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Who's Next in Line if Something Happens to the President?

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on August 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump administration officials and Democratic Congressional leaders continue to negotiate on an extension of the unemployment benefits and an additional coronavirus economic stabilization and relief package. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
By Ashley Ravid on October 13, 2020

With President Donald Trump infected with COVID-19, many concerned citizens are wondering if Vice President Mike Pence will need to take power — even temporarily — if Trump is unable to continue carrying out his duties. The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 established the current order of succession, but who's in it, anyway?

On Deck: Vice President Mike Pence

Pence, 61, is a Republican and is first in the line of succession. He is best known as Trump's vice president and is the former governor of Indiana and a former member of the House of Representatives.

Following Pence, the next on the list (as well as its only Democrat) is Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi, 80, does not automatically become vice president should Pence assume the presidency. Rather, Pence would appoint a new vice president, who requires approval by a majority of both Congressional houses. There has never before been a vacant presidency and vice presidency at the same time.

The third on the list, who would become president if neither of the previous two individuals were able, is 87-year-old Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the current president pro tempore of the Senate.

Further Down the Line

The rest of the current line of succession (numbers 4-16) goes, in order:

  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 56, Republican
  • Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, 57, Republican
  • Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, 56, Republican
  • Attorney General William Barr, 70, Republican
  • Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, 51, Republican
  • Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, 73, Republican
  • Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, 82, Republican
  • Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia, 57, Republican
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, 53, Republican
  • Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, 69, Republican
  • Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, 58, Republican
  • Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, 62, Republican
  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, 58, Republican

All those in the order of succession must fit the constitutional qualifications for a president, namely being at least 35 years of age, being a natural-born U.S. citizen, and having resided in the U.S. for at least 14 years. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, for example, would be 14th in line for the presidency had she not been born outside of the United States.

If something happens to any member of the order of presidential succession, the people following them do not simply rotate into the offices ranked above them. It would be incredibly unlikely for any lower-ranking official on this list to ascend to the presidency through the order of succession, no matter what the TV show Designated Survivor may have told you.

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