tv The Presidency Presidential Succession Act of 1947 CSPAN August 30, 2022 11:05am-12:16pm EDT
roosevelt's death elevated him to the presidency. >> good afternoon my name is lord and i am pleased to be the moderator and spends a third and final panel, the title for this panel is real world scenarios, illness, catastrophe, and governmental response. the idea is to give a sense of the realities of 1947 statute. now, with a great honor of introducing our distinguished panelists. doctor joseph jay fence, he is the e william davis junior professor of medical ethics at cornell medical college. he is also the visiting professor of law at several places for the bioethical of law. the doctor will be speaking about the experience of speaker karl albert who was there in the 1970s for several months of the presidency. doctor rose mcdermott, she is the david mariano fisher
university professor of relations. she has also author of the book presidential it or ship, illness, and decision-making. doctor mcdermott will be speaking about presidential and vice presidents illness in 1947 statute. mixture garrett graff is distinguish offer of the book -- the story of the u.s. government secret plan to save itself while the rest of us die. he will talk about past efforts of the united states government to observe. doctor rebecca see labelle is the director of governmental affairs, she is also author of the presentation of the 25th amendment, anxiety, presidential continuity and several it'd. she will talk about the threat of nicola pins in the 1947 statute. finally, ambassador -- it is currently co-chair of the commission, she will discuss the perspective of the white
house counsel for presidential health and why it matters. earlier panelists have discussed many of the important theoretical concerns about having the right to succession. including the possibility of control in the white house changing hands. that is to say for the will of the american voters from the previous presidential election would suddenly be reversed. i would like to amplify those remarks to discuss concrete examples of demonstrating how close the nation has come to actually implementing legislation for the presidency. technically the nation has never experienced a situation in which both the president and vice president died at the same time, nor has the nation for an extended period for both the president and vice president have the capacity. but, the nation has come some very close on several occasions. i believe a handful of historical episodes should make clear the notion that the accession presents, accompanied by the change in control of the white house, is not obstruction
but is a very real possibility. as noted earlier, under the 1792 presidential succession statute, the senate present for ppe t, followed by the speaker. there were several near misses two legislative session under the statute, in 1840 for john tile was a democratic president. that year he was awarded a naval vessel, the uss princeton. a massive can exploded killing two cabinet secretaries who were tops of the time. through good fortune the president happened to be below deck and was spared. had he not been spared, because there was no vice president, the ppt at the time, senator -- came close to becoming after present. this would have made change of control in the executive branch. in 1865, following the
assassination of abraham lincoln, democrat andrew johnson was elevated to presidency. just weeks after and with no vice president, johnson was seriously injured. he was so sick, in fact, that the secretary of war was sent to track down the ppt. the ppt was senator lafayette foster who was a republican. the problem was that the time lafayette foster was in the wilds of new mexico territory, with oversight on the government treatment of native american tribes. cabinet secretaries were only able to find contacts to foster by sending a korean riding horseback from the nearest outpost. after some effort the korean finally located the senator in a remote corner of the territory, sitting peacefully by a campfire. the telegram beseeched him to head towards the nearest big city to establish communication with washington, d.c., and lighting kc had become acting president. three years later in the in impeachment trial of andrew
johnson, the senate came within a single vote for elevating senator lafayette foster -- as was mentioned, in 1886 legislative session was removed but then it was reinserted into the line of succession. since democratic president harry truman did not have a vice president from 1845 to 1849, a speaker become closer to becoming acting president than any other speaker. not long after the bills adoption, president truman went on official trip to brazil. while on this trip his motorcade almost drove over a precipice. speaker martin recall that truman on a trip to south america came dangerously close to plunging ovary mountainside. the news was a sobering reminder of how near it was in the day today to the edge of
great responsibility. as was the case with tyler and johnson in the white house. each of these examples cause instances where they could become acting president due to the possibility of a vacancy in both the presidency and the vice presidency. and what about situations in which both the president and the vice president are incapacitated? history shows at least one example here, as well. in 1985 president reagan underwent surgery to be successful. prime prior to being an exercise reagan transferred powers to his office. vice president george bush, under section three of the 25th amendment. while acting president was decided. during his match the acting president backpedaled furiously to retrieve, he tripped, fell, his head and was really not a cold. thus, for a very short period of time, both the president and vice president were unconscious.
several years later the vice military aid remark on the situation, quote, we figure for at least a few seconds, speaker tip o'neill was in charge, but we decided not to tell him. neil, of course, was a democrat. with the episodes from the tyler, johnson, truman, and reagan presidency was shown, the nation has come dangerously close to implementing succession and to a sudden change of party control. some may be wondering if lawmakers themselves ever thought they might become acting president, the answer is yes, indeed. several lawmakers had made tentative claims to what they would do if they were confronted with the scenario. as dr. oren sting alluded to earlier, during the impeachment trial of president johnson, the senator huddled with republican presidential nominee who discussed it. he haven't went so far as to offer the host of the secretary of the interior to make
arrangements in one state. speaker martin certainly took the possibility of becoming active president seriously. he later admitted that had he considered who he might be in the secretary of state, quote, i never gave systematic thought to what i would have done or who i would've appointed to my cabinet if he had fallen to become acting president. the idea that i might ask herbert hoover to return to washington with secretary of state, his experience with cabinet officer unquote. the closest any lawmaker has come might not serve for any extended period of time, as the senator would serve in the 1950s and 60s. that remark had he been elevated to the oval office quote, i would call congress together, half the house elect me speaker, and then i would
resign and he would become acting president. unquote. interestingly, the act of self denial did not involve him delight designing the drop altogether, instead he communicated that he would ensure the actor president would confirm the legislative branch. all over into the next panelist, dr. finn, to discuss the experience of the speaker, whose experience is also relevant in this context. finally, i would note that speaker dennis casten did concede, he did not want to become acting president. but others indicated they would accept the responsability. quote, i did not want to be president permanent or's temporary. with my wife, who was not thrilled with my present job, she would not be happy with this. i understood it was not really an option because of the constitutional crisis, and you are the speaker, you cannot pass it up.
i had to accept it, unquote. the words and actions of wayne, martin, haiti, and pastor each indicate the lawmakers themselves had given some serious thought to becoming active president. what i hope this brief presentation has outlined is the prospect of the speaker or ppt becoming active president and potentially flipping the party in control of the white house is very real. this is reflected by the fact that lawmakers themselves have given some thought as to what they would do if they were to become active president. the question to the public to consider is, is having lawmakers in the white house especially manifest, the most sensible approach for addressing the executive succession? now, let me turn matters over to dr. fence. >> thank you so much and a real big thanks to -- for having me on the panel. as a physician i feel a little bit out of place but i enjoy
working with you. and, as a physician we do not going without our slides. i am going to share some slides because my verbal abilities are not as keen as my lawyer colleagues. i'm going to talk about the curl albert experience and the dual vacancies that happened during the watergate era. i think it is relevant and interesting that the primary sources, as i will share, that speak to the issues that we have already discussed. let me just tell you a little bit of how i got into this, as a country doctor this is not my usual line of work. i was invited to the last meeting of the presidential disability conferences that were hosted by presidents ford and carter. and convened by the white house physician. it was december of 1996 and i was invited, along with george
analysts, who was a health lawyer at boston university. i had done some writing there on the side, advanced planning. i think one thing to remember when we think about presidential disability and succession is, presidents are also husbands, and potentially wives of spouses, and parents, and grandparents, and family dynamics are going to play into decisions about incapacity. and so, i had been asked to be there to talk about the family role in some of these decisions, and to weigh in on some medical issues. there was a number of physicians who were in attendance, general hutton and others. that was a fascinating experience when i was a young scholar and felt a little bit out of place. for me the headline was this curious phrase that senator
bayh who wrote the 25th amendment was there, and the middle of the break. he was telling us a story and it felt like we were listening to a blinken. he had that character, the authentic, midwestern patriotic quality. he was telling us the story about the dual vacancy during the watergate era. of course, the admiral had designed, nixon could be removed before the vice president was nominated. and then under the exception act carl howard would have received the exception. then there was the fear of the presidency going to the party opposite. that would've been a coup d'état. he told us this anecdote that stay with me for years, and years, and years. and the story was that carl albert would resign as speaker,
so a democratic house could elect i minority leader, jerry forward, to serve as speaker, who would then succeed onto the president say. so, you would not have this party opposite scenario, and a republican within replace a republican. and, carl albert and birch bayh we're very concerned about any appearance of a political gain with nixon's removal. of thbecause he had committed crim, because a constitutional violation and they like. it was not a political impeachment, it was because of the legal issues. again, as has been said earlier there could have been and incentives for nixon to resign because it would have gone to the party opposite. there was this gentleman's agreement, and, over the years it has been a side hobby of mine to look for evidence of this. and, when i was giving a talk and grand rapids, i got a private tour of the ford
museum. i found some interesting documents there, one is a letter from jerry forward from october of 1973, recommending three people to be the new vice president. he recommended john connolly, the defense secretary, nelson rockefeller, who is ultimately chosen and his own vice president, or ronald reagan. he says i will not go into the reasons for my views as i'm sure you are familiar with the views. and then, nixon resigning in 1974, interestingly noted, here, 11:35 am. and issued by henry kissinger, hk. of course, here is the index card that came to his, when he actually took the oath of office. i want to drier tension to these three pictures on this side. you see agnew and karl albert,
ford and carl albert, and rockefeller and carl albert. he is the only person who has not shifted in this musical chairs turn this cast of characters. and so, i had been very interested, they do not have anything when i was at the ford museum about this. and, it kind of stayed with me. and then, there in the middle part of the trump administration i was wondering about this story, over and over again about this back active bipartisanship. this patriotism that carl albert would actually resign so that a member of the party opposite could become presidents and have continuity with nixon's party. and i really got interested in this. so, i really want to know, was bayh and his adequate true. i would be very interested in those comments on this because of the picture of watergate.
