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.
This is one of those things that has never been fully interpreted by the Supreme Court and is only vaguely referred to in the Constitution in what is referred to as the “Appointments Clause”. The text of that clause, which is Article II, Section 2, states that the President “shall nominate, and, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.”
What those “Departments” actually were wasn’t made specifically clear, but the common interpretation (and the one that makes the most sense) of those “Departments” is of the agencies of the federal government that exercise the power of the Executive Branch. What the “Heads of Department” were is less clear and has never been defined by the Supreme Court, but it has been taken to mean that there are principal “Officers” and “inferior Officers” within those Departments — the principal “Officers” require Senate confirmation while the “inferior Officers” do not unless Congress specifically mandates it. The principal “Officers” are not just the Secretaries of each Cabinet-level Department and Senate confirmation isn’t limited to agencies considered Cabinet-level Departments. There are nearly 1,500 positions in the federal government which require Senate confirmation after Presidential appointment.
The formation of these Departments and the reason for Cabinet Secretaries is basically, to put it really simply, because there’s a lot of damn work to do. The President is vested with all of this Executive power, but the President is just one person. The Legislative Branch has hundreds of members in elected positions and even the Supreme Court has nine members, and that’s not even counting all of the lower courts in the Judicial Branch. To use the Department of State/Secretary of State as an example since that’s the one you mentioned, the Constitution gives the President the responsibility for our country’s foreign relations. Even during George Washington’s Presidency when the size of the country and the government was small, it was obvious that the President couldn’t single-handedly administer foreign policy, manage the financial system and law enforcement/legal apparatus, and be Commander-in-Chief of the military. The President needed help, so Departments were formed and people were put in charge of those Departments.
The State Department was a no-brainer, and during the Washington Administration, it was followed by a Treasury Department (finance), War Department (defense), and Attorney General (justice). There was actually no Department of Justice until 1870. Prior to that, the Attorney General was a Presidential appointee who was responsible for prosecuting cases before the Supreme Court and as the Executive Branch’s legal authority who could give opinions and advice on the law. When it comes to the technical process of establishing a federal Department, the President usually appoints an official responsible for a specific role or advocates for the establishment of such a role and Congress passes a law creating the Department needed to support that Presidential appointee. As the government and country has grown and different technologies and industries have sprouted, new Departments have been added or have been turned into something else.
The establishment of a Department of State was obviously the most important Department to the leaders when the Presidency went into effect because of its role in supporting the President in foreign relations at a time where even some of our more cosmopolitan leaders were regarded (often quite accurately) as somewhat provincial. Foreign policy was a big concern because the United States was still recovering from a Revolutionary War which resulted in independence but required everything Americans had as well as the assistance of foreign allies (or foreign countries who were at least enemies of England). Strengthening those ties, along with building new ones, was an absolute necessity for defensive and economic reasons — for survival, basically. That’s why the Department of State was the first to be created shortly after Washington was inaugurated. At first, it was actually called the “Department of Foreign Affairs”, but Congress changed the name to the “Department of State” right before Thomas Jefferson was appointed as the first Secretary of State a couple of months later.
More Cabinet-level Departments — along with sub Cabinet-level agencies, many of which also have principal officers who require Senate confirmation following Presidential appointment — have been established throughout our history, but the Secretary of State has largely remained the most important position in the Cabinet. Like the Chief Justice, the Secretary of State is seen as first-among-equals, and was such an important and influential position that the Secretary is first in the order of precedence of members of the Cabinet and was second in line to the Presidency from 1886 until 1947. Early Secretaries of State were so influential that the position seemed to be a stepping stone to the Presidency during the first 50 years of the job’s existence with four of the first six Presidents (Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams) being former Secretaries of State. Three Secretaries of State (Madison, Monroe, and J.Q. Adams) were elected to the Presidency directly from the State Department. However, only two former Secretaries of State have been elected President since 1825 — Martin Van Buren, Secretary of State under President Jackson (1829-1831) and elected President in 1836, and James Buchanan, Secretary of State under President Polk (1845-1849) and elected President in 1856 — so, if she is successful in 2016, Hillary Clinton will be the first former Secretary of State elected President in 160 years. And it won’t be for a lack of trying — former Secretaries of State who were nominated by a major party but lost a Presidential election include Henry Clay (lost three Presidential election), Daniel Webster (lost two Presidential elections), Lewis Cass, and James G. Blaine. Several others unsuccessfully sought their party’s nomination and lost or settled for the State Department after losing a Presidential election first (including William Jennings Bryan, who lost three Presidential elections).
