United States presidential line of succession in fiction

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The somewhat elaborate rules and laws governing succession to the Presidency have long provided fodder for creators of fiction. Several novels, films, and television series have speculated regarding the United States presidential line of succession and in what ways it would be implemented in unusual circumstances. The following are some examples of fictional portrayals of United States presidential succession:

Books[edit]

  • Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank (1959): A global nuclear war eliminates the line of succession down to the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Josephine Vanbruuker-Brown, who identifies herself as being the most junior official in the line of succession.
  • American Empire: The Center Cannot Hold by Harry Turtledove (2002) (part of the lengthy Timeline-191 series of alternate history novels): In the 1932 Presidential election, Calvin Coolidge defeats incumbent President Hosea Blackford. One month before Coolidge is to be sworn in, he dies of coronary thrombosis while in Washington to meet with his Cabinet selections. Under the 20th Amendment, Vice-President-elect Herbert Hoover is sworn in to serve Coolidge's term.
  • Arc Light by Eric L. Harry (1994), features the 25th Amendment in the context of a limited nuclear war. President Walter Livingston is impeached for warning China that the Russians were preparing to attack them, which resulted in a Russian nuclear strike on the United States. His hawkish Vice President Paul Costanzo is then sworn in by Congress.
  • Debt of Honor/Executive Orders by Tom Clancy (1994/1996): After Vice President Ed Kealty resigns following a sex scandal, National Security Advisor Jack Ryan is appointed to fill the position for the remainder of the term. Before he is sworn in, however, a vengeful Japanese airline pilot crashes his fuel-laden Boeing 747 into the Capitol. Almost everyone inside is killed, including the President. Ryan, who barely escapes, is sworn in as the new President.
  • Deep Six by Clive Cussler (1984): After the presidential yacht, the Eagle, goes missing with the President, Vice President Vincent Margolin, Speaker of the House Alan Moran and President of the Senate pro tempore Marcus Larimer on board, Secretary of State (and now Acting President) Douglas Oates orders a cover-up, with actors playing the President and Vice President while Oates executed executive powers.
  • Directive 51 by John Barnes (2008): The book focuses on the office of the National Continuity Coordinator as he tries to restore the presidency. The book covers several potential scenarios through the presidency of four different men in a period of less than a year.
  • Down to a Sunless Sea by David Graham (1979): It is reported to Air Britain pilot Jonah Scott, by his superior, that the Acting President, James McCracken, from an undisclosed location but presumably a bunker, has reported that the United States has suffered a nuclear attack and that the USSR and China were "paying the price for their crimes against humanity." Presumably the first African-American President, Booker T. Langford, was killed or rendered incapable of executing the office.
  • Empire by Orson Scott Card (2006), features the assassinations of the President and Vice President and the subsequent ascension of the Speaker of the House. The assassinations result in a civil war, eventually revealed to be instigated by the National Security Advisor, who is himself subsequently elected President.
  • The Fourth K by Mario Puzo (1990), features Congress trying to remove President Francis Xavier Kennedy (a fictional nephew of John F. Kennedy) from office, using the 25th Amendment, claiming that he is mentally unfit to serve following the assassination of his daughter.
  • Full Disclosure by William Safire (1978): The President is blinded by an assassination attempt while at a summit meeting in the Soviet Union, and an ambitious Secretary of the Treasury attempts to use the 25th Amendment to unseat him. In time, several members of his Cabinet come to believe that his blindness renders him unable to discharge the duties of his office, and they vote to replace him with the Vice President under the terms of the 25th Amendment. The President survives this vote but realizes that his political effectiveness is virtually at an end. He prevails upon the weak-willed Vice President to resign, and then promptly resigns himself, elevating the Speaker of the House to the Presidency.
  • The General's President by John Dalmas (1990): As the result of catastrophic economic disaster brought on by a global oil crisis, the President commits suicide. Congress abdicates responsibility and grants unrestricted emergency powers to the office of the President. The Vice President assumes the Presidency but quickly begins to crack under the strain, and asks his closest friend, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to accept the Vice Presidency, after which the President will immediately resign.
