What Will Be the Line of Succession Under Donald Trump?

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Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago on December 28th, 2016. (Getty)

As Donald Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States, fifteen new men and women will also soon be entering the presidential line of succession.

Of course, everyone knows that the vice president takes over if the president is impeached, resigns, or dies in office, but what happens if that vice president must also vacate the office? This has never happened before, but as outlined in the Constitution, in this scenario the presidency would be passed to the speaker of the house, then to the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the line of succession goes all the way to the secretary of Homeland Security.

On special occasions when all of the members of the line of succession are gathered together in one place, such as the State of the Union address, one of them – a “designated survivor” – does not attend. This is so that if there were to be some sort of a terrorist attack on the Capitol, at least one member of the line of succession would survive and would be able to lead the country, even if they might be a secretary of Agriculture or Health and Human Services with little government experience.

So which individuals will make up the line of succession under the Donald Trump administration? Assuming Trump is able to get all of his cabinet nominees confirmed, here’s what it will look like.

1. Mike Pence (Vice President)

Mike Pence at Trump Tower on November 18. (Getty)

Mike Pence at Trump Tower on November 18. (Getty)

If Donald Trump were to vacate his office, Mike Pence would take over and become the 46th president of the United States.

Pence is the former governor of Indiana, and he is much more of a traditional Republican than Donald Trump. He is also further to the right on some issues than the rest of his party, as is the case with same-sex marriage. While he was governor of Indiana, he passed a bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which ensured that businesses would be allowed to refuse service to gay people.

If Mike Pence were to take over for Donald Trump sometime over the course of the next few years, he would be the 15th vice president to assume the presidency because the president vacated the office. So far, that has happened with John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford.

Mike Pence is also the only member of the line of succession who was elected to his position by the American people.

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2. Paul Ryan (Speaker of the House)

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan delivers remarks after being re-elected on January 3, 2017. (Getty)

Secondly, if something were to happen to both the president and the vice president, the next in line for the presidency would be the speaker of the House of Representatives. This is the person who is the leader of the House and its majority party, which at this time is the Republican party.

The current speaker of the House is Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Governor Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 election. Ryan already had this speaker job prior to the 2016 election, and so he has been third in the line of succession since October 2015. He was elected to replace Speaker John Boehner following Boehner’s retirement.

Never in history has anyone beyond the vice president had to take over the presidency for any reason.

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3. Orin Hatch (President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate)

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Orrin Hatch speaks to members of the media on May 12, 2015. (Getty)

Third in the line of succession is the president pro tempore of the United States Senate. Technically, the vice president is considered to be the president of the Senate, but because this person isn’t actually a senator and can’t always be present, another person acts in his absence. This is the role of the Senate president pro tempore, and it’s somewhat analogous to the position of Speaker of the House.

This position is not chosen by the voters but instead by the Senate, and for the past several decades, the Senate has always picked their most senior member to be president pro tempore. Right now, that’s Senator Orin Hatch, an 82-year-old Republican from Utah. He assumed office in January 2015, though due to his age, he will likely retire and make room for a replacement some time within Donald Trump’s term as president.

4. Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State)

rex tillerson

Rex Tillerson speaks at a press conference on May 28, 2008. (Getty)

The Secretary of State is the person who comes fourth in the line of succession. This is the member of the cabinet who deals with foreign policy on a day-to-day basis, and Donald Trump’s nominee for the position is ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.

Like Donald Trump himself, Tillerson has never held elected office. He has no government experience whatsoever, though President-elect Donald Trump feels that Tillerson’s experience dealing with foreign governments as a businessman will be a valuable asset.

It’s not a guarantee that Rex Tillerson will actually become secretary of state, though; his nomination must be approved by the Senate, and his ties to Russia have raised some eyebrows among Democrats and some Republicans.

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5. James Mattis (Secretary of Defense)

Donald Trump Defense Secretary, James Mattis, James Mad Dog Mattis, James Mattis Waiver

James Mattis meets with Donald Trump at Trump International Golf Club. (Getty)

The United States secretary of Defense is fifth in the line of succession. This is the second-most powerful person in the United States military, with only the president outranking him.

Donald Trump’s pick for Defense secretary is James Mattis, a retired United States Marine Corps general. Once again, this must be approved by the Senate.

One issue here is that James Mattis is technically not even eligible for this job, as a secretary of Defense cannot have served within active duty within the past seven years, and Mattis served until 2013. The Senate can simply waive this requirement as they have done in the past, though, and it seems that they will likely grant Mattis his waiver.

