Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who’s the second-longest serving Democrat within the Senate, might be 90 years outdated when her time period ends in 2024. And in accordance with a latest report from the San Francisco Chronicle, Feinstein has been struggling along with her reminiscence and has turn out to be worrisomely reliant on employees.
In written statements, Feinstein has pushed again on the recommendations that she’s unfit to serve — however the article has sparked one other spherical of concern concerning the absence of age limits in a Congress the place the youngest member of Democratic management is 71-year-old Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, and the place the 88-year-old Republican Sen. Chuck Grassely of Iowa is operating this 12 months to carry on to his seat. Across each events, the common age of lawmakers has ticked up, however Feinstein’s reported cognitive decline may theoretically pose a danger to the nation’s stability in January.
If the Democrats handle to take care of management of the Senate, Feinstein will doubtless turn out to be president professional tempore, which is technically the presiding officer of the physique when the vice chairman is absent. That would place Feinstein instantly into the presidential line of succession, probably organising a constitutional disaster ought to the unthinkable happen throughout her tenure.
That would place Feinstein instantly into the presidential line of succession, probably organising a constitutional disaster ought to the unthinkable happen throughout her tenure.
The job itself is an odd one, whose precise duties have modified together with the Senate. For a lot of the 18th and nineteenth centuries, vice presidents spent most of their time executing what was considered their main day job: president of the Senate. That meant there was solely not often a necessity for a president professional tempore (president “for a time”) to be chosen.
In 1792, Congress handed the first Presidential Succession Act, which held that ought to each the presidency and vice presidency be vacant due to demise, resignation or sickness, the president professional tempore can be subsequent in line. If no one had the job, then it could fall to the speaker of the House to “act as president … until the disability be removed, or a president shall be elected.”
But by the point we hit the twentieth century, issues had modified. The job of Senate professional tempore was now not an advert hoc one however was as an alternative held constantly by one individual as long as their social gathering remained within the majority. Meanwhile, after years being seen as extra part of the legislative department, the vice chairman’s position slowly shifted to tackle extra duties of the chief department.
Presidential succession had modified too; in 1886, Congress swapped out the heads of Congress for the Cabinet officers within the succession, arguing that the Senate president professional tempore wasn’t a job identified for its government expertise. The closest a president professional tempore had come to changing into president earlier than had been throughout Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial. (One of the doubtless causes Johnson was acquitted was that the liberal Sen. Benjamin Wade, an Ohio Republican, would have been the one to exchange him.)
Because of the rise of majority leaders within the Senate, right this moment the position is principally ceremonial, granted to essentially the most senior member of the social gathering within the majority. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, is at the moment president pro-tempore, however he’s retiring on the finish of this 12 months and abandoning Feinstein as his attainable substitute. Should the GOP handle to realize a majority within the Senate, the title would doubtless cross again to Grassley, who’s, as was talked about above, the identical age as Feinstein and is operating for re-election this fall.
This issues as a result of the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 put the 2 congressional officers again into the road of succession, forward of the members of the Cabinet. The change was proposed by President Harry Truman, who had himself ascended to the presidency upon the demise of Franklin Roosevelt.
“It was my feeling that any man who stepped into the presidency should have held at least some office to which he had been elected by a vote of the people,” Truman would later write in his memoir. The speaker of the house, who just happened to be a friend of Truman’s at the time, would come before the Senate president pro tempore in this new setup.
Now, you could ask why I’m singling out the president pro tempore when, in the line of succession, it falls after speaker of the House. After all, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, is herself 81 years old — and her top deputies are about the same age. But that’s a quirk of Pelosi’s streak of dominance at the head of the House Democratic Caucus. Seniority is not a precondition for holding the post.
Pelosi’s predecessor, Rep. Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, was sworn in at 45, making him the youngest speaker in more than 100 years. Pelosi’s possible replacement as speaker should the GOP win this November, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, is a relatively young 57 years old. Pelosi’s most likely Democratic successor, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, is 51.
The president pro tempore is the only role listed in the Constitution that all but requires its holder to be one of the oldest members of Congress under the current system. That’s a terrible system to have in place when there are already concerns about how well the system would fare if an attack were to incapacitate or kill the president, vice president and speaker. And while the secretary of state would take over if the president pro tempore were determined to be unfit, that seems like the kind of power struggle you want to avoid during the level of crisis this scenario imagines.
Right now, the role is both a sinecure that has little authority and a crucial insurance against the collapse of government during a catastrophe. That’s entirely untenable. Feinstein’s current health issues illustrate that either the job’s qualifications need to change, or the presidential order of succession does — or both. It would be gambling with the fate of our republic to leave things as they stand.