A careful look at the White House website shows that the Biden Administration has failed to accurately indicate who is legally authorized to succeed to the Presidency.
The White House web site has a page on President Biden’s Cabinet, which is accessible here. After listing the cabinet positions, the white House web page contains the following language:
“President Biden’s Cabinet reflects his pledge to appoint leaders of government agencies that reflect the country they aim to serve.
In order of succession to the Presidency:”
What follows are the pictures, names and titles of Vice President Kamala Harris and Biden’s Cabinet members.
Unfortunately, the “order of succession to the Presidency” indicated by the White House website does not accurately follow the language of the U.S. Constitution or U.S. Code, Title 3, Section 19 (“Vacancy in offices of both President and Vice President; officers eligible to act”).
The White House web site listing fails to accurately reflect the relevant federal law as follows:
(1) It leaves out the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who is second in line of succession to the Presidency. See U.S.Code, Title 3, Section 19(a)(1);
(2) It leaves out the President pro tempore of the Senate, who is third in the line of succession to the Presidency. See U.S.Code, Title 3, Section 19(b);
(3) Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas are not eligible to succeed to the Presidency because they are naturalized U.S. citizens. See U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1, Clause 5; and
(4) The last eight Cabinet Members listed on the White House website (appearing after the Secretary of Homeland Security) are not eligible to succeed to the Presidency because their positions are not included as eligible successors to the Presidency under applicable federal law. See U.S.Code, Title 3, Section 19(d)(1).
Because the Secretary of State is not in the line of Presidential succession immediately after the Vice President, it is inaccurate to list the Secretary of State on the White House website in a manner that suggests otherwise. But, even if the Biden White House intended only to list Cabinet members who are eligible for succession to the Presidency, there is no excuse for its listing of: (a) two Cabinet members who are ineligible to succeed to the Presidency under the terms of the U.S. Constitution, and (b) eight other Cabinet members who are not eligible to succeed to the Presidency under the terms of U.S. Code, Title 3, Section 19.
Issuing documents (in print or online) that have been prepared in a careless manner and not checked for accuracy and completeness may not seem like a big deal, but it does not inspire confidence in the competence or professionalism of the Biden White House. Imagine the potential complications in diplomacy and international relations if a significant foreign policy document released by the White House has been prepared in a careless manner so that its inaccuracy or incompleteness results in diplomatic confusion or diplomatic insult. Imagine the potential complications if a significant domestic policy document released by the White House has been prepared in a careless manner so that its inaccuracy or incompleteness confuses or misleads the American public.
One has to wonder what other White House web pages (or official releases) contain incorrect or incomplete information of importance to the American people and foreign countries. If the Biden White House can’t get its facts straight on something as important as the Presidential succession (which is set forth explicitly in a federal statute and covered by specific language in the U.S. Constitution) then how can the American people or foreign countries have confidence that the White House is getting its facts straight on other matters?
One is left to wonder: Is it a sign of simple carelessness? A sign of a lack of competence or professionalism? A sign of casual indifference like that of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman character, whose slogan was “What, me worry?”