President-Elect: Succession and Disability Issues During the Transition Period [November 26, 2008] [open pdf - 72KB]
"Procedures governing replacement of a President or Vice President-elect during the transition period depend on when the events that might lead to a temporary or permanent replacement occur. At the general election, voters choose members of the electoral college, which formally selects the President and Vice President several weeks later. Between election day and the electors' meeting, the two major political parties' rules provide that replacement candidates would be chosen by their national committees should vacancies occur. Most authorities agree that the President- and Vice President-elect will have been chosen once the electoral votes are cast on December 15, 2008. The electoral votes are counted and declared when Congress meets in joint session for this purpose on January 8, 2009. During this period, between December 15 and the January 20 inauguration, if the President-elect dies, the Vice President-elect becomes President-elect, under the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. Although the 20th Amendment does not specifically address questions of disability or resignation by a President- or Vice President-elect, the words 'failure to qualify' found in the amendment might arguably be interpreted to cover such contingencies. While the 20th Amendment does not address vacancies in the position of Vice President-elect, these would be covered after the inauguration by the 25th Amendment. In the event no person qualifies as President or Vice President, then the Presidential Succession Act (61 Stat. 380, 3 U.S.C. 19) would apply: the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President pro tempore of the Senate and duly confirmed Cabinet officers, in that order, would act as President. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, observers have expressed concern that an attack during the presidential inauguration ceremony might lead to the death or disability of most or all officials in the line of presidential succession. This concern takes particular note of the fact that there are generally few, if any, duly confirmed cabinet members at that time. One potential remedy for this situation would be for an official in the line of succession to be absent from the ceremony. Another might be for a cabinet secretary from the outgoing Administration to remain in office until after the inauguration; alternatively, a cabinet secretary-designate of the new administration might be nominated by the incumbent President, confirmed by the Senate, and installed prior to the inauguration. Either action would avoid a gap in the line of presidential succession under these circumstances."
CRS Report for Congress, RS22992
U.S. Dept. of State, Foreign Press Centers: http://fpc.state.gov/