why is this not become a more prominent feature of watergate story? could i find evidence of it? more, aspirationally could this inspire the kind of bipartisanship that greg jacob was talking about the we are lacking right now? of course it would have implications for future vacancies. i contacted the archives of the university of indiana, unfortunately at that state of his life senator bayh was not in a position to remember that part of his life. he had been suffering from some illnesses. but, they did very nicely recommended i speak to jay berman. who i think is on the zoom today, he was senator bayh chief of staff. and he very graciously invited me to the century club in new york city, and we talked about the phrase party opposite. they said, you know, it sounds like senator bayh. and then i found more information that albert did not want to take the seat to become
president. he did not know about this plan to resign, but, jay told me he recalled a possible ted sorenson memo advising carl albert about this, that, and the other. he said maybe, and then the coral albert archives. i looked in the carl albert archives and i found a 19 page memo of that ted sorenson, who of course was president kennedy's alter ego. before we had chief of staff in the white house he was essentially the chief of staff. there was this memo, george and chelsea, who was the organizer of his papers, did not recall seeing this document. but, but in the archives it was there. the remarkable archives. history rhymes, it repeats
itself, it is very interesting the secretary johnson's law firm, paul weiss was a same law firm that ted sorenson was at. it is interesting, if you look at this letter to carl albert in november of 1973, after the midnight massacre, things are really heating up with watergate. he if you graded at says, enclosed as a first draft and i would be happy to talk with you at your convenience. and then he says i admire your recognition of the need for advanced planning. this is not the first conversation or exchange the two of them had. we see carl albright planning prospectively for this. and the document is really extreme. we see in this document, it is on the first page with the introduction. an unexpected vacancy in that office, the presidency, before the confirmation of a new vice
president. and, speaking to the issue of this perceived conflict of interest, there is a little caveat here that had sorenson says to him. should the president be confirmed before a vacancy occurs, or should the president serve out his term, this entire memorandum will become unnecessary, and can be destroyed. if you fear that its existence, if discovered, might be misinterpreted as evidence of an improper motivation on your part for the presidents ouster. two points, one, they political nature of this kind of preparation, and looking at that he was doing it for political gain. which is totally countered to what handed. and, second, they total beautiful writing of ted sorenson. if you want to read a wonderfully written book that you can teach writing with, read ten sorenson's book. it is an extraordinary, extraordinary piece of writing. that one sentence is just ask
not what you can do for carl albert, ask what you can do for your country kind of literature. the second page of this document, i was sitting at this very desk in my office, they're all kinds of things about selecting your cabinet, and new people, and how much you get paid, and where do you live, and all of these things. i was saying, okay, i guess there is nothing here. then, on page 17 i came to this point, decisions to be made in the first week. and i looked because it was so exciting. he says you should have a vice president soon. if, as part of your nonpartisan approach, you want very forward, then that is still appropriate, you could include that in your statement among taking the oath of office, if not you can seek suggestions and discuss possibilities through a series of meetings that are going above. here's the point, it is
remarkable, because sorenson and curl albert encapsulate in their disagreement, the very issues we have been talking about today. i question whether it is necessary or desirable to commit yourself to resigning in favor of a republican vice president. that would only heighten the impression of political instability and our government. then he goes on to talk about the succession act, you are the illegitimately chosen successor, selected by our most representative body, under a long-standing plan adopted by the legislative branch. this is stress along with a non partisan nature of your administration, both taking the statement which speaks in terms of your remaining only till january 1977. he was also intending to limit his term as this unexpected president. so, summary comments, here,
first of all, there are lessons and limits to the watergate analogy. first, albert and sorenson were good faith actors. we cannot necessarily assume that in the hyper partisan world we live in today. now, carl albert's way of being a patriot was to avoid partisanship. sorenson's way of being a patriot was to maintain government stability by adherence to the succession acts. but, partisanship, not bipartisan patriotism, is what we are dealing with today. hyperpartisan ship makes party opposite resignations impossible. can you imagine speaker pelosi seeding the presidency in a clinton or trump era? i cannot. next point, the irony that even though carl albert was the speaker, and was the representative of the legislative branch, he was actually the party of the executive branch.
and, ted sorenson as a speaker for the executive branch having worked with president kennedy was actually favoring the legislative succession under this accession act, you can show on that. sthe next point is, dual vacancies are gonna be much more likely. for biological reasons, -- threats. here you see up in the corner is a covid spike proteins on the virus, and while we were meeting, news came out from the washington post that merrick garland and secretary raymond o had both tested positive for covid. members of the white house staff had tested positive for covid, having been at the dinner on saturday night earlier in the week. so, this is not a hypothetical, the president and vice president could have been exposed, i'm not saying they were but they could have been in that ecosystem and been exposed, this is not a hypothetical. the next point, is malign threats, i happen to have the
honor of serving on the national academies commission that looked at the havana syndrome. as we know, there was a report that there might have been that same threat at the executive office. the white house campus. the next point i'm grateful to rep for this is that the pace of transition, you have a slow burn with the political standard, the sorenson letter was november of the nixon resignation is august, compared to the rapid explosion of problems with a biological arm online threat, you're not gonna have time to write a memo. the odds of a dual vacancy are quite high to -- and i think everybody was right, you are gonna have partisan litigation about the eligibility of the speaker as a officer or member of the house, which is gonna lead to a tremendous amount of instability during a crisis. so, my final point, okay?
my and albert instinctive wary of the presidency moving to the parties opposite -- aristotle would counter guys their concerns as a virtuous, practical wisdom. losing both the president and vice president in the dual vacancy is a national trauma. switching parties would seem to confound that and i think it's something to be avoided. so, i think we need, as many of the other scholars have said more eloquently than i, we need more responsive and agile process. we need to resolve the eligibility question. i think we need to avoid causing political instability with risk of party opposites by keeping succession in the executive branch so that we don't have a party opposite scenario. so, i will stop there. thank you. >> thank you, dr. friends.
