The sweeping nature of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and especially the dangers faced by those over 60 years old, highlight longstanding questions about America’s government and its line of succession. In this case, we once again see that a poorly thought out Senate tradition presents a potential problem.
Ever since 9/11, there have been serious questions about how to deal with massive disruptions in America’s leadership, including what would happen if a significant part of Congress and the federal government leadership was put out of action.
Even more plausibly, there have been questions about the basic line of succession, which itself is fairly straightforward. If the president dies, is removed or incapacitated, the vice president takes over. If both of them are out of the picture, then the Speaker of the House steps up. If the speaker is also unavailable, then the Senate president pro pempore moves in. And that’s where questions need to be asked.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi turned 80 on Thursday, but there's good reason to believe that she — or frankly anyone serving in the demanding role of leader of the House — would be able to step up to the presidency. If not, the majority party in the House would likely replace the speaker with someone capable of handling the job.
Decapitating strike almost happened
The Senate president pro tempore, the next in line for the presidency after the vice president and House speaker, is the only Senate position actually mentioned in the Constitution itself. And it is very different.
By Senate tradition, the majority party elects its longest-serving member to this ceremonial position. The actual Senate majority leader, 78-year old Mitch McConnell, does not serve in this role. Instead, it's Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who is 86. And Grassley himself is not even the problem. Compared to some of his predecessors, he is man in the prime of life.