  • Give Me Liberty a graphic novel by Frank Miller (1990): An alternate history in which America is led through a time of economic depression and civil uprisings by President Erwin Rexall, who is elected in the year 1996. By the year 2009, just as his fourth term is beginning (he has been effective in repealing the 22nd Amendment), the White House is destroyed, President Rexall is incapacitated, and Vice President Cargo, along with all but one member of the Cabinet, is killed. The Secretary of Agriculture, Howard Nissen, assumes the presidency.
  • Interface by Neal Stephenson and George Jewsbury (1994). The President-Elect gets shot at his inauguration by a psychotic former factory worker who has somehow figured out the plans of The Network (an underground business coalition) which has conspired to get him elected. Eleanor Richmond, his running mate, ends up as the first black and first female President of the United States.
  • Line of Succession by Brian Garfield (1972): During the period between the election and Inauguration Day, the President-elect and the Vice President-elect are both killed by terrorists, along with the Speaker of the House. The President pro tempore of the Senate is totally unsuitable for the Presidency. The incumbent President, defeated for re-election in November, wants to use the situation to stay in office.
  • The Man by Irving Wallace (1964): The Vice President has died of a heart attack, and the office is vacant (the 25th Amendment had not yet been written). The President and the Speaker of the House both die as the result of the accidental collapse of a building, and the President pro tempore of the Senate, an African-American, becomes President. (In the conditions prevailing at the time of writing - with the right of African-Americans to civil equality still hotly disputed in the South - Wallace assumed that it was impossible for one of them to achieve the presidency by direct election, and that the only way it could happen would be by an unlikely accident).
  • The Negotiator by Frederick Forsyth: The President's only child is abducted and murdered. The President's grief, compounded by not knowing who committed the crime or why, causes him to lose focus on his duties and even to contemplate suicide. The Vice President and other Cabinet members consider declaring the President incapable; the abduction/murder is revealed (to the reader and to a few of the characters) as a conspiracy with exactly that objective.
  • The People's Choice: A Cautionary Tale by Jeff Greenfield (1996): A conservative Republican president-elect dies in an accident only a few days after the general election, and therefore before the Electoral College has met.
  • The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (2004): In this alternate history, Charles Lindbergh is nominated by the Republican Party in 1940 and defeats Roosevelt on an isolationist platform. When he disappears in The Spirit of St. Louis after a campaign stop, Vice President Burton Wheeler seizes power and initiates an antisemitic witch-hunt.
  • The President's Plane is Missing by Robert Serling (1967): Air Force One crashes in a storm and the body of President Haynes cannot be found. Meantime, a growing crisis between the U.S. and the People's Republic of China threatens to lead to war and Vice-President Madigan pressures the cabinet to declare him Acting President under the terms of the 25th Amendment so he can launch a pre-emptive strike.
  • Promises to Keep by George Bernau: An alternate history in which President John T. Cassidy (representing John F. Kennedy) survives the assassination attempt in Dallas, but is wounded in the head. The book deals with the political implications of an ambitious Vice President (Rance Gardner, representing Lyndon B. Johnson) who becomes Acting President thanks to a presidential letter signed by Cassidy that resembles the as-yet-unratified 25th Amendment.
  • Settling Accounts: Return Engagement by Harry Turtledove (2004) (another Timeline-191 novel): In this alternate history, President Al Smith is killed when the presidential residence in Philadelphia, the Powel House, is destroyed in a Confederate air raid in 1942. Vice President Charles W. La Follette is then sworn in as President.
  • Thirty-Four East by Alfred Coppel (1974): The Vice President is kidnapped by Arab terrorists during a visit to the Middle East; at the same time, the President is killed in the accidental crash of Air Force One. With the Vice President incapacitated, the Speaker of the House, a weak man manipulated by the ambitious Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, becomes Acting President.
  • Trinity's Child by William Prochnau (1983): A massive nuclear attack on the United States wipes out Washington and half of the Cabinet. The Secretary of the Interior assumes the Presidency and continues to fight World War III. The real President is found to still be living; however, the Secretary of the Interior refuses to relinquish his new office.