doctor mcdermott? >> thank you very much. doctor friends, you are a tough act to follow. i wanted to also start by thanking our dean and john rogin and -- for inviting me to this panel, for organizing and orchestrating, not only this panel, but previous months we've done on presidents full succession. i wanted to talk a little bit about sort of these real world examples that he just spoke about as well as incidents and hypotheticals whereas both the president and the vice president could be either killed or incapacitated in a way that pauses this gap between the 25th amendment in the 1947 act, to really become a salient challenge. so, you know, as many of the people on the previous two
panels have discussed, there is really this challenge that relates to examples where a president can die or become incapacitated and the vice president may or may not take over. there may be other instances, hypothetical or will where the vice president also becomes ill and incapacitated. so, certainly, one recent example of this, certainly not the only one, as other speakers have spoken about, it had to do with trump having covid in the fall of 2020. the question arises as to what would have happened if pence and others, including pelosi or leahy or others had become infected. and for me, the issue is not just illness in terms of whether or not these people would have died, but other forms of incapacitation. so, what happens if somebody isn't dead, but there is somehow incapacitated in a way that makes it difficult for them to make appropriate
decision-making but not so in that the people around them are really willing to invoke on the fourth section of the 25th amendment to try to take them out of power? i think a recent example of trump having covid is one example, certainly not the only one, where someone like mike pence wouldn't want to look like he was trying to coerce or co-opt power away from trump by saying, you know, he needs to step down from power. obviously trump wasn't going to invoke the third section and say, i personally don't feel like i'm in good enough shape, even though i'm in the hospital, even though i have a high fever, even them getting all this treatment, to really discharged the duties of my office efficiently. i'm gonna pass it over to pence temporarily, as other presidents have done, most notably when they're having colonoscopy's and they're under anesthesia for a period of time, they passed over to the vice president. he wasn't going to do, it then
you're in a situation in the fourth section requires somebody like a vice president, like pence or otherwise, to say this person is not capable of being in charge. there is iconic examples of this in the past, the most commonly referred to had to do with woodrow wilson after he had a major stroke in office in 1924. and he had members of his cabinet question his capacity. and in fact, he was incapacitated. he was in fact completely paralyzed on half of his body. and marshall decided to challenge whether or not he was capable of discharging the duties of his office. and along with wilson's wife, edith, and his secretary, joseph tumulty, and his doctor, robert grayson, they all got together and decided to pull
the wool over the cabinet's eyes and they brought marshall and other members of the cabinet into the search room where the paralyzed side of his body was on away from the entrance to the door. they close the drapes so that no one could see how incapacitated he was. and he could sort of partly speak on one side of his mouth, and so, he appeared to look like he was, you know, still functioning, although in fact he was not. they did not, they were not able to pursue this, was of course before the 25th amendment, but they were able to pursue moving him out of office. when he recovered somewhat the first thing he did was to take marshall out of office. so, there was some revenge and some payback for that. but of course, there's other examples of presidents who are incapacitated but not dead. you know, and we can think of presidents who were extremely
ill. john kennedy, extremely ill with addison's disease. roosevelt extremely ill with and stage cardiovascular disease. he was fined for four or five hours a day, but the other hours really not able to function completely. so, here the issue is not just one of people being killed, but also issues of incapacitation short of death. and i think we've raised throughout the day several examples of where this could happen as a mass event, as others have mentioned. one is obviously the issue of the insurrection i think greg jacob raised this as an issue. what would've happened if during the insurrection those who breached the capitol had actually had a more organized opposition, had had machine guns and had managed to actually kill a majority of congress? how would we have thought about what that would have happened? and the issue raised by norman
or instant about a nuclear attack, i'm sure rebecca will talk about that in a few minutes as well. but it might not just be a suitcase bomb, but in the wake of, you know, attacks in ukraine, as greg mentioned, we can imagine other forms of nuclear attack, not just coming from russia, but for north korea or china. soif we were to engage in a moe extensive war over taiwan and so on. so, these are cases where mass events, and i hadn't thought about the syndrome that dr. finch is raised where large members of the cabinet, as well as congress could be taken out in a single event. you can imagine chemical up and doing the same thing in a circumstance where there wasn't necessarily a designated survivor as was mentioned at the beginning of the panel today by our distinguished keynote speaker. so, i think that this challenge
-- between the 25th amendment in the 1947 act, and also issues of incapacitation short of death and what happens with these mass casualty events. so, we have this third section, it requires the president to say that he's impaired, but most presidents are unwilling to do, except for very short periods of time where he doesn't actually say, oh, i'm going under anesthesia, it's not that i'm actually really not capable of discharging the duties of my office. and then you have the fourth section which requires that others remove him. those others may also be severely impaired themselves, whether it's with biological disease like covid, a chemical attack, a nuclear attack, or killed in a mass event. i think professor oren stein also mentioned the shooting of the republicans or steve scalise, where he was severely injured. and those who remain maybe unwilling to take on the political challenge of trying to remove somebody who's
incapacitated, who's unwilling to say that they're incapacitated. so, you're in the situation under the 1947 act with the vice president, if that person is impaired, if that person is dead, what happens if others down the line of succession are impaired as well? like with the pandemic, with a very serious mass casualty event involving chemical or nuclear weapons? and these are not real hypotheticals because, in fact, you have a situation where things similar to this have happened in the past. i have come very close to happening, particularly with recent events regarding covid and president trump where, in fact, he was much more ill based on the treatments he received then was reported to public. and you can imagine with the superspreader events they had, for example, around the amy coney barrett nomination, that many members of congress could have been impaired at the same
