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A new report by the AEI-Brookings Continuity of Government Commission examines vulnerabilities in the U.S. presidential succession. It has long been assumed that prospects for a smooth transfer of presidential power in the event of a terrorist attack are assured, as there is already a clear line of succession to
Download Audio as MP3 the nation's highest office. But is this plan sufficient? While congressional continuity could be in worse danger, the report's authors point out that, as it stands, the existing presidential succession could be rendered useless by a catastrophic attack because everyone in line to succeed the president lives and works in Washington, D.C.
In an age in which terrorism has become a realistic concern, what are the best ways to limit vulnerability in American presidential succession? In this new report, the Commission looks at the flaws of the current system and offers seven specific recommendations for improving the process. Among them is a proposal to alter the line of succession to ensure that Americans will never face a scenario in which all those in line to be president are dead or incapacitated.
On the day of the report's release, the American Enterprise Institute will host an event featuring a keynote address by Frances Townsend, former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush, and two panel discussions to delve into the issues raised by the report. The first panel, composed of academics, will look at the legal and constitutional basis for presidential succession. The second panel, made up of practitioners, will approach the issues surrounding continuity in presidential succession from a more practical viewpoint, providing insight into how reforms to presidential succession might be put into practice.
|9:00||Introduction:||Norman J. Ornstein, AEI
||Frances Townsend, Baker Botts
|9:15||Panel I: The Theory behind Presidential Succession|
|Panelists:||Akhil Amar, Yale Law School|
|John D. Feerick, Fordham University School of Law|
|James Mann, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University|
|Moderator:||John C. Fortier, AEI|
|10:30||Panel II: Presidential Succession in Practice|
|Panelists:||Martin Frost, Polsinelli Shughart|
|Jamie Gorelick, WilmerHale|
|James C. Ho, State of Texas|
|Norman J. Ornstein, AEI|
|Moderator:||Thomas E. Mann, Brookings Institution|
American Enterprise Institute
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
American Enterprise Institute
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
WASHINGTON, JULY 2, 2009--At the unveiling of the AEI-Brookings Continuity of Government Commission's new report, "Preserving Our Institutions: Presidential Succession," John Feerick, a former dean of Fordham Law School who helped to compose the Twenty-fifth Amendment, lauded the report, calling its proposals "reasonable" and "creative." The report offered seven recommendations for how to ameliorate the problems with the existing system of presidential succession, including extending the line of succession outside of Washington, D.C., and removing members of Congress from the line of succession.
Keynote speaker Frances Townsend, former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush, expressed frustration that too little attention is paid to continuity issues, especially as the country moves further away from the 9/11 attacks. She also summarized the major challenges facing the implementation of reforms to the current presidential succession system. One of the challenges, Townsend explained, is creating a dialogue and coordinating continuity plans with the other branches of government; pushback from Congress, for example, has slowed progress in the area of continuity. James Ho, solicitor general for the state of Texas, illustrated the challenges to reform by recounting a story from his time as Senator John Cornyn's chief counsel. Cornyn's office had proposed a nonbinding resolution advising outgoing presidents to confirm the incoming president's cabinet appointees prior to Inauguration Day, but Senator Ted Stevens put a hold on the resolution, because he was concerned that Cornyn's efforts would ultimately remove the president pro tempore of the Senate from the line of succession. Martin Frost, former congressman from Texas, explained that Congress has been unwilling to deal with continuity issues because congressmen of both parties seem to think that continuity issues are not worth their time and attention.
John Fortier, an AEI research fellow and the executive director of the Continuity of Government Commission, moderated a panel that examined the theory behind the current system of presidential succession, including its constitutional and legal basis. Afterward, the Brookings Institution's Thomas Mann, a senior counselor to the Continuity of Government Commission, moderated a panel that approached presidential succession issues from a more practical, real-world viewpoint.
Several speakers pointed out problems with including members of Congress in the line of presidential succession. Yale Law School's Akhil Amar, participating via conference call, noted that the Twenty-fifth Amendment, which lays out explicit rules for the temporary transfer of presidential power, is designed to preserve a "party continuity," which may be violated if members of Congress remain part of the line of succession. Similarly, Jamie Gorelick of WilmerHale dealt with the topic of continuity during her time as a member of the 9/11 Commission; she maintained that keeping members of Congress in the line of succession greatly increased the chances of "political intrigue," since it added the potential of party discontinuity. Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at AEI, reiterated the urgent need for reform, agreeing that members of Congress should be removed from the line of succession in order to erase the political parties' potential influence on succession.
In contrast, James Mann, a journalist and author-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, asserted that the existing system of presidential succession was not as flawed as the other panelists had described. In fact, Mann told the audience he was troubled by the proposed provision in the Commission's report to set up new offices in the line of succession, as he believes this would create more problems than it would solve.
The AEI-Brookings Continuity of Government Commission, launched in the fall of 2002, facilitates studyand discussion of potential reforms to ensure that American governmental institutions would continue to function effectively in the event of a catastrophe. The Commission released its first report on congressional continuity in 2003.
Akhil Amar is the Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, where he teaches constitutional law at both Yale College and Yale Law School. Mr. Amar clerked for Judge Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit prior to joining the Yale faculty in 1985. He is the coeditor of Processes of Constitutional Decisionmaking (Aspen Publishers, 2006), a leading constitutional law casebook. He has authored several books, including The Constitution and Criminal Procedure: First Principles (Yale University Press, 1997); The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction (Yale University Press, 1998); and, most recently, America’s Constitution: A Biography (Random House, 2005).
