Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which provides for the Vice President to become Acting President in certain situations. Highly likely to be applied at some point in a drama in which the President is a major character, mostly for reasons of the Rule of Drama
—in reality, the Amendment has only been applied six times. Of these, three had to do with the debacle that was the Nixon presidency and three had to do with the health of the Presidential pooper
- When Gerald Ford was appointed Vice President by Richard Nixon after Spiro Agnew resigned (1973)
- When Ford succeeded to the Presidency after Nixon resigned (the Amendment superseded the ambiguous provision in Article II of the Constitution) (1974).
- When Ford appointed Nelson Rockefeller Vice President (1974).
- When Ronald Reagan, having discovered a potentially cancerous lesion during a routine colonoscopy, made George H.W. Bush Acting President while Reagan was under anesthesia (1985).
- Twice, when George W. Bush was undergoing a colonoscopy and temporarily made Dick Cheney Acting President during the procedure (2002 and 2007).
Coincidentally, all these instances involved Republicans. There is a reason for this: the ones surrounding Nixon are of course about Nixon, and colonoscopies are generally prescribed once every 5-10 years after about the age of 50. Democratic Presidents since then have by accident been substantially younger (Carter took office at 52, Clinton at 46, Obama at 47) than their Republican counterparts (Nixon at 56, Ford at 61, Reagan at 69, H.W. at 64, Dubya at 54).
Text from the 25th Amendment
Section 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
Section 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.
Section 3. Whenever the President transmits to the President pro temporenote
of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.
Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
Compare Unexpected Successor
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- Section 4 is almost invoked in Air Force One. It's such a significant plot point that an AP Government teacher referred to it as "the Air Force One amendment".
- Also, right after the hi-jacking of Air Force One the White House players do not know whether the President is dead or alive (either held by the hijackers or if he escaped by the pod). Finding an empty pod on the ground makes it no easier. They cannot assume anything, nor invoke any provisions of the 25th amendment, until there is confirmation either way. This makes the Secretary of Defense, as the statutory deputy to the President, temporarily at the apex of the chain of command of the military forces but not as Acting President.
- The movie Dave involves Section One at the end.
- In Eagle Eye the Big Bad plans on eliminating everyone in the line of succession, leaving the Secretary of Defense to become President.
- The head of the Secret Service in Lockout uses a previously approved Section 4 declaration to remove the President of the United States from power and force the attack of a prison space station where the President's daughter is being held hostage.
- In Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, Stone Alexander has unified much of the world under his banner by virtually eliminating rogue states and major terrorist cells. The US, Mexico, and China are the only nations still resisting the integration into Alexander's World Union. By chance, David Alexander, his younger brother, is the current Vice-President of the US. He argues against the President meeting Stone in person to make his refusal. However, the President doesn't see the harm in that. Unfortunately, Stone is, pretty much, The Antichrist, and causes the President's heart to stop with a handshake. David finds out that the President is dead when a Secret Service agent walks up and refers to him as "Mr. President". To Stone's disappointment, David is just as reluctant to join the World Union. The Secretary of State then frames David for the murder of his father (Stone killed him), trying to enforce this trope again.
- In White House Down, the Vice President insists on invoking it when the president is unreachable and potentially being held by the mercenaries that took over the White House. It's invoked again when his plane is shot down, making the Speaker the new president.
- This is how the Tom Clancy character Jack Ryan ends up as first vice-president, then president a few minutes later when a Joint Session of Congress suffers from a fatal dose of 747: Under Section 2 to become VP, and then Section 1.
- This becomes a significant plotline in the following novel. The former VP challenges Ryan's legitimacy by claiming to have never officially resigned from office (Because he had a friend steal the evidence), and that consequently there was no vacancy for Ryan to fill.
- A novel called Fathers Day deals with a President having a nervous breakdown and section 4 kicks in, so the Vice-President takes over. Then the President recovers and returns to resume his office, but the Vice-President argues that he's unfit to command. Then it comes down to who has the popular support, who does Congress want, and ultimately who will the Army obey.