time and the cabinet, in ways that would've left us in a true constitutional limbo. so, i will stop there, thank you very much. i look forward to the next presentations. i think that you are muted. >> thank you dr. mcdermott. mr. graph. >> good afternoon, everyone. it is a pleasure to be here among such an augusta group of scholars and historians. many of whom's research i have drawn from and histories that i have read as i have been doing my own research on the continuity of government and watergate and 9/11 and jfk lbj transition on november 22nd, 1963. i'm here today to talk about more broadly from historians perspective about the idea of continuity of government a little bit more broadly than we've been discussing it in the
presidential succession act realm. and to talk about it a little bit more in how it would have actually looked and felt over the course of the cold war. in actuality had any of this come to pass rather than in the theoretical. i believe it is deeply important to put the presidential succession act in the context of the cold war when it came about. and the next speaker will address some of that. in part because i believe that it really is this marriage of the american presidency and nuclear weapons and advances of nuclear technology that really drove the collapse of space and time that reshaped the way that america things about its presidency. because one of the things that you have to understand about presidential succession is the
way that it is linked to presidential communication. and that for much of american history we simply didn't have that close a tab on our president. that for long periods of time president would be away from washington and communication would be very slow. as late as september 1935 when franklin roosevelt went to dedicate the hoover dam, his motorcade became lost in the canyons on the route back to las vegas and he disappeared out of contact for an entire afternoon. no one knew where the president was nor when he might reappear. as late as 1945, when harry truman took office, the vice president did actually even receive secret service protection and went about his day on his own around washington, checking in from time to time whether anyone needed him. within a few short years though,
as soviet missiles reduce monumental decisions to only 15 windows, such prolonged periods with president incommunicado or the vice presidents whereabouts unknown would be history. the need to command such powerful weapons on a hair trigger alert pushed the office of the president into a new era of technology, new procedures, built around a commander-in-chief who required instant reliable communication, powerful, new transportation, and detailed instructions that ensured that there would never be a leadership vacuum. thinka different way of thinkig about so many of the presidential toys that we think of, the majesty of air force one, the gleaming marine helicopters, the hulking armored limousine's, and the expensive motorcades is to think of them as communication tools, necessary to remain in contact with the pentagon and to launch nuclear weapons from wherever the president may be.
the nuclear age transform the pregnant -- presidency from a single person working in the white house to a much broader idea. a long line of men and women stretching through both houses of congress and through every cabinet agency. the presidency literally had an atm, a b team, and even a c team in the cold war. and in the event of an emergency, each team and it's designated presidents had a different rule and different evacuation destination. the alpha team, which in most cases included the elected president, would remain in washington and by design the sacrificed in the opening minutes of a nuclear attack. the bravo team would head to mount weather, the sprawling secret bunker in the hills of virginia built to withstand nuclear attack. and the charlie team would head out to other bunkers and relocation facilities around the capitol. some of the nearly 100 different bunkers, airborne command post available within an hour of washington that the government would activate in an emergency.
each of course of the offices in the presidential line as succession as we have heard discuss today has its own unique line of succession, dozens of civilian and military officials populate the line, creating a possible path where the principal deputy undersecretary or defence for acquisition technology and logistics. and the u.s. attorney for the district of minnesota quickly and up being among the most important figures in american politics. what began in the 1950s as an all encompassing nationwide push for civil defense to ready every household, workplace, village, and city first soviet attack. school children have a certain age will of course remember bert the turtle and the duck and cover drills of the 1950s and 1960s. gradually shrunk with advancing military technologies to just a single plan. the evacuation of the nation's
elite leaders to bunkers hidden under mountains. but what does that actually look like in the moment? one of the things we've talked about is the time it would take for courts to decide or members of the presidential line to sue -- decide how or when they would choose to succeed to the presidency. through much of the cold war, during the continuity of government operations, it actually looks like something very different. members of the presidential line of succession had a telephone number at the pentagon, they were supposed to call in an emergency. and there was no comprehensive organized way to tell who would survive an attack and who hadn't. the system would've left the navy captain, air force major, or whoever happened to be on duty answering that particular phone in the joint war room to choose effectively themselves who to designate as the presidential successor. the possibility exists in a
report robert mcnamara's team pull together that the man to wield presidential authority in dire emergencies might be selected by a single field great military officer. in the decades ahead the system got a little bit better, but not much. as late as the reagan administration, the pentagon and fema realized that they needed to institute more elaborate mechanisms to ensure successors legitimacy. their plan called for special coated communications that could prove a successors identity and establish the highest ranking official still alive within the u.s. government. the system that still exists today, still overseen by fema, and today that encompasses a secret combination of gps trackers, cell phones, and secure communication systems. at the same time though, there was still a great deal of
concern as people have raised a couple times over the course of today about white and how you prepare a so-called lesser or minor cabinet official to step into the presidency? and so, in the reagan years, they answered this with a unique, highly secret program known as the presidential successor support system. the p s three, which if i would've guessed a couple of the other speakers today might have some more classified knowledge about it and i do. who participated in those reagan your operations. the pbs three was an innocuous sounding program run by the national program office, which is run by vice president george h. w. bush. that is pre-selected, five separate pbs three teams of former respected officials, like howard baker, the one-time
