Trump shock: Why Nancy Pelosi could be poised to REPLACE US President
One of the precautions announced by President Donald Trump this week was to avoid gatherings of over ten people and elections often require more than this number to be in one place. Mr Trump and his two potential Democratic rivals Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have all cancelled large rallies. What’s more, election day often sees long queues of people waiting to cast their ballot.
This means there is a chance the election may be cancelled if the COVID-19 crisis is still going on by the autumn.
However, in the US a president cannot just stay on past their term, even if there is an emergency.
Instead, the presidency goes down a line of succession: first it would go to Vice President Mike Pence, but his term would also be ending, so it would go to whoever is next in the succession – Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.
Ms Pelosi, a Democrat, has been Speaker since 2019 and is an outspoken critic of Mr Trump.
She is in fact the only Democrat currently in the line of succession, as she is followed by President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Chuck Grassley, and then members of Mr Trump’s Cabinet.
Fourth in line is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, fifth is Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and sixth is Secretary of Defence Mark Esper.
In fact, the US political system has no function for an early election, so were Mr Trump to be reelected but both he and Mr Pence died or were removed from office, it would be Ms Pelosi who would step in.
This would actually make her the first woman ever to become US President.
It is this quirk of the system that became the central plank of the hit TV show Designated Survivor.
In the political drama, an explosion in the Capitol Building kills the President and everyone in the line of succession, except for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who had been named the ‘designated survivor’, meaning he is absent in case this very scenario happens.
The designated survivor is then immediately sworn in as the new president.
These rules were first set up by the US Constitution, which dictates that the Vice President is the person who will take over if the President cannot continue.
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The laws about who is next in succession were first created in 1792, when the Senate leader was in third, followed by the Speaker of the House.
After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, his Vice President Andrew Johnson became President.
Three years later in 1868, during the impeachment trial of President Johnson, Senate leader Benjamin Wade almost became president ‒ as there was now no Vice President ‒ but Mr Johnson was found not guilty by one vote.
In 1886, after the death of Vice President Thomas A Henricks, Congress passed a law that took out the leaders of the Senate and House from the line of succession.
They were restored by the Presidential Succession Act of 1947.
Even for other political positions, byelections ‒ or as they are called in the US, special elections ‒ are quite rare and are usually scheduled to take place concurrently with a general election.
For a congressperson in the House, a special election is required to replace them, but if a senator dies, resigns or is removed, the state governor can appoint a replacement until a special election can be held.
The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution (1913) outlined the process by which a senator is replaced.
The possibility of the election being cancelled aside, there are other ways in which coronavirus could disrupt democracy in the US.
For example, there are fears that, given that Mr Trump, Mr Biden and Mr Sanders are all over 70, that they might even be in danger from the coronavirus themselves.
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