southern California. Already, the two halves of the state are about as different as two regions within one state can be. Californians already identify themselves by the section of the state they are from. Infrastructure is in place that would allow the two parts of the state to split somewhat equally in every area except water allocation (Southern California needs water from Northern California to survive, that’s a fact). Some of the same issues involved in a six-state partition remain, but the solutions aren’t quite as daunting if California is split in two. Why even consider splitting the state into two after over 160 years of statehood? Well, California is home to nearly 40 million citizens and, quite frankly, that’s probably way too many people for one centralized state government to effectively manage. I think that’s one of the problems that the state has faced over the past 30 years — the population is just too unwieldy. California has the area, the population, and the economic base of a large, wealthy foreign country. Yet, one state government is charged with administering California — no different, really, than the state government system in a place like Wyoming which has a fraction of the population. The population growth in California isn’t slowing down anytime soon — can the already creaky government apparatus in Sacramento keep up with the pace and continue managing the whole state? Indications from the last three decades do not inspire optimism.
Will partition of California ever happen? I doubt it. The water allocation issue itself will probably dynamite any serious discussions about it. Plus, California can’t even figure out a way forward with building high-speed rail — a sure-fire investment in the state’s future which would create jobs, change the nature of travel within the state, and likely have significant positive impacts on the environment and economy. If the state can’t deliver on a slam-dunk like high-speed rail, I doubt California will ever be able to deliver on splitting the state into two, let alone partitioning it into six new states.
Hi just followed too. You were on the featured blogs page. Tho I'm not particularly political, I get my world news from npr, I'm fond of democracy and adore history. Look forward to following this blog.
Thanks for checking my site out! I was just surprised because I usually get a few new followers every day, but I hadn’t been on Tumblr at all today and once I did, I noticed that I’m now closing in on 1,000 new followers in one day and had no idea what happened.
Anyway, thanks for following, and I hope that I don’t disappoint!
so now you're on the front lines of the liberal overreaction to this supposed "war on women"?
I’m on the frontlines of any battle against injustice. I always have been, and I always will be. I’ll fight against injustice and bleed to ensure that every human — female, male, child, Batman…whoever — is treated equally and presented every opportunity that everyone else deserves, whether they are rich or poor or dead center in the middle class. Inequality and injustice are violations of incredibly basic human rights, and last time I checked, our country, despite many decades of pitfalls, is supposedly on the side of equality for all, no matter who they are, where they are born, what gender they do or do not identify as, what religion they believe in or do not choose to accept into their lives, what the color of their skin is, what accent their tongues speak, and who it is that they choose to fall in love with. Any time that anybody denies another human being the equal rights that they deserve on account of being born a human being, there is an injustice that needs to be corrected. I don’t know how to fix our societal failures, but none of us should rest until we do because a restraint on one person’s human rights is an invitation to infringe on all of our human rights.
The last time I checked, this was the United States of America, and we have some major faults, but until we change our country’s name to the Loosely-United-States-of-Intolerant-Americans-Unwilling-to-Accept-That-Personality-Differences-Don’t-Abrogate-the-Fact-That-We’re-Still-All-Created-Equal, it will remain our duty to fight against injustice, inequality, and intolerance. Right now, we do it with words and with #hashtag activism, but someday we’ll need to go beyond social media and become true warriors and engage in direct action on behalf of true equality.
Why do you think Democrats and Liberals have been able to convince women and others that there is a "War on Women"?
Because if there isn’t a war on women, there is a concerted effort to dismiss the independence of women by challenging their ability to make choices about their own lives and health, there is a blatant ignorance of what women’s rights truly means and the daily threats women face just by leaving their homes, there is widespread income inequality in the professional world between men and women, there are several hundred years of judicial decisions that ignore their effect on women, and a disturbing lack of understanding of the fact that just because men and women are different sexes doesn’t mean they are different species, and that human rights apply to all humans. Yes, all humans.
