By Wayne Madsen
For the first time since the weeks and months after 9/11, Congressional leaders and staff are, once again, discussing presidential line-of-succession. The focus is on the Senate President pro tem position, which, according to the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, places the Senate President third in line of succession to the President after the Vice President and Speaker of the House of Representatives. Also being discussed is the re-constitution of the U.S. Congress in the event that a major "catastrophe" wipes out a number of senators and representatives.
Increasingly, lawmakers are concerned about the fact that due to seniority, the current and last Senate Presidents pro tem have been aging octogenarians, and one of them served in the post as a nonagenarian. The current president, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, is 86. Inouye replaced Senator Robert Byrd last year. Byrd was 92.
In the cases of Byrd, had the top leadership, the President, Vice President, and Speaker of the House, been lost in a major catastrophic event, the duties of the presidency would have fallen, for all practical purposes, on Byrd's senior staff. The same situation now exists with the aging Inouye.
Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has been reluctant to talk about proposals to change the Senate rules to ensure that someone more able-bodied and -minded is in the Senate President pro tem position, the seniority achieved by senators like Byrd and Inouye make it virtually impossible to force them to give up the prestigious position with all its perks.
Another term being used by Congressional staffers concerned about line-of-succession is "decapitation," a term not heard much since the days after 9/11. Decapitation refers to the sudden elimination of the top leadership of the U.S. government as the result of a catastrophic event, which could include a surprise nuclear attack on Washington, a major terrorist attack, or a Armageddon-level natural disaster.
It is not known what has prompted Congress's renewed interest in the line-of-succession debate.