John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

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Presidential trivia

One of my co-workers had a question: who is fourth in the order of succession for the US presidency? Answer: Colin Powell, because after the Vice-President, Speaker of the House, and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, the order of succession runs through the President's cabinet in the order in which the departments were founded.

Her question raised two questions of my own. One, who will be the President Pro Tempore of the Senate when the new Senate is seated next January? The President Pro Tempore is always the most senior member of the majority party; right now, that's Robert Byrd of West Virginia. But Byrd is a Democrat, and the new Senate will have a Republican majority. As of this moment, the most senior Republican in the Senate is Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, but he's retiring at the end of this year. Once he's gone, the most senior Republican will be (drum roll, please) Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who came to the Senate in 1968. So as of January 4, 2003, Sen. Stevens will be third in line for the presidency. You heard it here first.

My second question: are there any members of the Cabinet who are excluded from the order of succession? Remember, the Constitution says that to be president, you must be at least 35 years old, a natural-born U.S. citizen, and have lived in the U.S. for at least 14 years. Having studied the list of cabinet secretaries and read a few of their biographies, I've determined that two current Cabinet members are ineligible to serve as President and are thus not included in the official order of succession: Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan; and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez, born in Cuba. And the Department of Homeland Security currently has no Secretary; President Bush has nominated Tom Ridge for the post, but he hasn't been confirmed by the Senate yet.

For handy reference, here's the complete order of succession, along with the names of the people currently holding those offices:

  1. Vice President: Dick Cheney

  2. Speaker of the House: Dennis Hastert

  3. President Pro Tempore of the Senate: Robert Byrd

  4. Secretary of State: Colin Powell

  5. Secretary of the Treasury: Paul O'Neill

  6. Secretary of Defense: Donald Rumsfeld

  7. Attorney General: John Ashcroft

  8. Secretary of the Interior: Gale Norton

  9. Secretary of Agriculture: Anne Veneman

  10. Secretary of Commerce: Don Evans

  11. Secretary of Labor: Elaine Chao (ineligible)

  12. Secretary of Health and Human Services: Tommy Thompson

  13. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Mel Martinez (ineligible)

  14. Secretary of Transportation: Norman Mineta

  15. Secretary of Energy: Spenser Abraham

  16. Secretary of Education: Rod Paige

  17. Secretary of Veterans Affairs: Anthony Principi

  18. Secretary of Homeland Security: Vacant

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