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The 25th Amendment

The 25th Amendment provides for a clear path of succession if a vacancy, even a temporary one, exists in the offices of the President or the Vice-president.

The Constitution does not provide for this. When President William Henry Harrison died in office, Vice-president John Tyler assumed the presidency and encountered little disagreement. That was the precedent (which came to be known as the "Tyler Precedent"), and it was followed when Presidents Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy were assassinated and when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in office. In each of those instances, the Vice-president became the President: Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon B. Johnson. When Truman became President, however, he did not appoint a Vice-president, and the office was vacant for a few years. That happened 16 times following the death of either the President or the Vice-president.

The Kennedy assassination brought this issue into sharp focus, and Congress went on to codify the Tyler Precedent and add some more framework around the appointment of a Vice-president and the kind of scenario under which a President could temporarily transfer the powers of the office to the Vice-president. The result was the 25th Amendment, passed by Congress on July 6, 1965, and adopted by the 38th state (Nevada) on February 23, 1967.

The Text of the 25th Amendment

Section 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Section 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Section 3. Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

 

The 25th Amendment has been invoked six times since its ratification:

1. Gerald Ford was appointed Vice-president when Richard Nixon's first Vice-president, Spiro Agnew, resigned, in 1973.

2. Ford then became President when Nixon resigned, in 1974.

3. Ford then appointed Nelson Rockefeller as Vice-president.

4. Vice-president George Bush was Acting President in 1985 when President Ronald Reagan underwent a complicated surgery.

5 and 6. Vice-president Dick Cheney was Acting President in 2002 and 2007, both times when President George W. Bush underwent a complicated surgery.

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