The Constitution specifies that should a President leave office before the end of the term, the Vice President becomes President and names a new Vice President with the consent of Congress.
Americans need to know Vice President Pence
Vice President Pence is that gray-haired, quiet shadow seen frequently lurking behind Donald Trump. To some, he epitomizes a long standing joke about Vice Presidents.
A woman had two sons. One became a merchant marine. The other became vice President. Neither were ever heard of again.
Pence maintains the image of a rare stable member of a an extremely unstable administration — the uncontroversial second to an extremely controversial Trump. He has given the impression of the incorruptible individual in the midst of the most corrupt administration in American history.
But as Vice President he has faithfully followed the direction of Trump. He follows every Trumpish wish. He breaks ties in the Senate toward the extreme right. In this way he secures for himself the loyalty of Trump’s base. What would he be like if he came out from Trump’s shadow and was President?
The evidence from his time as governor of Indiana is that he would be consistently as far right as Trump is erratically. He would have the solid support of the base and the Freedom Caucus in the Congress. Unlike Trump, Pence has served in Congress, knows how it works and has personal connections with Republican members of Congress. There is every indication that the far right would very much like to see him, rather than Trump, in the White House — preferably after noon January 20.
Under the Constitution, if Trump were to resign, be removed from office or die after noon January 20, 2019, Pence would become President of the United States and able to serve out the remainder of Trump’s term of office. Pence would be President in 2020, eligible to run as the incumbent President in that year and, if elected, again in 2024. In other words, the far right Republican Party could control the White House for twelve years, ten of which would be by President Pence.
The advocates of impeachment seem to have visions that Pence could be impeached at the same time as Trump. That seems unlikely to me. So far there is little evidence of Pence being involved in “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Purely partisan attempts at impeachment — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton — have not fared well in the Senate.
Can Democrats successfully remove Trump?
I rather doubt this. Even if both the House and Senate in the 116th Congress are controlled by the Democratic Party, there are several things that could happen along the way.
- The Democratic majority of the Judicial Committee could draft articles of impeachment which, for some reason failed to get a majority vote in the House. In this case Trump is vindicated.
- The House could vote articles of impeachment, but the Senate would fail to convict — which takes 67 votes. That is mathematically impossible if the vote is on party lines. In this case also, Trump is vindicated.
- The House could impeach and the Senate convict. In this case Pence becomes President.
A President Pence would undoubtedly veto any measure coming from the Congress attempting to roll back the damage done by Republicans under Trump and the Republican 115th Congress.
What should Democrats do?
I think the priority should be to win a majority in the Senate. With the necessary votes, they will hold all committee chairs and the majority in every committee. They can block nominations coming from the White House. They can give Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley a dose of their own — not holding hearings and confirmation votes on judges, including to the Supreme Court. They can block any Republican nonsense coming from either the Senate or House. They can pass legislation advancing voting rights, immigration reform, jobs, etc., even if these don’t become law. The would, however, be campaign issue Democrats could use in 2020. But remember, gaining a majority in the Senate will be extremely difficult. Of the 34 Senate seats on the ballot this fall, only eight are held by Republicans.
Flipping the House is more likely. Democrats should try to win as many as possible. The House can block any Republican nonsense coming from the White House, the Senate or the Freedom Caucus in the House. A Democratic House can also enact a legislative program in the House similar to the one I suggest for the Senate. Enact laws that can be used to win an overwhelming public support in 2020, even if those are vetoed by the Republican President.