  • Warday by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka (1984): The 25th Amendment is incidentally referenced as part of a larger post-apocalyptic narrative. Following a nuclear war, much of the United States is destroyed, including Washington. The Deputy Secretary of the Treasury is eventually found, and deemed to be the highest-ranking politician to survive the war. He is installed as President, but insists that he is merely a caretaker and refuses to use the full title of the office.
  • Worldwar: Upsetting the Balance/Worldwar: Striking the Balance by Harry Turtledove (1996/1997): During the interplanetary war between The Race and the formerly warring powers of World War II, Seattle is destroyed in 1943 by the Race in retaliation for the U.S. destruction of a Conquest Fleet division in Chicago. The strike on Seattle kills Vice President Henry Wallace, who was visiting the city at the time. In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dies of unspecified causes. With the Vice Presidency vacant, Secretary of State Cordell Hull assumes the Presidency after Roosevelt's death, as he is the holder of the next-highest post.
  • Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra (2003–2008): In this comic book series published by Vertigo, every male mammal on Earth but two simultaneously die of a mysterious plague. As a result, the highest ranking woman, Secretary of Agriculture Margaret Valentine succeeds to the presidency. Valentine protests, saying the Secretary of the Interior outranks her, but her new security escort informs her that the latter was killed in one of the many plane crashes.
  • The Prodigal Daughter by Jeffrey Archer. Florentyna Kane first serves in Congress then the Senate. Midway through the book, she runs for President but ends up becoming Vice-President to President Parker. As Vice-President, she assumes command of the military in President Parker's absence, as indeed the law states that when the President is indisposed all power is vested in the Vice-President, when an invasion is launched against the United States and orders the military to intercept the invaders who turn back. Following a heated argument with President Parker, she decides not to run for a second time as Vice-President. While playing golf with her future husband Edward, she decides to wait until the helicopters have passed overhead. Instead, the helicopters land and Florentyna is informed that the President is dead from a heart attack. At her own home, she is sworn in as President of the United States. Her Presidency continues in a rewrite of the Archer book Shall We Tell the President?

Films[edit]

  • 2012 (2009), a science fiction apocalyptic disaster film based loosely on the 2012 phenomenon. In the movie, President Wilson (played by Danny Glover) remains in Washington D.C. and is killed by a giant tsunami that sends the USS John F. Kennedy crashing into the White House. With the Vice President dead and the Speaker of the House missing, and with others in the line of succession unaccounted for, White House Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (played by Oliver Platt) appoints himself Acting President.
  • Advise and Consent (1962), an adaptation of Allen Drury's best-selling novel. A gravely-ill President (Franchot Tone) attempts to install a controversial nominee for Secretary of State, despite reservations by leading members of his own party in the U.S. Senate. The President knows he is likely to die in office and presses his good friend, Sen. Munson, to steer Leffingwell's nomination through the Senate: I'm going fast... I haven't any time to run a school for presidents. The President dies in office and his Vice President, Harley Hudson, succeeds him.
  • Air Force One (1997), action movie starring Harrison Ford. After Air Force One has been captured by Kazakh terrorists, with U.S. President Jim Marshall (Harrison Ford) on board, the Secretary of Defense claims that he's in charge based on the National Security Act of 1947, against the disagreement of the Attorney General who argues that the President is incapable of discharging the office, "just as if he had had a stroke". Since the President is being held by terrorists and forced into using his authority to release a terrorist leader, the majority of the Cabinet endorses the Attorney General's position and assumes the Vice President possesses acting authority, while also beginning the invocation of Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, signing a letter to that effect, whereby Vice President Bennett (Glenn Close) would assume command. The Vice President, uncertain of the President's situation and unwilling to be seen as making a grab for power, refuses to finalize the President's removal from power. President Marshall kills the head terrorist and is rescued from the crippled Air Force One, the last person to leave the plane alive.
