United States presidential line of succession in fiction
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The United States presidential line of succession and the United States laws governing succession to the presidency have, on many occasions, been incorporated into the storyline by creators of fiction. Several novels, films, and television series have examined the presidential line of succession, and speculated on how it might be implemented in unusual circumstances. The following are some examples of fictional portrayals of United States presidential succession:
- Advise and Consent by Allen Drury (1959): After a heated and unsuccessful political battle over a controversial nominee for Secretary of State, the President dies of a heart attack, and his Vice President, Harley Hudson, succeeds him. Drury wrote five subsequent Advise and Consent sequel novels. In the third sequel, Preserve and Protect (1968), President Hudson is killed in a mysterious plane crash, elevating the Speaker of the House to the presidency. Advise and Consent was also made into a film in 1962 (see below).
- 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 Southern Victory and American Empire Series of alternate history novels): In the 1932 Presidential election, Democratic candidate Calvin Coolidge defeats Socialist incumbent President Hosea Blackford in a landslide. However, less than a month before Coolidge is to be sworn in, he dies of a heart attack while in Washington, D.C. to meet with his Cabinet selections on January 5, 1933. 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.
- The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy (1991): After a nuclear device explodes in Denver, President Robert Fowler—believing that the current Ayatollah is behind it—orders a nuclear strike on Qom, Iran in retaliation. Because of a terrible snowstorm, only Jack Ryan is available to confirm his order under the two-man rule. Ryan declares the order to be invalid, stopping the attack. Fowler suffers a nervous breakdown and is forced from office under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment and is replaced by Vice President Roger Durling.
- 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 President Roger Durling. 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 14th Colony by Steve Berry (2016) (Cotton Malone Series #11), investigates what happens if both the president and Vice President–elect die before taking the oath of office? Cotton Malone must race against the clock to stop an ex-KGB officer from exacting revenge and destroying America.
- 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.
- Night of Camp David by Fletcher Knebel (1965): Popular incumbent President Mark Hollenbach feels betrayed by his corrupt vice president and seeks a new running mate for his re-election, deciding on freshman Senator Jim MacVeagh -- but when he confers with the President alone at the Camp David presidential retreat, MacVeagh becomes alarmed when Hollenbach denounces enemies whom he says are conspiring against him and lays out his secret, and radical plans for the nation during his second term, including giving himself sweeping powers to wiretap those real or imagined enemies and forming a political union between the United States, Canada and Scandinavia. Certain the President has become unhinged, MacVeagh tries to convince other political leaders that Hollenbach is crazy and must be removed from office (this was before the passage of the 25th Amendment) - but their options for dealing with a dangerously delusional and paranoid President are limited.
- 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 Southern Victory Series novel): In this alternate history, President Al Smith is killed when his bomb shelter below the presidential residence in Philadelphia, the Powel House, is destroyed in a Confederate air raid during the Second Great War in 1942. Vice President Charles W. La Follette is then sworn in as President.
- Resurrection Day by Brendan DuBois (1999): When the Cuban Missile Crisis erupts into a full scale nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, several U.S. cities are destroyed - among them, Washington, D.C., which results in the deaths of President Kennedy and his family, Vice President Johnson, most of the Senate and Congress, and most members of the Kennedy administration. Clarence Dillon, the Secretary of the Treasury is eventually found to have survived the war and becomes the 36th President of the United States.
- 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?
- The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith (1980) (part of the North American Confederacy Series) in which the United States becomes a Libertarian state after a successful Whiskey Rebellion and the overthrowing and execution of George Washington by firing squad for treason in 1794, President H. L. Mencken assassinates his vice president in a duel in 1933. However, he is then killed by the vice president's mother. This results in the Continental Congress choosing Frank Chodorov as a successor.
- 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 (CV-67) 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 & Consent (1962), an adaptation of Allen Drury's best-selling novel (see above). 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 terrorists, with U.S. President Jim Marshall (Harrison Ford) on board, the Secretary of Defense claims that he's in charge (at least on military/defense matters) 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.)
- In Independence Day: Resurgence, the President and most of the Cabinet are killed in an alien attack, and officials arrive at Area 51 to swear General Joshua Adams into office.
- 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.
- 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. At that point, the Vice President and Cabinet would have had four days to renew their petition (the Vice President remaining as Acting President in the meantime) and send the issue to Congress. 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. 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. However, Palmer later succumbs to his injuries during a live press conference, and Daniels is again installed as Acting President.
- In season one of The Americans during the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, Phillip and Elizabeth prepare to take out several members of the presidential line of succession in fear of a coup led by the Secretary of State.
- 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 seat 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.)
- Designated Survivor: An explosion on the night of the State of the Union kills the President and all present members of the Cabinet. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Tom Kirkman, who was named the designated survivor, is immediately sworn in.
- 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. (Russell T Davies, the writer of The Sound of Drums has said that he thought "President-Elect" was the full title of the President and that the character was meant to be the full President of the United States.)
- Freedom: In the short-lived TV series Freedom, Air Force One is shot down, killing the President. In the opening pilot episode, due to extreme violent protests and terrorism within the US, the Vice President hands over government control to the Joint Chiefs, resulting in a military dictatorship within the US.
- 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. In season 4, Underwood is shot and temporarily incapacitated, leading to his Vice President, Donald Blythe, to become Acting President until Underwood finished healing. In Season 5, the Presidential election goes to the House of Representatives, but Frank's wife Claire Underwood is elected Vice President by the Senate before the House of Representatives can elect the President. Thus, Claire becomes Acting President in the interim until the Presidential election is resolved.