As for the Presidents who were least suited to do the job, in most cases those Presidents entered office with better resumes than anyone else serving in the Executive Branch. On paper, Presidents like John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, and William Howard Taft seemingly had more experience in more important positions than nearly all of their predecessors and successors. Unfortunately, you can’t govern a nation on paper or potential, and those highly-qualified leaders found that their personalities were not suited for the job of President of the United States.
Do you think would have made a better Speaker then McCormack or Albert? And if he did become Speaker, would Nixon still appoint him VP (as resigning would have the same result), or appoint someone else (like say turncoat Democrat John Connally)?
I’m guessing that you meant to include Gerald Ford as the subject of your questions. Ford was the House Minority Leader from 1965 until 1973, and his main ambition throughout his political career was to serve as Speaker of the House. Ford loved serving in the House of Representatives and had never set his sights on the Presidency. It wasn’t until he had succeeded Richard Nixon following Nixon’s resignation in 1974 and decided that he wanted to be elected President in his own right that the Presidency ever became a goal of his.
Unfortunately for Ford, the opportunity to become Speaker of the House never presented itself because his party was in the minority for nearly every day of his Congressional career. He spent nearly a quarter-century in Congress, but the Republicans only controlled the House for two of those years — during the 83rd Congress (1953-1955), which was quite early in Ford’s Congressional career. By 1973, when Ford was appointed to fill the Vice Presidential vacancy resulting from Spiro Agnew’s resignation, he had all but given up his hopes of eventually becoming Speaker. In fact, Ford had made up his mind to seek re-election just one more time (in 1974), retire when his final Congressional term ended (in January 1977), and then enter the private sector to earn some money since he had been living off of his government salary for almost his entire adult life. If he had remained in Congress with the hope that the Republicans would finally gain a majority in the House and given him a path to the Speakership, Ford would have been waiting for a long time. The Republicans didn’t win control of the House of Representatives until 1994; by that time, Ford was 81 years old and it had been 40 years since the GOP had last won a majority in the House.
Would Ford have been a better Speaker of the House than John W. McCormack (Speaker from 1962-1971) and Carl Albert (Speaker from 1971-1977)? Yes, I think he would have. McCormack was quite old when he became Speaker following Sam Rayburn’s death in 1962, and he was far less dynamic and active than Rayburn was. Albert was a stronger Speaker of the House than McCormack was, but I think Ford would have shined as Speaker. Few members of Congress had the personal touch and solid connections (with members from both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress) possessed by Gerald Ford. After nearly 25 years in the House, Ford was also an expert on the ebbs and flows of Congress, the legislative process, and parliamentary procedure. Ford was also — like Lyndon Johnson — extremely knowledgeable about individual Congressional districts and understanding of the unique challenges that each member of Congress faced when voting for or against certain pieces of legislation. Each bill affects different Congressmen in different ways and Ford recognized the importance of that when it came time to cast votes. The best Congressional leaders (and best Presidents trying to pass legislation) have that at the forefront of their mind and will use that knowledge to help members of Congress who find themselves in trouble after casting a vote which is unpopular with their constituents. That would have been a major strength of Ford’s if he had ever become Speaker.
I’m not sure if Nixon would still have appointed Ford to the Vice Presidency if he had been Speaker, but I don’t really see a reason why he wouldn’t. Ford might have been reluctant to accept the nomination as VP after finally winning the job he had always wanted, but I’m positive he would have eventually accepted the appointment because that’s just what you do when the President asks you to do something for your country.
What is important to remember is that President Nixon basically didn’t have a choice when it came to appointing someone to replace Spiro Agnew. You asked if I think Nixon would have tried to appoint someone like John Connally to fill the Vice Presidential vacancy if he hadn’t chosen Ford. In fact, Nixon did try to appoint Connally as Vice President, but VP nominees have to be confirmed by the Senate and the House and Democrats shot down any possibility that Connally, who had switched parties and become a Republican after years of rising through the political world as a Democrat. Although Connally was clearly Nixon’s first choice, he quickly recognized that he’d never win the confirmation battle and that he’d have to appoint someone else.
