If you were concerned that the current pandemic of derangement spreading around the nation in response to the election of Donald Trump was fading into the background, fear not. It’s alive and well, presented to us yet again by Norm Ornstein at The Atlantic. Continuing a project which he began after 9/11, Ornstein would like to see the rules of succession in the event that we “lose” a president in some fashion changed. He’s not talking about Donald Trump of course, as he’s quick to point out. Certainly not. Perish the thought. This is more of a hypothetical situation where some foreign government is found to have interfered with our elections to the point where the President can no longer be considered legitimate and Congress removes him or her under a rather arcane reading of the 25th Amendment. It could also be applied to disaster situations such as a terror attack which takes out most of the elected leadership, similar to that recent television series, Designated Survivor.
But wait, you might be thinking. Don’t we already have a system in place to cover that? Assuming he’s still alive, Mike Pence would be sworn in, right? And if he got knocked out as well, we’d go to Paul Ryan and so forth on down the line. True, but Ornstein doesn’t care for that plan, particularly in the event of a stolen election. Here’s why:
Here is the big problem. What if the election was effectively stolen? Under the current presidential succession structure, if Donald Trump were impeached and removed from office, Mike Pence would replace him. But if the election had been stolen, Pence’s place as president would be no more legitimate than that of Trump. After Pence—Paul Ryan, the speaker, followed by Orrin Hatch, the president pro tem, followed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. If voters’ collective desires were subverted by foreign interference and a party’s collusion, none would have a legitimate claim—especially since the control of the Senate, at least, would have been affected by the Russian role.
This is a version of the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine. If Trump, er… I mean… whoever the President may be, is illegitimate in this fashion then his running mate is as well. Same thing for his cabinet picks I assume. Oh, and just to throw some additional grease on this kitchen fire, the President pro tem is probably illegitimate also because “control of the Senate” would have been also affected by the Russians. (I’m sure Norm meant to say, “…or whichever country hacked us.”)
So what does he propose to do about it? Returning to his commission idea from the early, post-9/11 era, he’s drawn up a plan. (Emphasis added)
So the Commission recommended streamlining the line of succession, dropping lower-level Cabinet members, and adding a new category of people deputized as Officers, chosen by the president to be confirmed in the posts by the Senate, representing geographical breadth and presumably policy and even political depth.
Is it just me, or does this “solution” sound as if it’s fraught with all of the same “problems” being cited in the existing system, plus a few more? If these “deputized officers” were chosen by the President in the aforementioned scenario of an election poisoned by outside interference, how are they any more “legitimate” than the Vice President or any cabinet members selected by the now tainted president? And at least the Speaker (assuming he or she is also a member of the House, which is not required but has always been the case) and the Senate President pro tem were elected by somebody. These new officers would be as completely insulated from the direct control of the voters as the cabinet members are.
How does this scheme fix anything other than a liberal desire to have a do-over of 2016 and get Trump and all of his people out of office more quickly? Just for the record, I agree with Ornstein that it might be time for a new conversation on how to repopulate the House and the Senate more quickly in the event that they are largely wiped out in a terror attack or natural disaster (Hello, SMOD), and we could even have a public debate over the order of those in line for the top job in the Executive Branch. (I’m sure Mike Young is a great guy, but… seriously?) But for the most part we have a plan in place and it covers us in the event of all but the most unthinkable attack or catastrophic meteor strike. If you don’t want the Vice President in the line of succession, why bother having the office at all?