  • By Dawn's Early Light (1990), adaptation of William Prochnau's novel Trinity's Child (see above), starring Powers Boothe, Rebecca De Mornay, and James Earl Jones. The President, played by Martin Landau, is presumed dead after a nuclear missile hits Washington; others are missing, and the next available member of the chain of succession is Secretary of the Interior played by Darren McGavin.
  • Dave (1993), starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver: When a stroke causes President Mitchell to fall into a coma, the White House Chief of Staff (Frank Langella) sees a way to seize power by replacing the President with a look-alike named Dave, whom he expects to manipulate as a patsy. Once the doppelganger realizes what is happening, he thwarts the Chief of Staff's political intentions and then arranges to switch back with the real President (who is still in a coma), by feigning a stroke himself. The true President succumbs to the stroke, and, after serving as Acting President for five months, the Vice President (Ben Kingsley) is sworn into office.
  • The Day After Tomorrow (2004), starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal: When the world's climate goes into chaos causing freak weather all over the Northern Hemisphere, the government is evacuated. The Vice-President, Raymond Becker, while staying at a refugee camp in Mexico, is informed that President Richard Blake died as his motorcade got caught in a superstorm, along with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense, the White House Chief of Staff, other staffers and Secret Service agents. Becker subsequently becomes President.
  • Death of a President, a 2006 British mockumentary about the assassination of George W. Bush and President Dick Cheney's unprecedented expansion of Presidential powers of detention and surveillance.
  • Eagle Eye (2008), starring Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan: ARIA, The Pentagon's Super-computer, attempts to assassinate the president, vice president, and the entire line of succession (except for the Secretary of Defense, who ARIA plans to become president) to "fix" the executive branch.
  • The Enemy Within (1994), a made-for-TV version of the novel Seven Days in May by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey, starring Forest Whitaker and Jason Robards. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Vice President, and a wealthy media baron attempt to use the 25th Amendment as justification for a coup to unseat a President. The dovish, somewhat weak President's authority is challenged by the hawkish, politically-popular Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. To obtain power, the Chairman plans to have the President (played by Sam Waterston) declared incompetent by the Cabinet and replaced by the Vice President, who would then be a "puppet" to the Chairman. (This implementation of the planned coup d'etat differs sharply from that of the original novel.)
  • The Man (1972), a theatrical film adaptation of the Irving Wallace book (see above). Screenplay by Rod Serling, starring James Earl Jones, Martin Balsam and Burgess Meredith. In the movie, the Vice President is still alive but elderly and infirm; he declines to assume the Presidency upon the death of the President. The Presidency thus passes to the black President pro tem of the Senate.
  • Mars Attacks! (1996), a sci-fi comedy in which the President and his wife, along with millions of others, likely including the entire line of succession, are killed in an alien invasion. At the end of the film, the President's daughter is seen serving as acting President.
  • Murder at 1600 (1997), starring Wesley Snipes. Senior administration officials and military leaders attempt to engineer the resignation of the President. This would allow the elevation of the Vice President, who would then take military action to rescue hostages held by North Korea, action the sitting President is unwilling to take.
  • My Fellow Americans (1996), starring Jack Lemmon and James Garner. The President is forced to resign, in a plan orchestrated by the scheming Vice President. Eventually his scheme is revealed and he is impeached, making the House Speaker President. The film also showed an example of former Presidents who once again campaign for office.
  • Olympus Has Fallen (2013), starring Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart. During a meeting with the South Korean Prime Minister at the White House, a North Korean terrorist cell launches an aerial attack on Washington D.C. which forces President Benjamin Asher, his national security staff and the South Korean delegation to be evacuated to the White House bunker. However, North Korean terrorists have infiltrated the Prime Minister's delegation and take everyone in the bunker including Asher & Vice President Charlie Rodriguez hostage. Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) becomes Acting President. Vice President Rodriguez is executed while in the bunker, but President Asher is recovered safely and reassumes office.
  • White House Down (2013), starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx. Domestic terrorists take President Sawyer hostage inside the White House while Capitol Policeman Cale attempts to rescue him. Vice President Hammond is sworn in as the Acting President, but dies later in an attack on Air Force One. Speaker of the House Raphelson is then sworn in as the President, but after Sawyer is revealed to be safe and alive is arrested for masterminding the coup.
