Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Asker Anonymous Asks:
Why do you think First Ladies stay married to their husbands amidst their infidelity? Jackie, Lady Bird, Hillary to name a few.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I don’t know. Relationships are difficult and complicated, and it’s not my place to pass judgment on other people’s relationships, especially when my track record has been far from perfect.

Asker ultra-pop Asks:
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)?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

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. 

I’m just curious — when does the word “genocide” enter into the conversation?

You should definitely get this book when it is released on August 5th. I was barely able to tear myself away from it to make this post.

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (BOOK | KINDLE) by Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland, and published by Simon & Schuster (@simonbooks) on August 5th.

Asker lancer-lace Asks:
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?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

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.

Benjamin Harrison
Richmond, Indiana, 1895

Defending the right of an ex-President to serve as private legal counsel during the trial of James Morrison

(via generalharrison)
Asker Anonymous Asks:
If LBJ were suddenly resurrected from the dead and went to Congress to give a speech after seeing what they have behaved like since his death-particularly in the past decade or two-what would he say?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Publicly, he would have said something courteous and civil and then probably would have tried to motivate Congress by telling them that he understands how hard their job is and remind them that he spent more time as the Senate Majority Leader than he did as President. Publicly, he would have mentioned that he saw the issues from both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue and urged everyone to go to work on behalf of the American people with one of his favorite Biblical phrases, “Come, let us reason together.” That’s what he would say publicly.

Then, he would address the Democratic and Republican Caucuses privately and give them the kicks in the asses that they need. He’d be on the phone 24/7, begging and threatening members of Congress to get things done, and he’d not only know each member of Congress personally, but he’d know each of their districts and constituencies better than most of the members of Congress knew them. He’d know what the members needed back home and he’d know how to beat them if he needed to. The private LBJ wouldn’t sound very Presidential, but he’d be doing the most Presidential thing possible — actually being President and getting shit done. 

Asker Anonymous Asks:
If you could have dinner with any three politicians or world leaders who are alive today who would you pick? It can be any current or former leader but the only rule is that the person still has to be alive right now so it can't be Abe Lincoln.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

1. Fidel Castro

2. Bill Clinton

3. Pope Francis

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Did you know Chester Arthur had 80 pairs of pants and changed them frequently?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:
Say to Mr. Lincoln from me that I shall at any time be pleased to receive proposals for peace on the basis of our [Confederate] Independence. It will be useless to approach me with any other.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis, to Northern emissaries during the Civil War, July 1864.
He was not executive in his talents — not original, not firm, not a moral force. He leaned on others — could not face a frowning world; his habits suffered from Washington life. His course at various times when trouble came betrayed weakness.
Rutherford B. Hayes, on his successor, James Garfield, 1883.
Asker Anonymous Asks:
I'm kind of intrigued that you read Owen's No Easy Day. Any particular thoughts?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I’ve probably read at least six or seven different books about how Osama bin Laden was killed and some of them have been really good, some have been really bad, and some have seemed to be nothing more than the exact same details we learned from news reports put into the form of a book.

No Easy Day:The Autobiography of a Navy SEAL: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden (BOOK | KINDLE) is notable because the author Mark Owen (aka Mark Bissonnette) was involved in the mission that killed bin Laden. That is certainly a unique viewpoint, but to be honest, that’s the only reason I found No Easy Day to be interesting. I can’t say that I’d recommend purchasing the book, but since Wal-Mart always seems to have 6,000 copies, next time you’re in one of their stores, you should drop by the magazine aisle and read the 3 or 4 pages that really focus on the Abbottabad raid.

There are two books that I would recommend for those who might be interested in the reading about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden as well as putting the mission in context with either the hunt for bin Laden or bin Laden’s role in becoming leader of al-Qaeda and Public Enemy #1.

First and foremost, I would suggest Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden From 9/11 to Abbottabad (BOOK | KINDLE) by Peter Bergen, who is no relation to me, but who is the journalist who actually scored a face-to-face interview with Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. It’s extremely interesting and frightening to read Bergen (again, no relation) give his account of that interview and how bin Laden seemed soft-spoken and polite and even had a kindly nature, but when bin Laden’s words were translated he was declaring war on the United States and warning Americans that his organization would make no distinction between civilian and military targets in their jihad against U.S. interests.

The other book that I would suggest is The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden (BOOK | KINDLE) by Mark Bowden. The Finish is less expansive than Manhunt, but the description of the raid in Abbottabad by the Navy SEALs is intense. Bowden is simply always terrific. I haven’t read a Mark Bowden book that I haven’t been mesmerized by. Black Hawk Down is his most famous work, of course, but I think Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War With Militant Islam is even better. And you’ll thank me if you also pick up Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw (on Pablo Escobar) and Road Work: Among Tyrants, Heroes, Rogues, and Beasts, a collection of some of the best of his narrative non-fiction which features an incredible piece on Saddam Hussein.

Asker kray814 Asks:
I know there's no chance in hell of Gary Johnson winning the Republican nomination in 2016 but if he did, would you consider voting for him?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said: