Thinking the unthinkable-the US presidential line of succession

The status of President Trump’s health remains unclear. We all know that if he is incapacitated, Vice-President Mike Pence will officiate. What if something happens to him?

Not to worry. Unlike in many other countries, there is a long line of succession specified:

As you may know, President Trump is 74+, Vice-President Pence is 61+. It gets interesting after that. More in a moment.

The term of the current President and Vice-President end on January 20, 2021 at noon. If re-elected, their next term will start afresh. If not, the next President and Vice-President will take office then and things return to normal.

If the incumbent President was to die or be incapacitated, the Vice-President will become president and would continue after January 20 if re-elected. In due course a new Vice-President would be selected after the usual confirmation process.

Now we look at the line of succession.

3rd in line is the Democrat Nancy Pelosi (age 80+) who is Speaker of the House of Representatives. Her term ends on Dec 31, 2020 and it is unlikely that she would be elected again even if the Democrats were to gain a majority in the House. And she may not wish to take this responsibility.

Then there is the 4th in line, the Republican Chuck Grassley (age 87+) who is President “pro tempore” of the Senate. His term as Senator will end at the end of 2022, so there is no impediment to him temporarily becoming President. But he will still be younger than PM Mahathir Mohamad who was elected PM when past 92.

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Not to forget

Probably we should stop here. Present indications are that the Biden-Harris team will win with a large majority in the electoral college. And that the detailed polls show that Democrats are likely to get a majority in the House and probably in the Senate as well.


It may also be useful to read Irving Wallace’s 1964 novel “The Man”, in which the President Pro Tempore of the Senate becomes President after the President, Vice-President and Speaker depart in various ways. “The Man” is Black. And it is 1964.

Even in the 1970s this novel was considered to be a fantasy. No one told that to Barack Obama.