- Vince Flynn's Transfer of Power has this trope as its main theme, hence the title. The President is in a bunker below the White House, and the VP has to run the show. Being who he is, the VP wants the President dead, and so the army/CIA has to take it into their own hands.
Live Action TV
- Appropriately given the topic of the show, The West Wing invoked this amendment a few times, most notably the fourth-season finale, "Twenty Five". For added drama, the Vice President has to resign just before the President's daughter gets kidnapped, so power falls to the Speaker of the House, the most powerful Republican around.
- The plot of which was outlined almost exactly three seasons earlier when Bartlet is telling his daughter why she has to be careful when going out. It was sufficiently awesome when you realized it, and he hangs a big lampshade on it in the next episode.
- Section 4 has been invoked in 24 on no fewer than half a dozen occasions:
- In the second season, episode "4:00 A.M. - 5:00 A.M.", removing President David Palmer from power over his refusal to launch a reprisal against "three Middle Eastern countries" thought responsible for a nuclear attack on the US. When Palmer turns out to have been right all along, the order is rescinded — minutes later, however, an assassination attempt leaves him comatose and the amendment is invoked again.
- In the fourth season, episode "11:00 P.M. - 12:00 A.M.". The Vice-President continued as acting President for the remainder of the season and then became President in his own right for the fifth season. Initially, he proved to be highly ineffectual. But that ended up being because he was The Man Behind the Man. Given that the season ends with him being arrested for orchestrating an assassination, Article 1 would be invoked at some point between the fifth season and the sixth.
- In season 6, where evil Vice President Noah Daniels tried to usurp President Wayne Palmer in order to go ahead with a nuclear strike on Abu Fayed's country. Daniels' attempt is rebuffed this time. Note that Section 4 is actually invoked three times in this season alone, the other two instances being when Daniels takes control of power due to Palmer's slipping in and out of a coma.
- While never touched on directly in-universe, it's implied that the amendment is invoked shortly after the series finale, as President Allison Taylor is so ashamed at how much she let Charles Logan corrupt her that she decides to draw up her resignation. This would leave Vice President Mitchell Hayworth in charge.
- Babylon 5:
- At the end of the first season, the Earth Alliance version of this amendment was invoked when President Santiago was killed in a space accident, with Vice President Clark assuming power who in fact had orchestrated his death.
- Repeated at the end of the fourth season: when Clark killed himself, the Earth Alliance Senate elected Susanna Luchenko to complete their term (Clark's own vice president was presumably passed over due being on the losing side of the civil war). Luchenko would later get elected for another term by popular vote.
- Commander In Chief: The pilot revolves around Speaker of the House Nathan Templeton trying to convince Vice-President Mackenzie Allen that she should resign rather than assume the Presidency after the President has a stroke, then dies. He would be next in line, so it's self-serving, but she refuses anyway. With Mackenzie Allen becoming President of the United States, she had to appoint someone for her former position as Vice-President. Not to mention the brief time Nathan Templeton was Acting President while Mac was hospitalized.
- The Colonial government in Battlestar Galactica has a version of this, which kicks in to appoint Secretary of Education Laura Roslin the President of the human survivors after the 42 government officials above her are killed in a nuclear bombardment.
- In the Made for HBO remake of Seven Days in May, The Enemy Within, the conspirators plan to use section 4 to declare the President incompetent to serve.
- In the American House of Cards, this is applied twice:
- Near the end of Season 1, when Underwood engineers the resignation of the Vice President by having him run for and win the governorship of Pennsylvania, and Underwood is appointed Vice President
- At the end of Season 2, When Underwood engineers the resignation of the President amidst a series of scandals and becomes President himself.
- Presumably the UCAS Constitution from Shadowrun has a similar amendment, as VP Kyle Haeffner assumed the presidency in the wake of President Dunkelzahn's assassination. Nadja Daviar, Dunkelzahn's former spokesperson, was picked as the new VP by Haeffner and confirmed as such by Congress.
