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Hollywood shows us how silly transitioning power can be. The next edition of amendment rankings is back!
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I never watched one episode of the HBO comedy-drama, Succession. I think Anonymous watched the entire series, which aired from 2018 until May 23, 2023. The show’s premise is about a family who owns a global media and entertainment company, and the children are fighting for control amid the uncertainty of the health of the patriarch, played by the guy who starred in Super Troopers and is the voice of the McDonald’s commercials.
I have seen the 1997 movie Air Force One, which starred Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, and William M. Macy – people who have won acting awards. I doubt Anonymous has—just a gut feeling.
Ford plays President Marshall, who, aboard Air Force One, is hijacked by a group of Russian separatists led by Oldman, who seek the release of their leader from a Russian prison. Such a release would cause uncertainty in the health of the world.
What’s interesting about the plot of Air Force One was that it introduced me to the Twenty-Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. When the hijackers take control of the plane and, along with it, President Marshall’s wife and daughter, to force the United States to strongarm the Russians to release Separatist Leader Guy, President Marshall’s cabinet, led by Vice President Glenn Close, sit in the situation room and discuss the nation’s response to such demands.
Secretary of Defense, played by a lesser-known actor who was actually nominated for an Academy Award in Married to the Mob, pushes Vice President Close to sign the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, rendering Marshall a mere regular citizen due to the fact he would give into the hijacker’s demands because Gary Oldman can act pretty tough.
In doing so, argues Married to the Mob Guy, Marshall is not acting as president but rather playing the role of a father. A movie within a movie, if you will. By signing the invocation, Close would become president, deny the release of Separatist Leader Guy, and maybe secure a sequel.
Ultimately, Marshall and May overtake the hijackers and win the day. The Separatist Leader Guy is shot dead trying to exit the prison by walking instead of sprinting to freedom. Had he SPRINTED, he could have caused global uncertainty and begun filming sequels.
The final scene is Close putting down her pen on a piece of paper invoking the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, showing the signatures of even lesser-known actors who knew that their only next payday was a sequel and perhaps a spinoff show called 25 or something, where the president fends off his cabinet’s desires to toss them out of office because that’s how stupid this amendment is.
So here we are. The Twenty-Fifth Amendment. The succession amendment of uncertainty.
Let’s dive in.
19: Amendment XXV
Its purpose: In case of the removal of the President from office or his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
Year proposed: 1965
Year Ratified: 1967
There are four sections of this amendment, and the only good thing it does is found in Section 1. It affirms the Tyler precedent, one that we spoke about last week when Vice President John Tyler appeared from his drawer to announce that he assumed all powers of the president upon the death of William Henry Harrison.
If this was a TV show, Tyler ended it in Episode 1.
When President Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon Johnson did what the previous seven vice presidents in his position did – he took the oath of office and assumed the presidency. The moment was captured in a photograph on Air Force One, with the widowed First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, standing next to LBJ in a blood-stained designer dress.
By 1963, we had entered the nuclear era. Minus any legislation or amendments, the country’s succession plan rested on a Speaker of the House who, at 71, was considerably younger than the 86-year-old president pro tempore of the Senate who followed him. Someone get us a screenwriter and whip up a better ending, please.
Since Johnson did not nominate a vice president, we didn’t consider such a thing essential and therefore did not have a mechanism to correct it; we spent 14 months hoping this movie had a happy ending until 1965.
Fortunately, we did. But the sequels were even more confusing once the amendment passed because Sections 2, 3, and 4 didn’t clarify anything.
In 1981, when actor Ronald Reagan was playing President Ronald Reagan was shot and interrupted my watching of Woody Woodpecker, there was confusion about who was in charge, even though the Twenty-Fifth Amendment was on the books.
In the late 1950s, President Eisenhower and his Vice President, Richard Nixon, had a written agreement of succession in case Eisenhower could not perform his duties. This was before the Twenty-Fifth Amendment and probably would not have held up in court, but I only watch Law & Order, which I don’t think has ever had an Academy Award winner appear, so what do I know?
Meanwhile, Reagan’s cabinet discussed whether to invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, Air Force One, the movie style. Didn’t Reagan and Bush have an agreement? I have no idea.
Secretary of State Alexander Haig stood in front of the press who asked the pointed question of who was in charge.
“I’m in control,” was the response, and I’m not sure why that doesn’t scare the heck out of us.
But it raises the question if the president is in a coma, and the Twenty-Fifth Amendment is invoked, does the president get their powers reinstated if they come out of it?
There are still plenty of gaps regarding succession. There is no mention of the incapacity of the vice president and what to do should that situation arises. In the era of ultra-partisanship, what happens when Congress of the opposing party declines to confirm a replacement, ensuring their partisan is one heartbeat away from ascending to the White House?
It wasn’t too long ago when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate President pro Tempore Chuck Schumer laughingly suggested that Vice President Mike Pence and others invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment on President Donald Trump in the aftermath of the insurrection of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Pence declined the suggestion because we have remedies to remove a president, and it’s not because their cabinet thinks they are a lunatic.
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So many questions remain unanswered – mainly, how did this amendment become a storyline within a story of who runs the country?
Who proposed it?
Indiana Senator, Birch Bayh.
It was passed in the 89th Congress, and the American Bar Association hounded the requisite number of state legislatures to ratify it.
Why did I rank it here?
Did we need this amendment, or could we have passed laws simply stating what needs to occur when a president can no longer be president?
As I work through all of these amendments, one thing is certain. The Framers had a general idea of what type of government they wanted; they just couldn’t foresee every possible situation. They could have never imagined bombs that could wipe out massive amounts of people and how that threat meant that the United States needed a strong succession plan, one that I would argue would permit the vice president to assume the duties of the president but then allow different candidates to run for the office either that next fall or the next presidential election.
I say this because the idea of voting for the vice president in contrast to or in support of the person at the top of the ticket is silly. When something terrible happens, the vice president morphs into the leader and is afforded that position until they are elected out of office, and we would have to simply accept it. Take this broccoli salad even if you don’t want it, and you can’t throw it away for years.
So that is why I placed the Twenty-Fifth Amendment at 19. Which I believe is the same number of ex-wives Oldman has.
Okay, let me know what you think of my ranking.
The first weekend of June is here, and I hope the beginning of summer is treating you well. I’ll return on Monday with my usual historical highlights for the week with the Monday Maundy Newsletter. There may be an Even More Okay segment next week, but I’m not sure yet. I may end up watching some movies this weekend.