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Homeland Security

Senator Russell D. Feingold

Joint Hearing of
Committee on Rules and Administration and
Committee on the Judiciary
September 16, 2003

Chairman Lott and Chairman Cornyn, thank you for holding this hearing.

The topic of presidential succession has occupied the Congress periodically since our nation's founding. Usually, a revival in interest in the topic occurs because of some event that leads us to dust off the statute and the Constitution and contemplate "what if?".

That happened when Andrew Johnson succeeded to the Presidency upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and then was impeached by the House of Representatives. It happened again, when Harry Truman became President after the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He viewed the statutory solution reached in the 1886 as unsatisfactory and convinced Congress to pass a new succession statute. The assassination of President Kennedy led to the adoption of the 25th Amendment as the country contemplated how a Vice President who becomes President should be replaced, and what should happen if the President becomes disabled.

Now September 11th has revived interest in presidential succession. The possibility of a terrorist attack that takes the life of both the President and the Vice President is almost too terrible to contemplate, but we have a duty to at least examine the question of whether the Constitution and the United States Code are adequate to preserve the union and provide the country with the best possible leadership in such a crisis.

The issues raised by this topic are certainly interesting for anyone interested in our system of government and our Constitution, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about them. Should leaders of the legislative branch be in the line of succession? If so, where? And which leaders? Should the succession be different in the case of death as opposed to disability of the President, Vice-President, and others in the line of succession, and if so, how should we provide for a person higher up the chain to move into the office when able?

These are all questions worth exploring. I do not believe, however, that we should obsess about them. Our most dedicated efforts should be devoted to preventing the next terrorist attack, and making sure our first responders are prepared to deal with it if happens. That is not to say that this hearing should not have been held, but only to caution that the time and resources of this Congress and this government are finite, and we must not be distracted from the task at hand by too much attention to what will mostly likely be only theoretical questions.

Thank you again Chairman Lott, and Chairman Cornyn, for the opportunity to speak, and I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses.

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