senate republican leader, former cia director, richard holmes, former un ambassador, jean kirkpatrick, former cabinet secretary, james flush under, and even folks like donald rumsfeld and dick cheney. who were all given special instructions for evacuation, and in an emergency the preassign previous three teams would report to different bunkers, command posts, and continuity facilities to be ready to serve a presidential successor. so, when someone like a commerce secretary or agriculture secretary would arrive in an emergency site, here she would find a white house staff and government already in waiting. including an experienced leader like don rumsfeld or dick cheney already selected an imposition as their chief of staff designate. the full records of the p.s. three program will be declassified in the years ahead. we have no idea whether there is a similar program that exists today. but this problem of how you
prepare a successor to assume the presidency, not in a theoretical sense, but in an immediate sense when minutes and hours matter is one that our government is still wrestling with today. a third generation of doomsday staffers are settling into life inside these bunkers, many of which still remain staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days later in the wake of 9/11. while new facilities have been built sense 9/11, the majority of our governments plans to preserve itself and our nation during an attack in the 21st century still rely on plans developed during an era where slide rulers existed as some of the most advanced technology available to the planners. thanks, very much. >> thank you very much.
doctor -- >> thank you, thank you to john rogin and dean for inviting me back. also, i am thrilled to follow garrett graft, who is kind enough to let me read one of his earlier manuscripts, so, i'm here today to talk about the effect of anxiety on a push for a presidential succession in the 1947 presidential succession act. so, from the nation's founding, 1947 presidential succession act, questions of presidential succession have been -- about the durability of democratic government, specifically whether it can withstand the threats posed by disruptive, unplanned changes in the nation's highest office. following the united states -- of atomic bonds from japan at the end of world war ii, -- merely by existing, already enough chain reactions in american society and
institutions, stated the bulletin of atomic scientists. the bulletin of the atomic scientists recognize that nuclear-ing that he has become a staple of american popular and political culture overnight. but also that it was difficult to quantify and response. they signed the doomsday clock in 1945 as a gauge of how close mankind is to destroying itself. with the development of the atomic bomb came a concomitant increase of presidential power and a strong desire for stability at the top echelon of the united states government at all times. the president had the zoos like power to destroy entire nations and swipe millions of lives in an instant, and so all of their powers were prevailed by comparison. in 1945, the first superficial cultural representations of hiroshima and nagasaki, such as the new atomic cocktail, made up for no engine appeared to celebrate americas victory in the pacific event. these representations of u.s. power demonstrated up the bomb once detonated was never far
from american thought. any lightheartedness on the topic soon gave way as one sociologist wrote at the time to an intrinsic paralyzing anxiety. i turned this nuclear anxiety defined here as a fear of nuclear or in its consequences. the first images of the destruction caused by the bomb or grainy photographs in life magazine in august of 1945. but the sense of foreboding was implanted in the nation psyche by john hershey's gruesome account of the human suffering, published in august 31st, 1946 issue of the new yorker. his articles were developed into a bestselling book, hiroshima, and depicted scenes too horrible to imagine. such as dressed fabric, permanently imprinted into women's bodies, and brain scan of children hanging off their faces. the destructive possibilities of this new weapon were immediately portrayed on film for a popular audience. that year, for example, the truman white house depicting the bombing of japan.
the title, at the beginning of the end, was provided by the president himself in an early interview. make your film, gentlemen, and put this message into your picture, tell the men and women of the world that they are at the beginning or the end, truman said. it was meant to suggest that the world was at a tipping point because of the harnessing of atomic energy. while in the senate, truman had formed a special committee to investigate the national defense program and served as its chair from 1941 through 1945. nd washingtasked with investigal war plans, truman had sent inspectors to find out what's the extraordinary installations in tennessee in washington were being used for. unbeknownst to all but those with the most top secret clearance, these were two of the three manhattan project locations where the atomic bomb was being developed. secretary of war, henry simpson, astronauts look into these installations, explaining that it was the greatest project in the history of the world and that many of the people who engaged in their work did not even know their own purpose. truman believing stimson to be
an american patriot took him at his word at the time and just called off the investigation. truman left the senate to become vice president on january 20th, 1945, and a few short months later, on april 12th, 1945, -- presidential succession before nuclear age took place when franklin roosevelt died in georgia of a cerebral hemorrhage. roosevelt's death shocked the nation and abruptly transformed harry truman from the relatively unknown and brand-new vice president to a wartime president. truman was on capitol hill when house speaker, sam rayburn, told him that the presidents press secretary had telephone that the vice president was wanted in the white house. chairman ran through the capitol basement, back to his office, to get his hat and then with his driver fought his way through rush hour traffic to the white house, without any secret service protection. as garrett just pointed out. when he arrived in the private quarters of the white house, first lady eleanor roosevelt informed him that the president had died. within two hours and 24 minutes of fdr's death, truman was
sworn in and shortly thereafter informed of the existence of the bomb. the nations leaders gathered in the cabinet room of the white house, including secretary of state edward -- now next in line of succession, speaker of the house, sam rayburn, and husband geordie leered, jean mccormack. in a show of support to keep figure is grinding on the wheels of democracy. after swearing in ceremony, truman asked the cabinets to remain and stimson stayed behind, informing the new president that it is a matter of the most urgency and new explosive device of unbelievable power must be discussed. on the opening day of the united nations conference, the 12th day of his presidency, truman wrote a 15-page memo drafted by stimson that briefed him on the atomic bomb. stimson purposely designed this memo to be alarmist. rather than a focus on ending the war, it contained phrases such as modern civilization might be completely destroyed because of the existence of the bomb. so, nuclear anxiety was evident within the administration.