When Vice President Agnew resigned in October 1973, the Watergate scandal was already raging and new details seemed to emerge every day. Even at that point, impeachment and removal from office seemed to be a strong possibility. Because of that, it was clear that whomever Nixon appointed as Vice President could very well end up as President in the not-too-distant future. With that in mind and with significant Democratic majorities in the House and Senate (both chambers being required to confirm the VP nominee), Congress was not only in a position to “advise and consent”, but to basically dictate to Nixon which potential nominees would be confirmed. House Speaker Carl Albert would later admit that Congressional leaders gave Nixon no choice to appoint anyone other than Gerald Ford. Nixon was already in a battle for his political survival due to Watergate, so he was in no position to push back against Albert and nominate his own pick as President. Albert had made it clear that pretty much any other nominee would face a major fight in confirmation hearings and that, as Speaker, Albert could simply stall and keep Nixon’s nominee from even reaching the floor for a vote. That tactic would have opened up other worries for Nixon. If no Vice President had been confirmed and the Vice Presidency remained vacant, it was Speaker Albert who was next in line for the Presidency. If Nixon was removed from office or resigned, Albert, a Democrat, would have assumed a Presidency won by a Republican and been Acting President for nearly three years. Privately, Albert had no intention of maneuvering to become President himself, but the threat of it helped pressure Nixon into nominating Ford as Vice President, as Albert had urged. Ford was nominated just a few days after Agnew resigned in October 1973, was confirmed by both chambers of Congress, and took the oath of office to become Vice President on December 6, 1973. Eight months later he became President when Nixon resigned in the face of impeachment and almost certain removal from office.
What is involved(oath and ceremony wise) if there is ever a situation where the Speaker has to succeed the office of the President and Vice-President? Do they serve out the previous President's term or do they hold the office until there is a special election? Also, who would serve as the Vice President in that situation?
First of all, if one of the members of Congress in the Presidential line of succession (Speaker of the House or president pro tempore of the Senate) assumed office because of vacancies in the Presidency and Vice Presidency, they would have to resign their position in Congress before being sworn in as President or taking any Executive action as President.
That person would also have to meet the eligibility requirements for being President to assume the office. If, for some reason, that person didn’t meet the eligibility requirements — for example, let’s say the Speaker of the House was younger than 35 years old or had been born outside of the country — they cannot assume the office and it would pass to the next eligible person in the line of succession.
If there was no Speaker of the House or president pro tempore of the Senate, or if those two officials failed to qualify for the Presidency because they were Constitutionally ineligible, the Presidency would pass on to the next eligible person in the line of succession — members of the Cabinet in order of the date that their respective Department was established. While the Speaker and president pro tempore would have to resign their Congressional positions before taking the Presidential oath of office, any member of the Cabinet who assumes the Presidency would automatically resign their Cabinet position by the very act of taking the Presidential oath.
In both cases — whether it is one of the members of Congress or a member of the Cabinet who assumes the Presidency in the event of a Presidential and Vice Presidential vacancy — the new President would finish out the remainder of the vacated term.
Now, this is where it gets confusing — as if the line of succession and Constitutional eligibility for the Presidency isn’t confusing enough. Only the Vice President becomes President when assuming the office of the Presidency; Speakers of the House, presidents pro tempore of the Senate, and Cabinet members in the line of succession only become “Acting President”. It’s not entirely clear what that means since an “Acting President” has all of the powers and duties of an actual President of the United States, or a Vice President who succeeded to the Presidency upon a vacancy in the office. An “Acting President” can discharge any of the duties of the sitting President, so we don’t know for sure what the difference is — perhaps it’s as simple as the “Acting President” not being able to live in the White House. There’s just no precedent, just as there was no precedent for what happens when a President dies in office and a Vice President succeeds him. John Tyler’s actions when he succeeded William Henry Harrison in 1841 was followed by other Vice Presidents who followed him and eventually became the recognized process when it was codified in the 25th Amendment.