- Of Thee I Sing, which predates the amendment, uses a similar point from Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, stating that the President's "inability to discharge the powers and duties" of the Presidency results in the Vice-President assuming said duties. In this example, it is used to resolve Wintergreen's unfulfilled obligation to marry Diana by marrying her to Throttlebottom instead (it's implied that Wintergreen gets to remains President, especially since the sequel has him defeated for re-election).
- Hitman: Blood Money referenced this several times, initially with a subplot regarding the death of the previous vice president and the appointment of his replacement, and then again in a mission titled, appropriately enough, Amendment XXV, which revolved around Agent 47 preventing the assassination of the president by the newly-appointed vice president by, naturally enough, assassinating both the vice president and his hired assassin before the deed could be done.
- Surprisingly not invoked in Shattered Union, when a domestic terrorist attack obliterates Washington, D.C., with a nuclear device during the Presidential Inauguration, killing, pretty much, the entire federal government. This results in, first, Texas and then other states seceding and creating their own mini-republics. Of course, even before that, the President was extremely unpopular and has, pretty much, violated the Constitution by forcing the Supreme Court to declare all the other candidates unfit during his re-election. When riots started in the West Coast, he declared martial law.
- In Futurama, Zoidberg's uncle Harold Zoid writes a movie script about a President whose son is the Vice President. The son, played by Calculon, does not want to become the president, but when his father dies, Zoidberg suddenly pops in and congratulates him on becoming President. Calculon delivers a Big "NO!".
- In real life, this amendment has only been applied six times since its ratification in 1967. The first three times were to make Gerald Ford the Vice-President (following Agnew's resignation), then the President (following Nixon's), then to make Nelson Rockefeller the Vice-President (since Ford had vacated the spot of VP). The other four applications were all of the "just in case" variety, made by presidents before undergoing surgery, most recently involving George W. Bush.
- It was not, however, invoked in the immediate aftermath of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in March 1981. Alexander Haig, Secretary of State, stated that he was "in control" until Vice-President George H.W. Bush got to DC, contrary to legal provision. There is some debate as to whether Haig was actually declaring himself "in control" or merely mis-spoke and was actually inferring that he was simply the senior official present at the time of the press briefing. Whatever the case, it didn't look good to hear a former military general declare this just after the President had nearly been killed.
- It's worth noting that section 1 of the amendment merely clarifies what was generally understood before. The original Constitution stated, "In case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President..." While it's not clear from this text alone whether the Vice President actually becomes President, or merely that the Vice President remains Vice President while exercising the powers and duties normally held by the President, the common interpretation was that the Vice President became President. The first time the matter actually came up, John Tyler made this interpretation stick, despite his rather weak political standing. Section 1 of the 25th Amendment simply codifies this interpretation.
- Interestingly, in the novel The Man, written before the 25th Amendment, a black man is President pro tempore of the Senate and everyone above him dies. In a racist attempt to remove him, some people note that the original Constitution does not say he actually becomes President and try to use that technicality against him.
- Section 4 also defines that "inability to discharge the powers and duties of the office of President" clause. Previously, there was no protocol for declaring the President to be incapacitated.
- Section 2 was a new bit, Lyndon Johnson not having a VP until Hubert Humphrey was elected on the ticket in 1964.
- Similarly, no President who ascended before the 25th's ratification had a vice president during the completion of their term; John Tyler and Andrew Johnson did not get re-elected, so they served their entire presidential terms without a vice president.
- It also allowed for the replacement of a VP that died or resigned, when there was none before; the sitting president simply went without. James Madison had both of his VPs die in office.
- Not a United States example, but the Amendment serves as inspiration for the Argentinian Law 20.972 (which works in almost the same way), which forced the 2001 political crisis, during which there were 5 presidents IN THE COURSE OF A WEEK. After Fernando De La Rua resigned on December 20, he was succeeded by Ramón Puerta, the... Provisional Leader of the Senate, since De La Rua didn't have a vice-president (Carlos Álvares resigned some time earlier). This was followed by Puerta resigning two days later, followed by Adolfo Rodríguez Saa... who resigned five days later.
- This doesn't even count the several acting presidents between Puerta and Rodriguez Saa. That was a hell of a week.