  • The President's Plane is Missing (1973), a made-for-TV adaptation of the Robert Serling novel (see above), starring Buddy Ebsen as Vice-President Madigan, who tries to assume the Presidency after Air Force One crashes and the president's body cannot be found.
  • XXX 2: State of the Union (2005), an action/adventure film, directed by Lee Tamahori. When the President adopts an internationalist policy of diplomacy towards enemies of the United States, the hawkish Secretary of Defense attempts a coup that will wipe out key members of the government during the President's State of the Union address, leaving him in charge.
  • Iron Man 3 (2013), a superhero film directed by Shane Black. A terrorist codenamed The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) conducts a bombing campaign against the United States, intending to assassinate President Ellis (William Sadler) in the final attack. This is later revealed to be a cover for Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a scientist and defense contractor, who plans to kill Ellis so that Vice President Rodriguez (Miguel Ferrer), who is under his influence, will elevate to the office of the Presidency and thus allow Killian to control the War on Terror.

Television[edit]

  • 24:
    • In season 2, a narrow majority of President David Palmer's Cabinet invokes Section 4 of the 25th Amendment and removes the President from office, installing Vice President Jim Prescott as Acting President. The President's removal, contrary to the intent of the amendment, is due to the Cabinet's belief that Palmer is making irrational decisions regarding the country's response to a terrorist attack. In reality, Palmer could have disputed the invocation of the 25th Amendment by transmitting a dissenting letter to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Palmer would then have been legally empowered to continue discharging the duties of President unless the Vice President and Cabinet renewed their petition, at which point the Vice President would act as President until Congress could vote on the issue. Even still, the President's decisions are shown to be rational within a few hours of his removal, and the Vice President and supporting Cabinet members rescind their earlier vote. Upon the first vote that removes him from power, Palmer is advised he can appeal the judgment to Congress in four days. The 25th amendment mentions a four-day period as the time limit for the Cabinet to affirm its belief the President is unfit for duty. This error may have been the result of a screenwriter's misinterpretation of the text of the amendment, or could simply be artistic license. Ironically, at the end of that day's events, President Palmer is incapacitated by a biological weapon, and James Prescott is again sworn in as Acting President (shown in 24: The Game).
    • In season 4, President John Keeler is severely injured when Air Force One is shot down by a stealth fighter. The Cabinet unanimously invokes the 25th Amendment and Vice President Charles Logan is sworn in shortly thereafter. Logan serves as President throughout season 5, by which time he has appointed a new Vice President, which implies he has fully assumed the Presidency, rather than acting as President. Keeler is never confirmed to have died on screen, although this could be inferred as the possibility of his return to power would supersede the need to confirm a new VP, and Logan, while acting as President, would technically still be the VP.
    • In the season 5 finale (first aired May 22, 2006), Logan is taken into custody by the United States Marshals Service after evidence emerges that he was party to the assassination of former President David Palmer. It is implied that Logan will either resign his office or face impeachment proceedings. Vice President Hal Gardner is assumed to become President upon Logan's impeachment.
    • In season 6, President Wayne Palmer is severely injured when a bomb in the White House Bunker goes off. Per Section 3 of the 25th Amendment, Vice President Noah Daniels becomes Acting President; the Secretary of Defense deemed the injuries that Palmer sustained too severe to hope for the president's full recovery. Later, when Daniels orders a low-scale nuclear strike on an Arab nation suspected of having terrorist ties, National Security Advisor Karen Hayes arranges for doctors to revive Palmer, who cancels the strike. In a move similar to the second season, Daniels suggests Palmer is still not fit for command, citing his cancellation of the strike as evidence. The Cabinet is convened for a hearing and votes 7-7 on the subject of Palmer's fitness. The Attorney General rightly points out that the Vice President can only invoke the 25th Amendment when a majority of the Cabinet agrees, and a tie vote does not constitute a majority. Daniels then claims that Hayes' vote should not count as she technically resigned earlier in the day, although she claims she returned and rescinded her resignation before it was officially accepted. The Supreme Court is asked to decide the issue of Hayes' status, but Daniels withdraws his objection after Chief of Staff Tom Lennox produces evidence of Daniels and his aide conspiring to manufacture evidence against Hayes. Palmer retains executive authority, then orders the attack anyway. There are 15 cabinet positions, not 14, and National Security Advisor is not among them. Therefore, Hayes would not have had a vote anyway. Also, there appear to be several military advisors in the room, likely the joint chiefs of staff, who would not have a vote either. However, Palmer later succumbs to his injuries during a live press conference, and Daniels is installed as Acting President, again.