the nuclear question of presidential succession were very much on truman's mind during the tumultuous events following the sudden succession to the presidency. truman wrote in his memoirs that he already had in mind the idea of recommending to congress a change in the order of succession in case the vice president, as well as the president, were to die in office. in june 1946, the u.s. proposed to plan to retain its nuclear monopoly while the united nations implemented a system of international control. but the soviets did not want to be prevented from developing their own atomic bomb. at an impasse, the u.s. decided to set aside his plan for international cooperation and congress passed the u.s. atomic energy act that created the u.s. atomic energy commission to control research and development of nuclear energy. the act granted the cosmic authority to order the use of the bomb solely to the president. the increase in presidential power -- heighten interest in the line of succession. in an age of missiles, the president might be forced to decide that millions -- and even if total annihilation did not occur, a nuclear attack
could suddenly destabilize the american. government and ina bility solutions that structural safeguards related to guard against that. therefore, to move more diligently towards succession solution to ensure that the line of succession was protected. in the 1947 presidential succession act was the result of these efforts. as described today, all of truman's proposals, with the exception of a special election, were cooperated in the bill passed in 1947. among those voting in favor were senator jon w mccormick of massachusetts. both of whom would play key roles to pass the 25th amendment drafted by senator birch bayh with the help of other senators. in this case, it is an immense amorphous concept that absent flows contributed to a concrete law that allowed for presidential -- beyond the 25th amendment. the development of increasingly powerful weapons and the
tensions between the superpowers well political rhetoric has contributed to anxiety. today, russia has once again brought the world to nuclear war. russian president vladimir putin has brought his country's nuclear forces to a higher state of readiness and has warranted the warning of ukraine's consequences that have never been encountered in history. the economists, in an article entitled the risk that the war in ukraine escalates passed a new color threshold, says that if he does not used to teach me weapons he may use small, tactical ones. in another recent article in the u.s. made contingency plans in case russia he is its most powerful weapons. the new york times describes a team assembled by the white house contrived of national security officials on how they will respond if putin unleashes nuclear weapons. the atomic scientists who have now set the clock at seconds to midnight suggest that leaders around the world must immediately commit themselves
to reducing the risks are assisting the leaders to do so because the doorstep of doom is no place to be. thus, with the precipice of end of times, i will turn the floor back to you. >> thank you, ambassador -- >> okay, can you hear me? i did have not had my i.t. guy here to help me today. let me talk a little bit about the white house context of presidential health and a succession act. in the white house there is a laser focus on protecting. that creates a strong bias against dealing with health issues in a transparent process
oriented manner. many positions in the white house, including the white house counsel, but also the chief of staff and staff secretary, which say that yes they have an obligation to support and defend the united states constitution, but, part of their job is to preserve the presidents political capital and reputation, and his power. that can be manifested in, i think, one of the clearest mistakes. not going to take this as a reagan alumni in the white house at the time. that is in the context of john hinckley shooting and attempted to sass nation of president reagan. they won book i would recommend is rawhide down, which is a pretty clear example of what i would call an all-star group of white house staffers, a number of whom are friends of mine, who have talked and thought a
lot of us about how to run the white house in assembling the 25th amendment. probably the most clear cut case in my lifetime, i came to washington in 1973 and i have been here ever since. so, that is one of those cases. conversely, in the white house, the media and the press corps are intentionally interested in every aspect of the presidents help. and, if you are on the white house staff you are constantly -- they president had his checkup, what can you tell me? i have been singed, personally, by the two occasions and phenomenon in 1987, before howard bacon and i went into the white house. we were briefed by a transition team, and it was a long briefing.
one of the briefers who had talked to the outgoing aides who had lost or we're about to lose their jobs, because they worked for the chief of staff, don reagan. said one of the first things you are going to have to do is to assess whether or not you should implement the 25th amendment. howard bakers a route immediate reaction was, that was nothing ronald reagan i saw the past few days. that is not the ronald reagan i negotiated with. yes, i will considerate because serious people have raised it, but, i do not think that is a priority. he looked around at the two of us that were there and if either of you think otherwise, let me know. we went on about our business. a year later, jane mayer, wrote landslide. they had access to that transcription report and we had a three or four-day firestorm.
