What happens if a President of the United States becomes incapacitated, dies, resigns, or is removed from office? The next eligible person in the Presidential Order of Succession becomes President.
Here is a list of the positions that are part of the Presidential Order of Succession, and the name of the person who currently holds those positions.
The Presidential Order of Succession
President of the United States: Donald J. Trump
Vice President of the United States: Mike Pence
Speaker of the House: Paul Ryan
- On April 11, 2018, NBC News reported that Paul Ryan said that he won’t seek re-election. He told reporters “I am announcing that this year will be my last one as a member of the House.” Paul Ryan also said he was resigning because he has achieved most of his agenda and because he “no longer wants to be viewed by his children as a ‘weekend father’”.
- Ballotpedia says that Paul Ryan’s term ends on January 3, 2019.
- The 2018 midterm election resulted in the Democratic Party having the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. This means that the next Speaker of the House will be a Democrat.
- On November 28, 2018, NPR reported that the House Democrats nominated Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to serve as the next speaker of the House. The vote was 203 voting for Pelosi, 32 opposing her, and 3 members who left their ballot blank. The full House of Representatives will formally vote on its next speaker on January 3, 2109, the first day of Congress’s next session.
- On January 3, 2019, Vox reported that Nancy Pelosi had been elected, and was sworn in as, Speaker of the House.
President pro tempore of the Senate: Orrin Hatch
- On January 2, 2018, The New York Times reported that Senator Orrin Hatch announced he would retire at the end of 2018. When he retires, the United States Senate will need to elect a new President pro tempore of the Senate.
- The 2018 midterm election resulted in the Republican Party continuing to have majority in the U.S. Senate. That means that the next President pro tempore of the Senate will be a Republican.
- On November 17, 2018, RadioIowa reported that Senator Chuck Grassley will become the Senate President Pro Tempore in January. The full Senate will formally vote on its next Senate President Pro Tempore on January 3, 2019, the first day of Congress’s next session.
- On January 25, 2019, Senator Chuck Grassley posted “Remarks on Becoming the 91st Senate President Pro Tempore” on his official website.
Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson was sworn in as the 69th Secretary of State on February 1, 2017.
- On March 13, 2018, NBC News reported that President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and appointed CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him.
- On March 13, 2018, The Guardian reported that the United States Senate confirmed Mike Pompeo on January 23, 2017, to be the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Senate must now confirm Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State before he can officially become the Secretary of State.
- On April 1, 2018, the United States Department of State announced that John J. Sullivan became Acting Secretary of State.
- On April 26, 2018, The New York Times reported that the Senate confirmed Mike Pompeo as the 70th Secretary of State. U.S. News and World Report reported that Mike Pompeo was “sworn in across the street minutes later.”
Secretary of Treasury: Steven Mnuchin was sworn in as the 77th Secretary of Treasury on June 23, 2017.
Secretary of Defense: James N. Mattis was confirmed by the United States Senate as the 26th Secretary of Defense on January 20, 2017.
- On December 20, 2018, James N. Mattis resigned. This happened a day after President Trump’s plans to withdraw troops from Syria became public. CNN has an embedded copy of James N. Mattis’s resignation letter. The most significant paragraph is this one:
- “Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.”
- On December 23, 2018, the Associated Press reported that, in a series of tweets, President Trump said that Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan would take over as acting secretary of the Department of Defense on January 1, 2019.
- On December 23, 2018, President Trump tweeted: “I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!”
- On June 18, 2019: CBS News reported that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan withdrew his name from consideration to be the permanent Secretary of Defense “after reports emerged about violent domestic incidents between family members several years ago.” Patrick Shanahan resigned as Deputy Secretary of Defense. President Trump named Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, as the new Acting Secretary of Defense.
- On July 23, 2019, CBS News reported that the U.S. Senate voted 90–8 to confirm Mark Esper as the 27th Secretary of Defense.
Attorney General: Jeff Sessions was sworn in as the 84th Attorney General of the United States on February 9, 2017.
- On November 7, 2018, The Associated Press reported: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pushed out Wednesday as the country’s chief law enforcement officer after enduring more than a year of blistering and personal attacks from President Donald Trump over his recusal from the Russia investigation.”