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6. Jeff Sessions (Attorney General)

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Jeff Sessions speaks at a Donald Trump rally in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. (Getty)

Attorney general of the United States is sixth in the line of succession. This is the person who is the chief law enforcement officer of the U.S. government, and they prosecute cases in the Supreme Court in which the U.S. is a party. The current office-holder is Loretta Lynch, who gained quite a bit of notoriety during the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal.

Trump’s pick to be attorney general is Jeff Sessions, a senator from Alabama with a background as an attorney. This nomination drew criticism because Sessions has been accused of racist behavior over the course of his career. When Sessions was nominated to be a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, he was not approved because of these allegations.

For example, Sessions allegedly complained as a lawyer about civil rights cases, said a white civil rights attorney was a disgrace to his race, and said that he was fine with the Ku Klux Klan until he found out they smoked pot. Recently, members of the NAACP staged a sit-in at Sessions’ Alabama office protesting his nomination to the position of attorney general, according to CNN.

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7. Ryan Zinke (Secretary of the Interior)

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Ryan Zinke delivers a speech on the first day of the 2016 Republican National Convention. (Getty)

Seventh in the line of succession is the secretary of the Interior, the person who is responsible for the management of federal land and natural resources. The current Interior secretary is Sally Jewell.

Donald Trump’s pick for Interior secretary is Ryan Zinke, a United States Representative from Montana. Prior to his time in government, Zinke served as a U.S. Navy SEAL from 1986 to 2008. He is a lifelong hunter and fisherman, and he has throughout his career defended public access to federal lands, according to The Washington Post. However, he has often voted against environmentalists on issues like oil drilling. Recently, Zinke criticized a rule from President Obama aimed at lowering the release of methane from oil and gas operations.

“Clean air and clean water are absolute top priorities when we talk about responsible energy development, however the final rule issued by the Obama administration does nothing to further protect our resources,” Zinke said in a statement at the time. “This rule is a stark reminder that we need to invest in infrastructure projects like the Keystone pipeline, so we don’t need to flare excess gas.”

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8. To Be Determined (Secretary of Agriculture)

Sonny Perdue Ten Commandments, Sonny Perdue 10 commandments, Sonny Perdue 10 commandments capitol

Sonny Perdue speaks in support of the public display of the Ten Commandments in September 2003. (Getty)

After the secretary of the Interior, the next in line for the presidency is the U.S. secretary of Agriculture. This is the person who manages the United States Forest Service, the United States Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Food Stamp Program, and the United States Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service.

Donald Trump has not yet announced his nominee for secretary of Agriculture, although according to Bloomberg, the lead contender is Sonny Perdue, the former governor of Georgia who served from 2003 to 2011. Perdue himself grew up on a farm, and the agriculture industry in Georgia contributes $74 billion to the economy each year, according to Politico.

Perdue was criticized in 2007 for taking to the Georgia Capitol during a drought to ask Georgians to pray for rain.

“I’m here today to appeal to you and to all Georgians and all people who believe in the power of prayer to ask God to shower our state, our region, our nation with the blessings of water,” Perdue said at the time.

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9. Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce)

Wilbur Ross at Trump Tower for a meeting with Donald Trump. (Getty)

Wilbur Ross at Trump Tower for a meeting with Donald Trump. (Getty)

Ninth in line is secretary of Commerce, the person in charge of the Department of Commerce and who is tasked with promoting American business. The current Commerce secretary is Penny Pritzker.

Donald Trump’s nominee for Commerce secretary is Wilbur Ross, an investor with a net worth of $2.9 billion and the founder of International Coal Group, a mining company.

Ross is also a political donor and a supporter of Donald Trump, although he was registered as a Democrat until November 2016, according to the Palm Beach Post.

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10. Andrew Puzder (Secretary of Labor)

Andrew Puzder Trump, Andrew Puzder Trump cabinet, Andrew Puzder Trump Meeting

Andrew Puzder meets with Donald Trump at the Trump International Golf Club on November 19, 2016. (Getty)

Labor secretary is the 10th person in the line of succession. This job oversees laws concerning labor unions and issues related to the workplace. The current U.S. secretary of Labor is Thomas Perez.

Trump’s nominee for secretary of Labor is Andrew Puzder, chief executive of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. He is also a critic of raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. He told The Los Angeles Times in March 2016 that he isn’t totally against raising the minimum wage, although he thinks $15 an hour and $10.10 an hour are both too high.

In general, Puzder is opposed to many of the government regulations put in place by the previous Labor secretary, saying that they hurt businesses.

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11. Tom Price (Secretary of Health and Human Services)

Tom Price heritage foundation, Tom Price speech, Tom Price conservative policy summit

Tom Price addresses the second annual Conservative Policy Summit at the Heritage Foundation January 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Getty)

The secretary of Health and Human Services is the 11th in the line of succession. This is a role that was expanded under the Affordable Care Act and is particularly important this year in light of the upcoming showdown between Democrats and Republicans over the issue of repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Donald Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary is Tom Price, chair of the House Budget Committee and U.S. Representative from Georgia. He is also a critic of the Affordable Care Act.

“Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration blatantly ignored the voices of the American people and rammed through a hyperpartisan piece of legislation that will have a disastrous effect on our nation’s health care system,” Price said after the Affordable Care Act was signed in 2010, according to The New York Times.

Price has proposed his own legislation to replace Obamacare: the Empowering Patients First Act, which largely involves giving individuals tax credits to purchase private insurance.

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12. Ben Carson (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development)

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Ben Carson delivers remarks at Liberty University. (Getty)

Next up is the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the person in charge of overseeing homeownership in the United States and expanding access to affordable housing. This position is currently held by Julian Castro.

Trump’s nominee for Housing and Urban Development secretary is Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon and one of Trump’s opponents during the 2016 Republican primary. Carson originally said he would not take on a role in the Trump administration, reportedly because he felt he did not have adequate experience.

“Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency,” an ally of Ben Carson told The Hill in November. “The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”

Carson later denied that he turned down a government position for this reason.

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13. Elaine Chao (Secretary of Transportation)

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Elaine Chao arrives at Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump on November 21, 2016. (Getty)

The U.S. secretary of Transportation is 13th in the line of succession. This is the person in charge of the national transportation system, and they oversee agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Highway Administration.

Donald Trump’s nominee for Transportation secretary is Elaine Chao, one of only two women in the line of succession. Chao has prior experience working in a presidential cabinet, as she was the secretary of Labor for the entire length of George W. Bush’s presidency. She was also the deputy secretary of Transportation under George H.W. Bush. Chao is married to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

Chao is married to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

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14. Rick Perry (Secretary of Energy)

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Rick Perry arrives to Trump Tower for a meeting with President-Elect Donald Trump. (Getty)

Next in line is Energy secretary, the person whose role includes overseeing the development of efficient energy sources. The current secretary of Energy is Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist.

Trump’s nominee for Energy secretary is Rick Perry, former governor of Texas and one of Trump’s opponents in the Republican presidential primary. Perry has little relevant experience and once vowed to completely eliminate the department of Energy, although he famously could not remember the name of the agency.

Perry has little relevant experience and once vowed to completely eliminate the department of Energy, although he famously could not remember the name of the agency during a presidential debate.

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15. Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education)

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Betsy DeVos speaks at a Donald Trump “thank you” rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Getty)

Secretary of Education is the person 15th in the line of succession. This person leads the U.S. Department of Education and oversees all federal education policies, and the position is currently held by John King.

Trump has selected Betsy DeVos to be his secretary of Education. DeVos is a prominent Republican donor and an advocate of school choice, being one of the architects of the charter school system in Detroit.

DeVos is also the daughter-in-law of Richard DeVos, the billionaire businessman who co-founded Amway.

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16. To Be Determined (Secretary of Veterans Affairs)

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Leo Mackay arrives at Trump Tower on January 3, 2017. (Getty)

The secretary of Veterans Affairs comes next in the line of succession. This is the person who oversees the U.S. department that deals with veterans’ benefits. They are generally always military veterans, though this is not a requirement.

Donald Trump has not yet named his nominee for secretary of Veterans Affairs, although he is reportedly eying Lockheed Martin Senior Vice President Leo Mackay, according to the Washington Examiner.

President-elect Trump has promised to completely overhaul the department of Veterans Affairs, saying that he will “[m]ake the VA great again by firing the corrupt and incompetent VA executives who let our veterans down, by modernizing the VA, and by empowering the doctors and nurses to ensure our veterans receive the best care available in a timely manner.”

Trump has also promised to “[a]ppoint a VA Secretary whose sole purpose will be to serve veterans.”

17. John Kelly (Secretary of Homeland Security)

John Kelly army, John Kelly change of command ceremony, John Kelly Trump

John Kelly during a change of command ceremony at United States Southern Command on November 19, 2012. (Getty)

Finally, the last person in the line of succession is the secretary of Homeland Security. This is the position concerned with ensuring the safety of U.S. citizens, and it was created following the September 11th terrorist attacks. The position is currently filled by Jeh Johnson.

Trump has said he intends to nominate John Kelly to be the fifth U.S. secretary of Homeland Security. Kelly is a retired United States Marine Corps general who has served in Iraq, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. He is the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to have had a son die in combat operations.

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  1. This nation needs, demands another election. 2016 should be null and void new candidates – since rethuglicans cheated, every office needs to be cleaned and replaced with capable individuals and nothing about rethuglicans says – governing For The People – they govern For Themselves! Bottom damned line.