  • Commander in Chief (2005):
    • The President, Teddy Bridges, suffers from a severe brain hemorrhage and lapses into a coma. His female Vice President, Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis), an independent, is strongly pressured by the President's senior staff and political allies to resign from office. However, she instead chooses to await the outcome of the President's condition. When the President comes out of his coma and himself urges her to resign, she respectfully declines, explaining that the voters entrusted her with the Vice Presidency, and she intends to carry out its duties fully. The President dies shortly thereafter and she assumes the office of President of the United States, becoming the first woman ever to do so.
    • Later in the season, President Allen's chosen Vice President resigns and then she requires emergency surgery. The Speaker of the House, next in line, is her political enemy, Republican House Speaker Nathan Templeton (Donald Sutherland); he chooses to resign his House position and accept the temporary acting presidency under the 25th Amendment, and uses his one day in office to take an action that Allen would never have countenanced. When she resumes office, she is angered at what she considers his irresponsibility, and more determined than ever to defeat him in the coming election. (The series was canceled before the election would have occurred.) The series erred, however, by making the explicit statement that Templeton, while resigning from the House and losing his voting privileges, would retain the title of Speaker. While the constitution does not strictly require a voting member of the House to serve as Speaker, the succession act does mandate resignation from both the House and as Speaker.
  • Jericho: nuclear bombs have destroyed many major cities in the United States including Washington DC. In the episode "Black Jack," it is revealed that six people have laid claim to the Presidency, each with a base in a "new capital city" unaffected by the attacks. These cities, as seen on a map and in newspaper articles, are Rome, New York; Montgomery, Alabama; Columbus, Ohio; San Antonio, Texas; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Sacramento, California. It is mentioned that fictional Secretary of Health and Human Services Charles would be next in line, suggesting that all those above him or her on the list are dead or incapacitated. However, "five other guys believe that the attacks have changed the rules," including fictional Senators Morrissette (OR), Tomarchio (WY), and Snowden (AL).
  • Political Animals: In the final episode of this 2012 miniseries, Air Force One crashes while on a trip to France. While rescue/recovery operations are underway, Vice-President Collier prepares to take the oath of office. Secretary of State Barrish suggests that he instead invoke the 25th Amendment to become Acting President, to avoid a possible constitutional crises in the unlikely event President Garcetti is found alive. Collier agrees.
  • Seven Days: In the pilot, the President and Vice President are both killed in a terrorist attack on the White House. On his way to be sworn in as President, the Speaker of the House is also killed. Using time-travel technology, the hero is able to go back in time one week and prevent the attack.
  • Scandal:
    • In Season 1, President Fitzgerald Grant is revealed to have had an affair with a White House intern named Amanda Tanner during the first year of his Presidency. Tanner is a naive and politically idealistic young woman who formerly served on the primary campaign of Grant's rival, Senator Sally Langston (who subsequently became Grant's Vice President). The White House becomes worried when Tanner threatens to go public with her story, which would bring down Grant's Presidency. Not long after, Tanner is found murdered (on the orders of the President's Chief of Staff) and her death becomes a public news story. Journalist Gideon Wallace looks into the story and works out that Amanda Tanner was being manipulated by a lover with White House access. He works out that Billy Chambers, the Vice President's Chief of Staff, had been manipulating Tanner into sleeping with the President and had been gathering evidence to force Grant's resignation. Thus, Vice President Langston would become President which is Chambers' ultimate goal, though Langston had no knowledge of the plot. Chambers kills Wallace in panic and goes public with his evidence of Grant's affair. His plot fails however after he is discredited by both the White House, Pope & Associates and Langston herself after being blackmailed by President Grant.
