In the wake of Wednesday's rioting inside the U.S. Capitol, many people are wondering what takes place if President Donald Trump does not finish out his term. Among them: where would it place Vice President Mike Pence in the history of presidents?
Would Pence be the 46th President of the United States or would he be an "acting president,” with Joe Biden still considered the 46th president, if Trump does not complete his term?
It depends on whether Trump would step down voluntarily or be removed under the 25th Amendment, according to the National Constitution Center and reports by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
If Trump resigns or is impeached and removed from office, Pence would become the 46th President of the United States. This would make Joe Biden the 47th president when he takes office on January 20.
If the 25th Amendment were invoked, Pence would become the “acting president,” but would not officially be considered a U.S. President.
WHAT WE FOUND
The 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution spells out the ways that a vice president might take the place of the president.
Section 1 makes “it clear the vice president becomes president” if a president is removed from office, dies or resigns. Section 2 allows the new president and Congress to nominate and approve a new vice president and to establish a line of succession if the president and vice president are not in office and those offices are vacant.
The 25th Amendment’s third and fourth sections deal with scenarios where a president may suffer from or be judged to have an “inability” or a “disability.”
The third section says if the president submits in writing to the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and to the president pro tempore of the Senate -- currently Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who leads the Senate when Mike Pence is away -- that he can’t discharge his powers and duties, the vice president becomes “acting president.”
Section 4 deals with a president deemed unable to exercise his powers and duties by the vice president “and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments [the Cabinet] or of such other body as Congress may by law provide.” After they provide a written declaration to the House speaker and the Senate president pro tempore, the vice president will become acting president.
Section 4 is the most controversial part of the 25th amendment, the National Constitution Center says. “It allows the vice president and either the Cabinet or a body approved ‘by law’ formed by Congress, to jointly agree that ‘the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.’ In theory, this clause was designed to deal with a situation where an incapacitated president couldn’t tell Congress that the vice president needed to act as president.”
The section also allows a president to protest his or her removal. In that case, two-thirds of Congress would decide whether the president is unable to serve due to a condition “perceived by the vice president, and either the Cabinet or a body approved by Congress.”
Twice during his tenure, President George W. Bush voluntarily invoked the 25th Amendment while undergoing colonoscopies. Vice President Dick Cheney served as the acting president, but he is not considered the 44th president. That went to President Barack Obama.
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