With Donald Trump and Mike Pence already in trouble, the line of succession just went bonkers


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Donald Trump is all but certain to be ousted from the presidency by his Russia scandal, if his sexual assault scandal and his sheer unpopularity don’t force him out first. With each passing day, Mike Pence looks more guilty in the Russia scandal, and the odds of him being ousted have risen. Now Paul Ryan, next in line for the presidency, is considering quitting Congress. The presidential line of succession just went bonkers.

Let’s be clear: it was already unlikely that Paul Ryan was going to inherit the presidency. That would have required Trump and Pence to be ousted in such rapid succession that neither of them would have time to pick a new VP and get that person confirmed by the Senate. No matter how guilty Trump and Pence end up being proven, impeachment and removal are still entirely a political process; no trap doors magically open up under anyone simply because criminal charges are filed or someone yells the word “treason.”

So it was already likely that Congress would oust Trump or Pence first, depending on who becomes the most untenable first, and then force the other to appoint a new VP who is mutually acceptable to both parties. This is in fact what happened when Richard Nixon’s VP Spiro Agnew was forced out of office for his own scandals at a time when many were expecting Nixon to eventually go down as well. Nixon was forced to pick Gerald Ford as his new VP, even though Ford was nowhere in the line of succession. Nixon was then ousted.

Nonetheless, if Paul Ryan does resign before this term is over, it’ll mean the new Republican Speaker of the House will become next in line for the presidency after Trump and Pence. It’s not remotely clear who the new Speaker would be. If things do quickly go haywire, causing Trump and Pence to resign in rapid fashion, then we could indeed be looking at an unelected president. Then again, Trump wasn’t elected either.

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