In the administration of President Donald Trump, fifteen men and women are a part of 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 executive experience.
So which individuals currently make up the line of succession under Donald Trump? Here’s a look at the current presidential line of succession.
1. Mike Pence (Vice President)
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 LGBT issues. While he was governor of Indiana, Pence passed a bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which ensured, among other things, 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 follow in the footsteps of John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford, all of whom were vice presidents who were elevated to the Oval Office because the president died or resigned.
2. Paul Ryan (Speaker of the House)
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.
3. Orin Hatch (President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate)
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 83-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)
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 secretary of state is former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.
Like Donald Trump himself, Tillerson has never held elected office. He has no government experience whatsoever, though Donald Trump felt that Tillerson’s experience dealing with foreign governments as a businessman would be a valuable asset.
Some within the Senate, including a few on the Republican side of the aisle, raised questions about Tillerson’s nomination, but he was ultimately confirmed.
5. Steven Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury)
After Secretary of State, the next person in the presidential line of succession is the secretary of the Treasury Department.
This person is currently Steven Mnuchin, an investment banker who spent nearly two decades working for Goldman Sachs. Once again, Mnuchin is someone with no prior government experience.
Outside of the world of finance, Mnuchin is also a film producer, serving as the executive producer on recent hits like The Lego Movie and Suicide Squad.
6. James Mattis (Secretary of Defense)
The United States secretary of Defense is sixth in the line of succession. This is the second-most powerful person in the United States military, with only the president outranking him.
The current Defense secretary is James Mattis, a retired United States Marine Corps general who is widely respected by both sides of the aisle. He was confirmed to his current position in a vote of 98 to 1 in the Senate.
Mattis has played a major role in the United States’ response to the Syrian government using chemical weapons, with Mattis saying that Syria will be a “very stiff price” if they continue to do so. He also made the comment that even in World War II, chemical weapons were only used on battlefields. Mattis has also said that Syria is in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions
7. Jeff Sessions (Attorney General)
Attorney general of the United States is seventh 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 Jeff Sessions, a senator from Alabama with a background as an attorney. This nomination drew criticism earlier this year 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. Ultimately, though, Sessions was approved as attorney general.
Sessions has recused himself from the investigation into the Donald Trump campaign’s possible ties to the Russian government.
8. Ryan Zinke (Secretary of the Interior)
Eighth 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 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.”
9. Sonny Perdue (Secretary of Agriculture)
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.
The United States’ current Agriculture secretary 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.
10. Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce)
Ninth in line is secretary of Commerce, the person in charge of the Department of Commerce and who is tasked with promoting American business.
Donald Trump’s 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.
11. Alex Acosta (Secretary of Labor)
Labor secretary is the 11th person in the line of succession. This job oversees laws concerning labor unions and issues related to the workplace.
Alex Acosta is currently the U.S. Labor secretary. Acosta previously served as United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, as well as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. At the time that he was nominated to be Labor secretary, Acosta was serving as the Dean of Florida International University College of Law.
Acosta was not originally Donald Trump’s pick for Labor secretary, though. That was Andrew Puzder, chief executive of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. He withdrew his name from consideration after not having enough support in the Senate.
12. Tom Price (Secretary of Health and Human Services)
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 ongoing showdown between Democrats and Republicans over the issue of repealing and replacing Obamacare.
The Trump administration’s Health and Human Services secretary is Tom Price, former former 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.
13. Ben Carson (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development)
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.
The current 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.
14. Rick Perry (Secretary of Energy)
After Ben Carson, the next person in the line of succession would normally be the secretary of Transportation. However, the current Transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, was not born in the United States, and therefore she is not eligible to be president.
The line of succession would skip over her, then, and go t Energy secretary, the person whose role includes overseeing the development of efficient energy sources.
The current 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 in a debate to completely eliminate the department of Energy, although he famously could not remember the name of the agency.
15. Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education)
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.
Betsy DeVos is the current 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. She has had no experience in government before.
DeVos is also the daughter-in-law of Richard DeVos, the billionaire businessman who co-founded Amway.
16. David Shulkin (Secretary of Veterans Affairs)
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.
David Shulkin is the current secretary of Veterans Affairs. Shulkin is widely respected and has experience in this department, as he previously served as the Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Health.
Shulkin was a rare cabinet nominee who was confirmed unanimously; he received a yes vote from all 100 members of the U.S. Senate.
17. John Kelly (Secretary of Homeland Security)
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 current secretary of Homeland Security is John Kelly, 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.
Over the past few months, John Kelly has defended President Donald Trump’s executive order suspending immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.
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