John D. Feerick is the Norris Professor of Law at the Fordham University School of Law, where he teaches courses on the Constitution, conflict resolution, and ethics. Prior to entering academia, he worked as a practicing attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; during this period, he wrote From Failing Hands: The Story of Presidential Succession (Fordham University Press, 1965). Mr. Feerick has received numerous awards for his work, including a special award from the American Bar Association for his efforts in developing the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Mr. Feerick served as the dean of Fordham Law from 1982 to 2002.
John C. Fortier is a research fellow at AEI. He studies American politics, the presidency, continuity of government, elections, the Electoral College, election reform, and presidential succession and disability. He is the senior counselor to the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project, executive director of the Continuity of Government Commission, and a fortnightly columnist for Politico. Mr. Fortier’s books include Absentee and Early Voting: Trends, Promises, and Perils (AEI Press, 2006); After the People Vote: A Guide to the Electoral College (third edition, AEI Press, 2004); and Second-Term Blues: How George W. Bush Has Governed (Brookings Institution Press, 2007). He is also a frequent radio and television commentator on the presidency, Congress, and elections.
Martin Frost is an attorney with Polsinelli Shughart in Washington, D.C., and a commissioner for the AEI-Brookings Continuity of Government Commission. From 1979 to 2005, Mr. Frost was a member of the House of Representatives for Texas’s Twenty-fourth Congressional District. He served as the chair of the Caucus, the third-highest elected leadership position for Democrats, between 1999 and 2003, and he was the senior Democrat on the Rules Committee. At the time of his departure from Congress, he was the senior southern Democrat in the House and the dean of the Texas congressional delegation. During the 2008 election cycle, Mr. Frost served as president of America Votes, a national voter turnout organization.
Jamie Gorelick is a partner at WilmerHale, where she chairs both the National Security Practice and the Public Policy and Strategy Practice, and a commissioner for the AEI-Brookings Continuity of Government Commission. Ms. Gorelick was a member of the 9/11 Commission and has served on numerous boards and commissions involving the national security of the country, including the CIA’s National Security Advisory Panel. From 1994 to 1997, she was deputy attorney general of the United States, the second most senior position in the department, and before that, she was general counsel of the Department of Defense. From 1979 to 1980, Ms. Gorelick was assistant to the secretary and counselor to the deputy secretary of energy, and she was vice chair of Fannie Mae from 1997 to 2003.
James C. Ho is the solicitor general of the state of Texas and a commissioner for the AEI-Brookings Continuity of Government Commission. He previously served in all three branches of the federal government as well as in private practice. He was chief counsel to Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), who appointed him chief counsel of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights for the 108th Congress, and chief counsel of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship for the 109th Congress. He served as special assistant to the assistant attorney general for civil rights and then as an attorney adviser in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department from 2001 to 2003. He has clerked for Judge Jerry E. Smith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and Justice Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Supreme Court.
James Mann is the Foreign Policy Institute author-in-residence at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University. He has worked as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, serving as Beijing bureau chief, national security correspondent, and foreign affairs columnist. Mr. Mann was a guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. He has written numerous books, including Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet (Viking, 2004) and, most recently, The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War (Viking, 2009).
Thomas E. Mann is the W. Averell Harriman Chair and a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. He serves as a senior counselor to the Continuity of Government Commission and is codirector of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project. Between 1987 and 1999, Mr. Mann was the director of governmental studies at Brookings and before that was executive director of the American Political Science Association. He is a recipient of the association’s Frank J. Goodnow and Charles E. Merriam Awards. His books include Vital Statistics on Congress 2008, with Norman J. Ornstein and Michael Malbin (Brookings Institution Press, 2008); The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, with Norman J. Ornstein (second edition, Oxford University Press, 2008); and Party Lines: Competition, Partisanship, and Congressional Redistricting, edited with Bruce Cain (Brookings Institution Press, 2005).
Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at AEI. He also serves as an election analyst for CBS News and writes a weekly column called “Congress Inside Out” for Roll Call. He has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, and other major publications, and he regularly appears on television programs such as Nightline, Charlie Rose, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, where he was recently recognized as the most frequent guest over the program’s thirty years. Mr. Ornstein’s campaign finance working group of scholars and practitioners helped shape the major law, known as McCain-Feingold, that reformed the campaign financing system. He serves as senior counselor to the Continuity of Government Commission and as codirector of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project. Mr. Ornstein is a member of the boards of the Public Broadcasting Service, the Campaign Legal Center, and the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. He was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. His many books include The Permanent Campaign and Its Future (AEI Press, 2000) and The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track (Oxford University Press, 2006), both with Thomas E. Mann; Debt and Taxes: How America Got into Its Budget Mess and What to Do About It (AEI Press, 1994), with John H. Makin; and, most recently, Vital Statistics on Congress 2008 (Brookings Institution Press, 2008), with Michael Malbin and Thomas E. Mann.
Frances Townsend is a partner with Baker Botts in Washington, D.C. She served as assistant to President George W. Bush for homeland security and counterterrorism and chaired the Homeland Security Council from May 2004 until January 2008. She previously served as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism from May 2003 to May 2004. Most recently, Ms. Townsend provided consulting services and advice to corporate entities on global strategic engagement and risk as well as crisis and contingency planning. She is a contributor for CNN and has regularly appeared on network and cable television as a counterterrorism and national and homeland security expert.