- The Associated Press also reported: “Sessions told the president on a one-page letter that he was submitting his resignation ‘at your request’”. The full letter is embedded into the Associated Press article.
- On November 7, 2018, President Donald Trump tweeted: “We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States. He will serve our Country well….”
- On November 7, 2018, The Hill reported that Acting Attorney General of the United States, Matthew G. Whitaker, “plans to take over oversight of special council Robert Muller’s investigation”.
- On February 14, 2019: NBC News reported that the Senate voted to approve William Barr as the next attorney general and successor to Jeff Sessions. The United States Department of Justice website says that U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to William Barr on February 14, 2019. William Barr is the 85th Attorney General of the United States.
Secretary of the Interior: Ryan Zinke was sworn in as the 52nd Secretary of the Interior on March 1, 2017.
- On December 15, 2018, President Donald Trump tweeted “Secretary of the Interior @RyanZinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years. Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation…..”
- That tweet was followed by a second tweet: “…..The Trump Administration will be announcing the new Secretary of the Interior next week.”
- Bloomberg reported that Ryan Zinke will leave the Trump Administration at the end of the year “amid a swirl of federal investigations into his travel, political activity, and potential conflicts of interest.” The Democrats will be in control of the House of Representatives in January of 2019, and are likely to question Ryan Zinke over his conduct.
- Bloomberg reported that the Interior Department’s inspector general initiated at least seven investigations directly targeting Ryan Zinke. A separate independent federal investigative agency has opened as many as six inquiries into allegations Ryan Zinke engaged in improper political activity. The most serious allegation involves a land deal in Ryan Zinke’s hometown between a charitable foundation he created and a property development group backed by David J. Lesar, chairman of oilfield services provider Halliburton Co.
- Bloomberg reported that Zinke’s likely successor will be acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
- On February 4, 2019, The Hill reported that President Trump nominated Acting Secretary David Bernhardt as Secretary of the Interior.
- On April 11, 2019, the U.S. Senate confirmed David Bernhardt as Secretary of the Department of the Interior. He took office that same day.
Secretary of Agriculture: Sonny Perdue was sworn in as the 31st Secretary of Agriculture on April 25, 2017.
Secretary of Commerce: Wilbur Ross was sworn in as the 39th Secretary of Commerce on February 28, 2017.
Secretary of Labor: Alexander Acosta was sworn in as the 27th Secretary of Labor on April 28, 2017.
- On July 12, 2019, The Guardian reported that Alexander Acosta had resigned, “following criticism of his handling of a 2008 plea deal with the disgraced financier Jeffery Epstein, who is awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking underage girls.” Alex Acosta said his resignation would be effective in seven days.
- On July 12, 2019, President Trump tweeted: “…Alex was a great Secretary of Labor and his service is truly appreciated. He will be replaced on an acting basis by Pat Pizzella, the current Deputy Secretary.
- On July 20, 2019, Patrick Pizzella became Acting Secretary of Labor. He does not hold the title of Secretary of the Department of Labor.
- On September 30, 2019, Eugene Scalia was sworn in as Secretary of Commerce and Labor. He is the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Secretary of Health and Human Services: Tom Price was sworn in as the 23rd Secretary of Health and Human Services on February 10, 2017.
- On September 29, 2017, The Hill reported that President Trump accepted Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price’s resignation. The Hill reported that Tom Price resigned “after an uproar over his use of private jets for official business.” Tom Price was the first official to resign from Trump’s cabinet.
- On September 29, 2017, Bustle reported that Deputy Assistant Health Secretary Don J. Wright became Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services. This change became effective on September 29, 2017, at 11:59. p.m.
- On October 6, 2017, Eric D. Hargan was sworn into office as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
- On January 29, 2018, Alex M. Azar was sworn in as the 24th Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Ben Carson was sworn in as the 17th Secretary of Housing and Urban Development on March 2, 2017.
Secretary of Transportation: Elaine Chao was sworn in as the 18th Secretary of Transportation on January 31, 2017.
