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Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which provides for the Vice President to become Acting President in certain situations. Highly likely to be applied at some point in a drama in which the President is a major character.


Section 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Section 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Section 3. Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore[1] of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.


Compare Unexpected Successor.

Examples of Twenty-Fifth Amendment include:


Film

  • Section 4 is almost invoked in Air Force One. It's such a significant plot point that an AP Government teacher referred to it as "the Air Force One amendment".
    • Also, right after the hi-jacking of Air Force One the White House players do not know whether the President is dead or alive (either held by the hijackers or if he escaped by the pod). Finding an empty pod on the ground makes it no easier. They cannot assume anything, nor invoke any provisions of the 25th amendment, until there is confirmation either way. This makes the Secretary of Defense, as the statutory deputy to the President, temporarily at the apex of the chain of command of the military forces but not as Acting President.
  • The movie Dave involves Section One at the end.
  • In Eagle Eye the Big Bad plans on eliminating everyone in the line of succession, leaving the Secretary of Defense to become President.

Literature

  • This is how the Tom Clancy character Jack Ryan ends up as first vice-president, then president a few minutes later when a Joint Session of Congress suffers from a fatal dose of 747: Under Section 2 to become VP, and then Section 1.
  • A novel called Fathers Day deals with a President having a nervous breakdown and section 4 kicks in, so the Vice-President takes over. When the President recovers and returns to resume his office but the Vice-President argues that he's unfit to command. Then it comes down to who has the popular support, who does Congress want, and ultimately who will the Army obey.
  • Vince Flynn's Transfer of Power has this trope as its main theme, hence the title. The President is in a bunker below the White House, and the VP has to run the show. Being who he is, the VP wants the President dead, and so the army/CIA has to take it into their own hands.

Live Action TV

  • Appropriately given the topic of the show, The West Wing invoked this amendment a few times, most notably the fourth-season finale, "Twenty Five".
    • The plot of which was outlined almost exactly three seasons earlier when Bartlet is telling his daughter why she has to be careful when going out. It was sufficiently awesome when you realized it, and he hangs a big lampshade on it in the next episode.
  • Section 4 has been invoked in 24 on no fewer than half a dozen occasions:
    • In the second season, episode "4:00 A.M. - 5:00 A.M.", removing President David Palmer from power over his refusal to launch a reprisal against "three Middle Eastern countries" thought responsible for a nuclear attack on the US. When Palmer turns out to have been right all along, the order is rescinded -- minutes later, however, an assassination attempt leaves him comatose and the amendment is invoked again.
    • In the fourth season, episode "11:00 P.M. - 12:00 A.M.". The Vice-President continued as acting President for the remainder of the season and then became President in his own right for the fifth season. Initially, he proved to be highly ineffectual. But that ended up being because he was The Man Behind the Man. Given that the season ends with him being arrested for orchestrating an assassination, Article 1 would be invoked at some point between the fifth season and the sixth.
    • In season 6, where evil Vice President Noah Daniels tried to usurp President Wayne Palmer in order to go ahead with a nuclear strike on Abu Fayed's country. Daniels' attempt is rebuffed this time. Note that Section 4 is actually invoked three times in this season alone, the other two instances being when Daniels takes control of power due to Palmer's slipping in and out of a coma.
  • At the end of the first season, Babylon 5 invoked the Earth Alliance version of this amendment when President Santiago was assassinated by Vice-President Clark.
  • Commander-in-Chief: The pilot revolves around Speaker of the House Nathan Templeton trying to convince Vice-President Mackenzie Allen that she should resign rather than assume the Presidency after the President has a stroke, then dies.
  • The Colonial government in Battlestar Galactica Reimagined has a version of this, which kicks in to appoint Secretary of Education Laura Roslin the President of the human survivors after the 42 government officials above her are killed in a nuclear bombardment.
  • In the Made for HBO remake of Seven Days in May, The Enemy Within, the conspirators plan to use section 4 to declare the President incompetent to serve.

Theatre

  • Of Thee I Sing, which predates the amendment, uses a similar point from Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, stating that the President's "inability to discharge the powers and duties" of the Presidency results in the Vice-President assuming said duties. In this example, it is used to resolve Wintergreen's unfulfilled obligation to marry Diana by marrying her to Throttlebottom instead (it's implied that Wintergreen gets to remains President, especially since the sequel has him defeated for re-election).

Video Games

  • Hitman: Blood Money referenced this several times, initially with a subplot regarding the death of the previous vice president and the appointment of his replacement, and then again in a mission titled, appropriately enough, Amendment XXV, which revolved around Agent 47 preventing the assassination of the president by the newly-appointed vice president by, naturally enough, assassinating both the vice president and his hired assassin before the deed could be done.

Western Animation

  • In Futurama, Zoidberg's uncle Harold Zoid writes a movie script about a President whose son is the Vice President. The son, played by Calculon, does not want to become the president, but when his father dies, Zoidberg suddenly pops in and congratulates him on becoming President. Calculon delivers a Big No.

Real Life

  • In real life, this amendment has only been applied seven times since its ratification in 1967. The first three times were to make Gerald Ford the Vice-President (following Agnew's resignation), then the President (following Nixon's), then to make Nelson Rockefeller the Vice-President (since Ford had vacated the spot of VP). The other four applications were all of the "just in case" variety, made by presidents before undergoing surgery, most recently involving George W. Bush.
    • It was not, however, invoked in the immediate aftermath of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in March 1981. Alexander Haig, Secretary of State, stated that he was "in charge" until Vice-President George HW Bush got to DC, contrary to legal provision. There is some debate as to whether Haig was actually declaring himself "in charge" or merely mis-spoke and was actually inferring that he was simply the senior official present at the time of the press briefing.
    • Fun fact. This made Gerald Ford the only president never voted into office. He became president by appointment when he took the vice president role given him by Nixon.
  • It's worth noting that section 1 of the amendment merely clarifies what was generally understood before. The original Constitution stated, "In case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President..." While it's not clear from this text alone whether the Vice President actually becomes President, or merely that the Vice President remains Vice President while exercising the powers and duties normally held by the President, the common interpretation was that the Vice President became President. The first time the matter actually came up, John Tyler made this interpretation stick, despite his rather weak political standing. Section 1 of the 25th Amendment simply codifies this interpretation.
    • Interestingly, in the novel The Man written before the 25th Amendment, a black man is President pro tempore of the Senate and everyone above him dies. In a racist attempt to remove him, some people note that the original Constitution does not say he actually becomes President and try to use that technicality against him.
  • Section 2 was a new bit, Lyndon Johnson not having a VP until Hubert Humphrey was elected on the ticket in 1964.
    • Similarly, no President who ascended before the 25th's ratification had a vice president during the completion of their term; John Tyler and Andrew Johnson did not get re-elected, so they served their entire presidential terms without a vice president.
    • It also allowed for the replacement of a VP that died or resigned, when there was none before; the sitting president simply went without. James Madison had both of his VPs die in office.
  • Not an Unites States example, but the Amendment serves as inspiration for the Argentinian Law 20.972 (which works in almost the same way), which forced the 2001 political crisis, during which there were 5 presidents IN THE COURSE OF A WEEK. After Fernando De La Rua resigned on December 20, he was succeeded by Ramón Puerta, the... Provisional Leader of the Senate, since De La Rua didn't have a vice-president (Carlos Álvares resigned some time earlier). This was followed by Puerta resigning two days later, followed by Adolfo Rodríguez Saa... who resigned five days later.
    • This doesn't even count the several acting presidents between Puerta and Rodriguez Saa. That was a hell of a week.

Notes

  1. Customarily the most senior senator in the majority party.
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