    • In Season 2, President Fitzgerald Grant is shot twice while arriving at his 50th birthday gala event with his Press Secretary being killed and a Secret Service agent wounded as well by other bullets. Due to his wounds being in the head and chest, Grant is rushed into emergency surgery and placed into a coma. Vice President Sally Langston, arrives at the White House and makes a public statement saying she is in charge despite not invoking the 25th Amendment. In a confrontation, Langston is put down by White House Chief of Staff Cyrus Beene and placed into a bunker. While within the bunker, Langston gathers the signatures of the Cabinet under Section 4 of the 25th Amendment and assumes the position of Acting President. She is Acting President for under two weeks while Grant recovers. During the period, Langston makes several decisions contrary to the wishes of First Lady Mellie Grant and Beene with Mellie Grant forging a letter from President Grant asking for reinstatement. Langston works out the ruse and threatens to expose the forgery in order to contest Grant's fitness and claim the Presidency for herself. However, President Grant does wake from his coma and re assumes the office despite some health worries.
    • Towards the end of Season 2, former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Billy Chambers has been operating as a mole (through former security clearance from his old position) with the codename 'Albatross'. He had been breaching US intelligence and leaking it to foreign enemies of the US in order to embarrass the Grant administration. In addition, Chambers discovers that a group of Grant's advisors and financial supporters, without Grant's knowledge, had conspired to rig electoral voting machines in order to secure victory for Grant over Democratic nominee, Maryland Governor Samuel Reston in a hotly contested presidential election. Chambers gives this information to Reston, who uses it to blackmail President Grant to drop Vice President Sally Langston from his election ticket and give the Vice Presidential nomination to Reston as part of a national unity ticket. Reston's ultimate goal would then be to use the information about election rigging to force Grant to resign or leak it to the press and allow Grant to be impeached once he'd been sworn in as Vice President, thus allowing him to succeed under the terms of the 25th Amendment. However Reston's plan is foiled and does not come to fruition.
  • The West Wing
    • In the episode He Shall, from Time to Time..., Josh is instructed to "pick a guy" (referring to the designated survivor.) Ultimately, Secretary of Agriculture Roger Tribbey is chosen; the episode closing with the President briefing him on damage control, and leaving him in the Oval Office as he leaves for the Capitol to deliver the State of the Union Address.
    • In the first episode of the second season, entitled "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Part I" President Josiah Bartlet is incapacitated after being shot during an assassination attempt. While the Vice President believes he should act as President, Chief of Staff Leo McGarry argues that without a letter from Bartlet stating the incapacity, no one has the right to claim authority. The Cabinet does not invoke the 25th Amendment and the President recovers soon enough to prevent a constitutional crisis, though reporters pursue these constitutional problems after the event. While in reality, the Vice President could assume the duties of the President without the President himself having to act, this provision does not exist in the fictional world.
    • In the closing episodes of the fourth season, the President's daughter is kidnapped. Feeling that he is incapable of acting impartially or in the national interest, and wishing to diminish the kidnappers' leverage, President Bartlet invokes the 25th Amendment to temporarily relinquish the powers of the office. The Vice Presidency is vacant due to a recent scandal, so powers are transferred to the Speaker of the House, a conservative Republican and the ideological polar opposite of the President. There is further controversy as Acting President Walken threatens to select a new Vice President himself, when it is not clear if he has the authority to do so. The Constitutional crisis is averted when Bartlet resumes the powers of the Presidency by notifying the Congressional leaders as provided in the 25th Amendment. The Vice Presidency is later filled under the 25th Amendment by Bob Russell.