This is way more information than jrobertxiii asked for, but I hope it answered some of your questions.
At the beginning of the 19th Century, being Secretary of State was almost a guarantee that you’d be elected President. Five of the first eight Presidents had served as Secretary of State, including three (James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams) who went directly to the White House from serving two terms as Secretary of State. But it’s been nearly 160 years since the last Secretary of State — James Buchanan, who ran President Polk’s State Department from 1845 to 1849 — was elected President.
I think it’s more difficult now for a couple of reasons. First of all, Secretaries of State aren’t nearly as powerful now. The Vice Presidency is a far more influential position today than it was in the 18th, 19th, and first half of the 20th Century, the White House Chief of Staff handles the Administration’s COO-type responsibilities that many Secretaries previously took on, and as other Cabinet posts have increased their profile within the Executive Department it has diminished the power of the Secretary of State, especially when there are turf wars like the feud between Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld. The Secretary of State used to be a Foreign Minister-type position that was basically just short of being equivalent to a Prime Minister; in many ways, the Secretary of State used to be (unofficially) the first-among-equals within the Cabinet. That changed a bit early in the 20th Century, but especially in the latter part of the last century. Basically since Nixon’s Presidency, American foreign policy is almost fully run by the White House through the National Security Staff (formerly known as the National Security Council). The Secretary of State is a member of the National Security Staff and has a role in formulating that policy, of course, but they are more like Super Ambassadors who go where the President sends them and relays messages. They have always been the top American diplomat, but the job now is much more political, domestically and internationally, than administrative.
Another reason why you don’t see more Secretaries of State running for President directly from the State Department is purely political. If a President serves a single term, a Secretary of State isn’t going to be an ideal candidate because they’d have to challenge their boss. If a President serves two terms, there is usually voter fatigue when it comes to the President and his Cabinet. After two terms, the opposition party will have been sharpening their knives and getting ready for the Presidential election. A Secretary of State who has either served two terms in office or wants to run for President directly from the State Department after one term in the Cabinet is an easy target. All Presidents eventually become lame ducks and if someone is serving in their Cabinet as the President’s popularity starts to take a dive, they’ll usually be painted with that same brush. It’s easy to run against them — whether you’re from the other party or challenging them in the primary.
Hillary Clinton would have a more difficult race in front of her if she were serving as Secretary of State in Obama’s Cabinet right now. It would be easier to connect her with an unpopular President who is rapidly heading towards lame duck status if she were currently in the Cabinet. Since she left after the first term, on her own terms, after Obama had been re-elected, she basically left at the perfect time — it’s like when an athlete retires after winning a championship. If you go out on top, you control your destiny and shore up your legacy. So, that’s why no Secretaries of State have been elected President since Buchanan in 1856 and few have even won their party’s nomination. But, if things play out the way I think they will, Hillary will end that drought in 2016.
When James Monroe served as the 5th President of the United States (1817-1825) partisan rancor was so diminished that it was known as the “Era of Good Feelings.” In 1820, things were going smoothly enough for President Monroe that he was unopposed in his bid for re-election and was just one vote short of a unanimous Electoral College victory.
But all good things must come to an end. The “Era of Good Feelings” collapsed and fell right back into regular American politically partisan bitterness with the 1824 Presidential campaign. In fact, during that time, the popular President Monroe found some bad feelings within his own Cabinet, resulting in a bizarre confrontation in the White House that winter — the President of the United States vs. the Secretary of the Treasury, no-holds-barred.
Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford had been a front-runner to replace Monroe, but a stroke in 1823 ruined those chances. Crawford had been serving as Secretary of the Treasury since 1816 when he was appointed by President James Madison and continued on throughout Monroe’s Administration. Tired, frustrated, and ready to retire home to Georgia, Crawford called on Monroe at the White House to suggest a list of appointments he wished the President to approve for customs officers at ports in the Northeastern United States, some of the choicest political patronage positions available in the federal government. However, Monroe objected to Crawford’s list and stated that he intended to name his own picks. Crawford lost his temper and told the President, “Well, if you will not appoint persons well-qualified for the places, tell me whom you will appoint that I may get rid of their importunities!”
The President — a Revolutionary War veteran of George Washington’s Army who carried a bullet in his body that had nearly killed him in 1776 — was not intimidated by Crawford’s language or temperament, coldly telling his Treasury Secretary, “Sir, that is none of your damn business.”
