A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Replacing the Vice President


Q: If a vice president assumes the presidency, who becomes vice president?

A: The new president appoints someone to fill his or her old position, subject to congressional approval.

FULL QUESTION

If the president dies, and the VP is sworn in as the new pres, does the speaker of the House then get sworn in as the new VP? Or is there no official ceremony required? When LBJ was sworn in for JFK, who became the VP?

FULL ANSWER

The Constitution specifies that if the president dies or leaves office before finishing his or her term, the vice president takes the job. The only "official ceremony" required by the Constitution is that any president must take the oath of office: 

 

U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1: Before he enter on the execution of his office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation:–"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

If the vice president was unable or ineligible to ascend to the presidency (or if the office was vacant) the speaker of the House would be next in line under terms of the Presidential Succession Act, which was first passed in 1947. However, when the vice president becomes president, the speaker does not move into the office of vice president. The legislation only specifies who is to become president.

When the position of vice president becomes vacant, the 25th Amendment states:

25th Amendment: 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.

The vice president takes the same oath of office as members of Congress. The 25th amendment was precipitated by the very case our reader asks about: When Lyndon B. Johnson became president after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the position of vice president remained vacant for the remainder of his term. Had Johnson left office during that time, House Speaker John W. McCormack of Massachusetts would have been next in line to take his place as president. After Johnson won the 1964 election, his running mate, Hubert H. Humphrey, became vice president. A few years later, in Feb. 1967, the 25th amendment was ratified.

This amendment has been invoked twice. In 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew stepped down and was convicted of corruption charges after pleading "no contest." President Richard Nixon then appointed House Republican Leader Gerald Ford as vice president. When Nixon resigned and Ford became president, Ford named former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president.

-Justin Bank

Sources

25th Amendment, U.S. Constitution.

Yoffe, Emily, "How Is a New Vice President Chosen?" Slate.com, 5 March 2001.

Nickels, Ilona, "Capital Questions," C-Span.com 3 May 2000.