    • In the last season of The West Wing, Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Leo McGarry dies on Election Day, and it is revealed in the final episode that President Santos intends to nominate his choice to replace him in the Vice Presidency under the 25th Amendment (thereby gaining the ratification of Congress) rather than appeal to the Electoral College to elect his new choice in place of McGarry.
  • The Doctor Who episode The Sound of Drums features a "President-Elect" acting in a governing capacity, although in real life this does not occur. The President-Elect is subsequently killed and no successor is immediately identified; however, an episode set about a year later, The End of Time, reveals that (in this fictional context), his successor is Barack Obama.
  • In addition to the above, the US Presidential succession protocols are referenced in a science fiction context in the 2004 series Battlestar Galactica in which the Secretary of Education of a multi-planet society, Laura Roslin succeeds to the presidency when a Cylon nuclear attack kills everyone in the line of succession above her.
  • In the US version of House of Cards, U.S. Representative Francis Underwood sponsors the candidacy of another Representative, Peter Russo, for Governor of Pennsylvania, then intentionally destroys his candidacy. He then urges the Vice President of the United States, who was the Governor of Pennsylvania before he ran for Vice President, and who is becoming increasingly disenchanted with his new job, to resign as Vice President and run to retake his old position—Underwood's plan being that he will then angle to be appointed Vice President under the terms of the 25th Amendment. He succeeds, then begins systematically undermining the President, causing the latter's effectiveness and popularity to plummet to the point where he resigns, allowing Underwood to assume the Presidency at the end of the series' second season.

Video games[edit]

  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty: U.S. President George Sears resigns his presidency after the existence of Metal Gear REX and the GENOME Army is revealed to the general public after the Shadow Moses Incident. His Vice-President James Johnson succeeds him after a faux-election orchestrated by a secret organization.
  • Hitman: Blood Money: To achieve a cloning ban, a secret society named Alpha Zerox attempts to assassinate President Tom Steward for Vice President Daniel Morris (in their employ) to replace him. Alpha Zerox also successfully kills the original Vice President, Spaulding Burke, for Daniel Morris to be selected by congress as Vice President. When they believe a member of Steward's cabinet, Jimmy Mickley, may get the position, they attempt to assassinate him but fail.
  • Shattered Union: After a low-grade nuclear warhead obliterates Washington, D.C. during a presidential reelection inaugural ball, the President and the majority of Congress are killed, and the entire presidential line of succession is wiped out. This results in multiple state governors declaring home rule and regions of the United States becoming sovereign nations, one being the return of the Confederated States of America.
  • Mass Effect 2: In 2184, President Christopher Huerta of the United North American States (created by the merger of the United States, Canada, and Mexico) suffers a severe stroke that renders him legally dead for 90 minutes; his mental functions were transferred to a computer system to keep them viable while his body is saved, then subsequently returned. Speaker of the House Lisa Ford files a lawsuit against Huerta the following year, arguing that his time in office after his stroke was illegitimate because he had been declared legally dead, and that the Vice President should have succeeded him to office. Expert testimony presented by Ford's side claimed that Huerta no longer existed and the computer system operating his memory was only presenting an interactive simulation of a thinking person. Huerta's side countered that he did not become a different person after being resuscitated and his life was only extended beyond what was thought possible at the time. The case is decided 5-4 in favor of Huerta and the legitimacy of his term is affirmed; this is met with widespread protests in Washington, Ottawa, and Mexico City by UNAS citizens against what they call a "zombie" president.
  • Resident Evil 6: As a result of a larger bioterrorist plot masterminded by National Security Advisor Derek Simmons, President Adam Benford is transformed into a zombie and subsequently shot and killed by a member of his own Secret Service detail, Leon S. Kennedy. While not explicitly shown, it can be assumed that Benford's Vice President later assumed the office.

Short stories[edit]

In "Day of Succession" by Theodore L. Thomas, aliens from outer space are attacking, and Gen. Tredway has a plan for saving the country but requires the President's authorization. As he's talking with the President, Vice President, and Speaker, only the Speaker agrees with his idea. The story ends with the general assassinating the President and Vice President and addressing the Speaker as "Mr. President."

See also[edit]

References[edit]