Crawford was not easily intimidated, either. The Treasury Secretary had killed a man in a duel years earlier, and Monroe’s comment led Crawford to charge at the 67-year-old President with his cane, shaking it at Monroe while calling him a “damned, infernal old scoundrel.” Monroe quickly grabbed two red-hot tongs from a nearby fireplace for self-defense and threatened to personally throw Crawford — who was 15 years younger than the President — out of the White House.
Both men calmed down as President Monroe prepared to summon his servants to show the Treasury Secretary out. Crawford apologized for his actions and stated that he did not intend to insult or threaten the President. Before Monroe could ask him to leave, Crawford left the White House on his own. The two men never spoke to each other again.
The “Era of Good Feelings” was over.
There is nothing that prohibits a Cabinet member from serving in two positions. As recently as 1973-1975, Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State and National Security Advisor (which is not an official Cabinet position, but often represented at Cabinet-level meetings) in two Administrations (Nixon and Ford).
However, in today’s political climate, I could see a Cabinet member appointed to dual positions receiving opposition in the Senate. Presidential appointees to Cabinet positions do require Senate confirmation. While there is no law prohibiting someone from serving in two Cabinet posts, I would not be surprised to see the Senate failing to confirm one person for multiple posts because of the workload that Cabinet department heads now face.
Incidentally, I doubt that a President would want to appoint someone to more than one Cabinet position in today’s world for similar reasons. That’s a lot of work. Not to mention the fact that it is investing one member of the Administration with a significant amount of power, and most Presidents want to be sure to keep the balance of power within the Executive Branch in the Oval Office, not in certain Cabinet positions.
I’m sure this is blasphemous or just sadly out-of-touch for someone to say in 2013, but I only know like four superheroes, so this question is outside of my area of expertise. I mean, I guess Iron Man would be a good Secretary of Defense and Batman would be a good Treasury Secretary (Batman is a rich motherfucker, right?). Okay, maybe I can only think of two superheroes. They are superheroes, though, can’t they do all of the jobs?
I think that’s a pretty good guess, especially since Governor Patrick decided not to seek reelection next year. I thought Patrick would be Attorney General by now, but it doesn’t look like Eric Holder is going anywhere, so Homeland Security might be Governor Patrick’s best bet for a Cabinet position.
The only possible issue that I could think of is that Massachusetts currently doesn’t have a Lieutenant Governor — he resigned last month. Obviously, there is a line of succession and a quick search tells me that the Secretary of the Commonwealth (basically the Secretary of State for Massachusetts) would assume the Governor’s office if Patrick resigned and the current Secretary is a Democrat, so it wouldn’t be a political problem.
I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough. Governor Patrick received some high marks for the state’s response to the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent manhunt, so Homeland Security would probably be a good fit. Personally, I’d like to see Attorney General Holder move on so that the President could plug Patrick into the Justice Department, but I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.
It was the crowning moment in Richard Milhous Nixon’s long career of political ups-and-downs. For the fifth time, Nixon had been a candidate on the national ticket (twice as Vice President, three times as President). In 1952 and 1956, the focus was on the top of the ticket, Nixon’s running mate, Dwight Eisenhower. In 1960, Nixon narrowly lost to — and some would say was the victim of theft from — John F. Kennedy. In 1968, Nixon finally won election to the Presidency, but he did so with some bitterness: the country was in shambles and the two people he wanted to oppose more than anyone else in the election — Lyndon Johnson and Bobby Kennedy — had respectively quit and been murdered during the turbulent campaign. Not only that, but in victory, Nixon had garnered only 43.4% of the vote — a full 6 percentage points less than he had earned in his 1960 loss to JFK.
On November 7, 1972, however, Nixon’s “Silent Majority” spoke loud and clear — and truly gave him both a majority victory and a strong mandate for his second term in the White House. Nixon trounced Democratic Senator George S. McGovern on election night. His popular vote victory was 61%-38% and Nixon’s margin in the Electoral College was even larger, 520-17. Nixon won every single state in the country except for Massachusetts. Nixon even won McGovern’s home state of South Dakota.
As the election returns rolled in and Nixon’s family, supporters, and staff celebrated, the man who had received the votes of 47,169,841 of his fellow Americans that day to be their President noted that he felt “a curious feeling, perhaps a foreboding, that muted my enjoyment of this triumphal moment.” In his memoirs, Richard Nixon elaborated further, “I am at a loss to explain the melancholy that settled over me on that victorious night…To some extent the marring effects of Watergate may have played a part, to some extent our failure to win Congress, and to a greater extent the fact that we had not yet been able to end the war in Vietnam. Or perhaps it was because this would be my last campaign. Whatever the reasons, I allowed myself only a few minutes to reflect on the past. I was confident that a new era was about to begin, and I was eager to begin it.”