we were hiding important information from the american people, and or that we were spying on the president. two decades later bill o'reilly and kylian reagan rights the same story, same document, and again when way spent, howard i, spent more time. we spent days refuting that there was a coup, or a cover-up, or anything else, than the ten minutes we spent being briefed about the potential 25th amendment issues. so, the point i'm trying to make is the president is the third of the white house staff. it is the third rail, and that is, that probably frustrates a considered organized center of thoughtful process in some respects.
clearly a dead, clearly it did in the hinckley is asked nation attempt. on the other hand, they shared with mason materials i had not seen in years from the clinton library room. of the presidents that had been assembled by reagan and then by george h. w. bush and by clinton on how to exercise this. the white house staff knows how to do it, it is a considered process, it is a delivery process, the white house knows this intimately. and people know how to do it. the harder part is making they decision. ronald reagan, in 1987, in july was about to have a surgery in his eye. the positions that clearly he is going to have to have anastasia, it was on his face. president reagan had no qualms about transferring paper.
as it turned out he did not have to go under anastasia. but, the white house staff, i think, and the president supporters are fairly really out of it. what you are finding is that transfers of power are rare. they are highly scripted. and, they are very brief. we have all seen photos from the white house chief of staff right beside the presidents bad, waiting for the doctor to say that he is conscious, so the president will sign the papers presenting power. they won surgery i had, i am not sure that i, just as soon as i awakened, i should have been exercising serious power. on succession, i do not associate myself with the comments about the mischievous
impacts. i think that is the best way to say, of having the speaker and the president on succession. i think whether it is in the context of transfers of power we incapacity. or, with the american people i believe the it is mischevious. i worked with john mccain on his vice presidential process, the epitaph of the guy who chose sarah palin, that is with the press loves to right. some of you may know or recall, we had very serious conversations with joe lieberman about being the vice presidential nominee. he became thehe and i had a numf discussions about how, if he became the president, or the acting president, how he would be faithful to the mccain
policy. you know, would he fire all the cabinet members? that sort of thing. that just goes to show you how awkward it is when you're sitting in the white house looking at the speaker, if it's a different party, looking at the president, saying, what is gonna happen? if we have to go there. so, i think regardless of the constitutionality, although i agree with those who think it's probably not constitutional to have the speaker and the president pretend reliant succession, i do think that it's bad policy. it is mischievous. i kind of like the notion that maybe you dropped down to the bottom of the tree, because it goes to my last born, which is stability. it's fundamentally important to still have stability and leadership. i came back a year ago as ambassador to australia, when i arrived in australia in 2019,
australia head had six prime minister's in 12 years. six and it felt to me like the whole country was a bit loose in the sockets. it was, the people were very concerned, and a bit embarrassed. it is not a result of our elections, it was interparty coups, caucus room coups. but it did not serve australia well. i think in retrospect the leaders of australia were embarrassed and they adopted changes in party rules, so you can't have a coup, the prime minister turns his back or her back and they're suddenly new prime minister, a new leader in parliament who becomes the prime minister. but i do think that stability is so fundamentally important. and with that all yield back the balance of my time. >> thank you ambassador.
we have time for a couple quick questions, just so you know, there is a q&a that was asked about whether or not there should be a first or second vice president? doctor joel goldstein, who is the living authority on the vice president, he texted back in response, so i just want to probably convey that. he writes back the new york senator, kenneth keating, who proposed creating two vice presidencies during the 1964 period, one would be an executive vice president, the other legislative vice president. among those opposed to the idea was richard nixon, the general sense of the time was that the vice presidency was advancing in a positive direction toward the executive branch and getting meaningful duties and that therefore creating a second vice president would stump that positive growth. in section two of the 25th amendment was thus adopted instead. so, that's an answer to the question on the q&a. a couple quick questions, this is one for dr. mcdermott, given that you're among your many
areas of expertise, including international relations, i was curious, doctor maternity, are there are some models for dealing with succession or inability in other countries that might be useful for the u.s. to either adopt or to steer away from? >> there are other models depending on the type of regime type, whether it's a democracy or more authoritarian or totalitarian system. the challenges that many of them would not necessarily translate very well into our current bipartisan system. so, in many ways, a lot of the challenges presented today, and people will notice this throughout the discussion, it's that we have this two party system. you can imagine that if we have a system that wasn't two parties, that was nine parties, like denmark, that you have a lot more opportunity for coalition forming along different topics that can create majorities around different issues. and so, you know, one of the
challenges of the american system is that it's really deadlocked by this kind of two party system. that makes the adoption of other systems more difficult. you know, and a lot of systems that are sort of authoritarian or totalitarian them the way that succession happens is by coups, right? have a military coup where the military will come in or other leaders will engage in violence and you'll end up with a civil war, other kind of violent system of overthrow. monica is obviously have a hereditary element, but as in britain, a lot of them are honorary. they don't actually, you know, wield the power of the government the way that they did. you know, 200 years ago. i think that the systems that work for stability in other democratic systems, in scandinavia, and in western europe, again, it'll be very difficult to translate into the bipartisan system that kind of paralyzes the america, the current american system of government.
>> thank you. next on american history tv, bob real documented the stories of every presidential campaign from 1789 to 2020 in his book, quest for the presidency. he is in conversation with author at chapman university english professor, tom. i am a professor at the college. i am here today with bob real, the author of the incredible book, quest for the