If A President Is Impeached, Who Becomes President? It's Pretty Clear
Impeachment is a hot topic in Washington, D.C., these days, after Democratic leaders launched an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Sept. 24. In a statement to Elite Daily, the White House characterized the inquiry as Democrats' attempts to "weaponize politics." But with all this talk of impeachment, the process of impeaching a president raises numerous questions. For example, if a president is impeached, who becomes president in their place? Thankfully, that one's easy.
Under the 25th Amendment, in the event of a president's incapacitation, death, or removal from office, the vice president takes their place. Section 1 of the Amendment reads, "In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President." Ratified after the 1963 death of President John F. Kennedy, the 25th Amendment further formalized the line of succession: If both a president and vice president are removed from office, then the next person in the presidential line of succession would be the Speaker of the House.
According to Newsweek, American laws about presidential succession can be traced back to 1792, and initially put the president pro tempore of the Senate and Speaker of the House in the line of succession. In 1886, a new law took both of these officials out of the succession. It wasn't until 1947 that former President Harry Truman signed the Presidential Succession Act, which officially reinstated those two roles in the order of succession, but reversed them, putting the Speaker after the vice president. The 25th Amendment was later adopted in 1967.
However, impeachment is made even more complicated by the fact that a president can still serve out the rest of their term even if they are impeached. How? The House of Representatives votes on impeachment, but it is the Senate that organizes a trial and votes on whether or not to remove a president from office. If the Senate does not vote to convict, a president is impeached, but remains in office, as happened to President Bill Clinton.
If Trump was removed from office, then Vice President Mike Pence would take over as president, and he in turn would get to choose a new vice president. If something happened that resulted in both Trump and Pence being removed from office, then the presidency would be passed on to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi is the one who announced the impeachment inquiry into Trump on Sept. 24, and she seems to be playing the long game on the proceedings.
Progressive voters have also expressed concern that Pence would perhaps be even worse than Trump for the left. The former Indiana governor has a track record of being extremely conservative when it comes to issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights, and he falls in line with the Republican Party more seamlessly than Trump appears to. Despite aligning himself with the Tea Party during his time in Congress, Newsweek pointed out that Pence also built relationships with establishment Republicans. Pence has also managed to evade much of Republicans' skepticism when it comes to the president; unlike Trump, he doesn't send out vitriolic tweets in the middle of the night, and he typically follows the party line on key issues, which could make him more effective in carrying out a Republican agenda.
However, the question of a Pence presidency is still a long way away. The House and the Senate would have to vote for Trump to actually be impeached and removed from office — and that's not going to happen overnight.