The new era began the next morning. At 12:00 PM on November 8, 1972, President Nixon gathered his Cabinet in the White House. Nixon seemed tired and was suffering from a painful toothache. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger noted that the President seemed “grim and remote”. Nixon’s loyal Chief of Staff, H. R. “Bob” Haldeman was at his side as the President nonchalantly thanked his Cabinet and then described his recent readings about Benjamin Disraeli and how Disraeli described a need to refresh the British government and rid it of the “exhausted volcanoes” in William Gladstone’s Cabinet. Nixon’s Cabinet was perplexed and curious as to where the President was headed. He had just won a landslide victory in the Presidential election, but he spoke as if he had lost everything.
After a few more minutes of talking about his plans for a second term that wasn’t “lethargic” such as those of some of his predecessors, Nixon simply stood up and walked out of the Cabinet Room, headed across the South Lawn, boarded Marine One and flew to his Camp David retreat. When the President stands, everyone stands but as soon as he left the room, the Cabinet sat down and looked at Bob Haldeman, who took over the meeting. Haldeman handed pieces of paper out to the Cabinet and said, “You’re all a bunch of burned-out volcanoes”. Then he immediately demanded everyone’s resignation. Nixon had won one of the biggest victories in American electoral history, and 24 hours later, he was basically firing everyone who had helped him to do so — earlier in the day, he had done the same thing that he did to the Cabinet to his White House staff.
Henry Kissinger summed it up by saying that, “It was as if victory was not an occasion for reconciliation but an opportunity to settle the scores of a lifetime.” For Richard Nixon, victory was never enough. He needed destruction. Nixon got rid of his exhausted volcanoes, but he was sitting on top of another volcano named Watergate. His abbreviated second term, which had been won the night before, would end less than two years later in his own personal and professional destruction.
I think Senator Kerry is an excellent choice. He has a wealth of experience in foreign relations due to his lengthy service on that committee in the Senate, is well-known around the world, and has built personal relationships with many international leaders that will serve him and the President well once he takes over at State. I think that Susan Rice got a raw deal over the Benghazi attacks and was unfairly made out to be the scapegoat, but I also think Kerry is a much more solid pick for Secretary of State than Rice would have been.
I think Robert Gates is probably the best Secretary of Defense (or Secretary of War) since Henry L. Stimson and probably in the Top 5 in all of American history (a lot of Americans would probably be surprised to realize that many historians, including myself consider Jefferson Davis to be #1). Gates was loyal, dependable, incredibly smart, eminently qualified, and had the respect and confidence of not only the military, but two Presidents from different parties who had almost nothing in common other than Robert Gates as their Secretary of Defense. For President Bush and President Obama, Secretary Gates was the ideal Cabinet member — supportive, yet unafraid to voice objections or an opposing viewpoint, and completely capable of managing his department and getting the most out of his people. I have nothing but respect for Robert Gates.
He was only Secretary of State for two years (1947-1949), but George C. Marshall, in my opinion, was the greatest American diplomat of the past 100 years. Marshall, of course, developed the Marshall Plan, which helped relieve war-torn Europe and won him the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize.
By the way, outside of the State Department, General Marshall probably was one of the most qualified Americans who never served as President of the United States. Marshall was the Army Chief of Staff during World War II and what that means is that he was the guy who basically picked the Generals who won the war. Marshall was a priceless asset to President Roosevelt and President Truman during the war and after the war.
Besides General Marshall, I’d also include Charles Evans Hughes, who served as Secretary of State under President Harding and President Coolidge (and was another guy who probably should have been President himself). Also, Cordell Hull — the longest serving Secretary of State — who served throughout almost three full terms of FDR’s Administration.
Depending on your political affiliation, there are also many who have high opinions of other 20th/21st Century Secretaries of State. Quite frankly, the United States has done historically well — particularly in the last 50 years — with the person that have been put at the helm of the State Department. These names are all people who did some important things that significantly affected American policy and the world as a whole: John Foster Dulles (President Eisenhower), Dean Rusk (President Kennedy and President Johnson), Henry Kissinger (President Nixon and President Ford), George Schulz (President Reagan), James Baker (President Bush 41), and Madeline Albright (President Clinton). Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are tainted by the Iraq War, but Powell is a heavyweight on the world stage and Rice is a remarkable leader. Hillary Clinton is on her way to being a very important Secretary of State and might be the MVP of the Obama Administration so far.