If there are vacancies in the Presidency and Vice Presidency and someone in the line of succession other than the VP assumes the office, they become “Acting President”, but there is still a vacancy in the Vice Presidency. Since that “Acting President” is invested with all the powers of the President and completes the term vacated by the President, it seems that they would be able to appoint a new Vice President (who would need to be confirmed by a majority vote in both chambers of Congress before becoming Vice President). However, a Cabinet member serving as “Acting President” can be bumped out of the position of “Acting President” if one of the Congressional leaders higher in the line of succession qualifies to become President. As an example, if there were vacancies in the offices of President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, and president pro tempore of the Senate, the person next-in-line to the Presidency would be the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State would become “Acting President”, but if a new House Speaker or president pro tempore of the Senate takes office, that person could “bump” the Secretary of State from being “Acting President” and take that position. Oddly enough, the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 only allows Cabinet members serving as “Acting President” to be bumped and only by the Congressional leaders in the line of succession. The Speaker of the House and president pro tempore of the Senate can’t be bumped out of their position if they are “Acting President”, and the Speaker can’t even bump the president pro tempore if that person assumed the office when there was a vacancy in the Presidency, Vice Presidency, and Speakership. It’s not clear if that would apply to a newly-appointed Vice President who was nominated to fill the Vice Presidential vacancy by an “Acting President”, but it’s possible that a Vice President — technically the president of the Senate — could also bump a Cabinet member. It is very confusing, and could be the source of a serious Constitutional crisis if we ever were in the difficult position of having someone lower than the VP on the line of succession assume the Presidency. Many Constitutional scholars believe that there are separation of powers issues with the idea of Congressional leaders in the line of succession being able to bump Cabinet officials serving as “Acting President”.
A couple of other issues with Presidential succession/Acting Presidents also stem from the 1947 Presidential Succession Act. The Constitution allows someone to hold two Executive Branch offices simultaneously (for an example, the Secretary of State can actually serve as Vice President), but the 1947 law explicitly prohibits a Cabinet official from holding on to their position while serving as “Acting President”. Another question mark surrounds the eligibility of certain Cabinet secretaries to assume the Presidency. The 1947 law prohibits any Cabinet members who were recess appointments from becoming “Acting President”. Also, what happens if there is a vacancy in a Cabinet position. If there is a vacancy in the position of Secretary of State, does the Presidency fall to the next person in the line of succession — the Treasury Secretary — or is the Deputy Secretary of State next in line. The 1947 law only states that the Cabinet member has to be confirmed by the Senate (technically, “appointed by the advice and consent of the Senate”), Deputy Secretaries are usually confirmed by the Senate, and if the position of Secretary is vacant, Deputy Secretaries frequently head Executive Branch Departments as “Acting Secretary” until a new Secretary if appointed and confirmed. Deputies serving as Department heads when there are vacant Secretary posts are usually considered to be in the line of succession by the White House in continuity of government exercises. But with that in mind, how many deputies does each Executive Branch Department go through before the Presidency passes on to the next Cabinet Secretary? These are the things that keep me up at night — the weird little Constitutional what-ifs. Fortunately, it’s extremely doubtful that anyone other than the Vice President will ever have to assume the Presidency, and if it got to the point where there were vacancies at the positions of President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, and president pro tempore of the Senate, we’d be so worried by whatever was happening that any familiar face taking charge would be a welcome site.
“I assert there is no ex-President in this case. I am here to discharge the sworn duties of my profession as I see them. If the people of this country have seen cause to honor me, it is no reason why I should not appear in the capacity of counselor nor a reason why I should be driven from this court.”—
Richmond, Indiana, 1895
Defending the right of an ex-President to serve as private legal counsel during the trial of James Morrison