- Elaine Chao is a resident of Jefferson County, Kentucky. Elaine Chao married Senator Mitch McConnell in 1993. She was born in Taiwan. FactCheck.org reported that people who are in the Presidential Order of Succession must be a natural born citizen. Elaine Chao is not eligible to become President of the United States.
Secretary of Energy: Rick Perry was confirmed as the 14th Secretary of Energy on March 2, 2017.
- On October 17, 2019, ABC News reported that Rick Perry informed President Donald Trump that he plans to resign (according to two senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter). A day of departure has not yet been determined. ABC News also reported: “His resignation comes amid questions about his role in a White House effort to pressure Ukraine into launching an investigation that some conservatives thought would help President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.”
- On October 18, 2019, CBS News reported that President Trump nominated Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette to be the new Secretary of Energy. At the time of his nomination, Dan Brouillette was the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy.
- On November 19, 2019, Houston Chronicle reported that Rick Perry’s last day is expected to be December 1, 2019.
- On November 21, 2019, ABC News reported that the U.S. Senate voted 74–18 to advance the nomination of Dan Brouilette as energy secretary. He will face a final confirmation vote on the Senate floor in December of 2019.
- December 2, 2019, TIME reported that the Senate voted 70-15 to confirm Dan Brouilette as U.S. Secretary of Energy.
Secretary of Education: Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the 11th Secretary of Education on February 7, 2017.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs: David J.Shulkin was sworn in as the 9th Secretary of Veterans Affairs on February 14, 2017.
- On March 28, 2018, The New York Times reported that President Trump dismissed David J. Shulkin and announced that he would replace him with White House physician Dr. Ronny L. Jackson. The Senate must now confirm Dr. Ronny L. Jackson as Secretary of Veterans Affairs before he can officially become the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
- On March 28, 2018, President Trump named Robert Wilkie as the Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
- On April 26, 2018, NPR reported that Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, “has withdrawn from consideration for the post amid allegations he had fostered a hostile work environment and behaved improperly while serving as the top doctor leading the White House medical unit.”
- On May 18, 2018, NPR reported that President Trump announced that he would nominate Robert Wilkie as Secretary of the Veterans Administration. The Senate must confirm Robert Wilke before he can take that position. Currently, Robert Wilke is the undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
- May 18, 2018, Ballotpedia reported that the U.S. Senate confirmed Robert Wilkie’s appointment as Secretary of Veterans Affairs by a vote of 86 to 9.
- July 30, 2018, ABC News reported that Vice President Mike Pence swore in Robert Wilkie as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Robert Wilkie is the 10th Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Secretary of Homeland Security: John F. Kelly was sworn in as the 5th Secretary of Homeland Security on January 20, 2017.
- On July 28, 2017, The Washington Post reported that President Trump ousted White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and replaced him with Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly.
- On July 31, 2017, Elaine C. Duke became the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security. Prior to her appointment, she was the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.
- On December 6, 2017, Kirstjen M. Neilsen was sworn in as the 6th Secretary of Homeland Security.
- On April 7, 2019, CBS News reported that Kirstjen M. Neilsen “abruptly resigned Sunday, as the president continues to fume over continued illegal border crossings.”
- On April 7, 2019, President Trump tweeted: “Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position, and I would like to thank her for her service…”
- On April 7, 2019, President Trump followed that tweet with a second tweet: “…I am pleased to announce that Kevin McAleenan, the current U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, will become Acting Secretary for @DHSgov. I have confidence that Kevin will do a great job!”
- On April 8, 2019, Kevin K. McAleean was designated as the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security by President Donald Trump. Kevin K. McAleean does not hold the title of Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
- On October 11, 2019, Kevin K. McAleean, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security resigned. He submitted his resignation to the White House.
- On November 13, 2019, The Hill (on MSN.com) reported that the U.S. Senate voted 54–41 to confirm Chad Wolf to be the Department of Homeland Security’s under secretary. Chad Wolf had been filling the roll in an acting capacity. The Senate confirmation allows for President Trump to name Chad Wolf to be the acting Department of Homeland Security secretary.
This blog was originally posted on Medium on April 1, 2018. It was periodically updated whenever a new change was made.
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