House Republicans have temporarily forced themselves out of the presidential line of succession.
Following Speaker Kevin McCarthy's ouster, the position of second in line to the presidency is vacant.
An expert on the line of succession told Insider it is clear McCarthy's temporary replacement does not count.
House Republicans have temporarily played themselves out of the slim chance of capturing the White House in the event of a historic catastrophe through their unprecedented ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
An expert on the presidential line of succession said it is clear that Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, who is temporarily leading the House, does not fit the bill to be considered Speaker of the House. McHenry was the first name on a once-secret list to lead the chamber in the event the speakership became vacant. His current title is acting Speaker pro tempore.
"He's not the speaker, he's just the speaker pro tem," Brian Kalt, a professor of law at Michigan State University told Insider, "and the whole point of having a speaker in line is that they were elected as speaker, not just appointed by someone to preside temporarily. So, as I read the statute, section 19 of title 3, Patty Murray is next in line."
As a result, House Republicans for the time being would be skipped over entirely. If President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were unable to serve as President of the United States, the power would then fall to Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, President Pro Tempore (not to be confused with McHenry's temporary title) and then Secretary of State Antony Blinken following her.
Murray's status was also the result of some drama as before her death Sen. Dianne Feinstein would have been the likely senator to claim it. Feinstein ultimately passed on the opportunity.
In reality, any disputes would likely be settled in the courts, though Kalt stressed that it is clear McHenry does not have a claim to the presidency should it arise. McHenry's office, which is understandably busy right now, did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
While McCarthy is the first speaker to be removed from power in this fashion, the concept of skipping over an official in the line of succession is nothing new. Secretary of State Madeline Albright would have been skipped over if she had the line of succession reached her during the Clinton administration since she did not meet the "natural born citizen" requirement to be president.
Never before in history has the line of succession gone past the vice president, meaning most of this discussion is purely academic. Still, House Republicans are currently risking what they would be rightfully entitled to thanks to their slim majority following the 2022 midterm elections. If Biden and Harris were permanently unable to serve, Murray would have the opportunity to remain as acting president through January 2025.
At the very least, the nation could be faced with a defining court battle as it copes with whatever chaos led to the president and vice president being unable to serve.
Correction: October 5, 2023 — An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Sen. Patty Murray's title. She is President pro tempore. The story also incorrectly described the so-called "bumping" provision of the Presidential Succession Act. Only cabinet officers acting as president can be bumped.
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