- Jericho: nuclear bombs have destroyed some 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).
- The Last Man on Earth: In this dark comedy series about a pandemic that wipes out almost all of humanity, the 2017 episode "Got Milk?" shows flashbacks of the progression of the disease, including news reports that President Mike Pence has died, followed in rapid succession by President Paul Ryan, President Rex Tillerson, President Steven Mnuchin, President Jeff Sessions, and President Betsy DeVos.
- The Last Ship: When a global pandemic wipes out 80% of the worlds population, most of the American leadership dies too. The President's death is followed a week later by his Vice President, who is succeeded by the Speaker of the House who takes charge of the remnants of the government from the White House bunker. When the bunker is somehow compromised by the virus and everyone inside is presumably killed, the only surviving cabinet member, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jeffrey Mitchener is sworn in as President of the United States in the new capital in St Louis. He had also appointed St Louis Mayor Howard Oliver as his Vice President Upon Michener's death, Oliver was sworn in as President.
- In season two premiere of Madam Secretary, Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord becomes Acting President when President Conrad Dalton and the Speaker of House are on board Air Force One when it loses all communications ability and goes off radar. As Vice President Mark Delgado was undergoing emergency gall bladder surgery under anaesthetic and President pro tempore of the Senate Theodore Gates was deemed too mentally incompetent to take the oath of office due to a series of mini strokes six months prior which left him senile, McCord is the next in line. She is Acting President for a period of a few hours whilst contact with Air Force One is established and President Dalton is able to safely land and resume office. During her brief tenure, McCord uses her power to pardon Erica Davis, a journalist controversially imprisoned for refusing to reveal her sources.
- In a fourth-season episode, when the President's behavior has become erratic, his cabinet members give him a choice: he can voluntarily remove himself through Article 3 of the 25th Amendment and submit to a medical examination, or they will invoke Article 4 to force him to do so. He chooses the former, and Vice President Teresa Hurst becomes Acting President.
- 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.
- In Season 1, Billy Chambers, chief of staff to Vice President Sally Langston, engineers an affair between President Fitzgerald Grant and a White House intern, intending to release evidence of the affair and force Grant's resignation so that Langston, who is unaware of Chambers' plot, will succeed to the office. Grant and his allies discredit Chambers, so that the evidence is not believed; Grant does not resign.
- In Season 2, President Grant is placed in a medically-induced coma after being shot. Vice President Langston and the Cabinet invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, making Langston Acting President. First Lady Mellie Grant disagrees with several of Langston's decisions, and she forges the President's written notice that he is able to resume the office. Langston detects the ruse and hopes to use it to claim the presidency, but President Grant genuinely recovers sufficiently to resume the office before Langston can take further action.
- Also in Season 2, Billy Chambers again tries to manipulate the presidential succession. Chambers obtains evidence that President Grant's supporters, without Grant's knowledge, tampered with voting machines to rig the presidential election in his favor. Chambers shares the evidence with the losing candidate, Maryland Governor Samuel Reston, who blackmails Grant into making him his "unity" running mate in his reelection campaign; Chambers plans to use the evidence to effect Grant's resignation or impeachment, resulting in Reston succeeding him. However, Grant only pretends to agree to Reston's demand; he never has to go through with it, as Chambers is again neutralized when his accomplice David Rosen instead uses the evidence for his own gain, and exposes crimes committed by Chambers.
- 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.
- In season one, Vice President Selina Meyer becomes Acting President when the unseen President is said to be experiencing chest pains. Believing that he is having a heart attack, Selina is brought to the West Wing where she discharges his presidential duties. It is later revealed, comically, that the President was suffering only heart burn, not a heart attack.
- In season three, the President faces potential impeachment proceedings after lying under oath about the presence of a spy in a group of rescued student hostages. As a result of their dire situation, and due to additional mental health issues, his wife (the First Lady) attempts suicide. Desiring to devote more time to taking care of her, he resigns, and Selina becomes President. She appoints Senator Andrew Doyle to be her Vice President.
- In season four, Selina narrowly wins her party's nomination for the Presidency, but Vice President Doyle later withdraws himself from the ticket. She selects former Senator Tom James as her running mate, but is faced with further difficulty when the general election results in a historic Electoral College tie.
- In season five, due to the Electoral College tie, the responsibility for selecting the President is placed in the hands of the House of Representatives, per the Twentieth Amendment. However, this results in another deadlock, with neither Selina nor her opponent, Senator Bill O'Brien, receiving enough votes. It is then up to the Senate to select the Vice President from among James or Senator Laura Montez, O'Brien's running mate. This also results in a 50-50 tie, which is broken by incumbent Vice President Doyle in his capacity as President of the Senate, who selects Montez in an act of revenge against Selina for rescinding her previous offer to nominate him for Secretary of State if she won. As the office of President is vacant due to the deadlock in the House, incoming Vice President Laura Montez immediately ascends to the Acting Presidency upon taking office, being sworn in as Acting President on Inauguration Day, set to serve until the House successfully elects a President; however, the Speaker of the House announced that no further vote in the House would be taking place.
- 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 known as The Patriots.
- 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 and the Republic of Texas.
- 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.
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."
- Wilkins, Alisdair. "Doctor Who: "The Sound Of Drums"/"Last Of The Time Lords"". The A.V. Club. Onion, Inc. Retrieved 8 March 2016.