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Rules Changes Aim to Help House Deal With Attack

"The approach that we took was to begin with the constitutionally least intrusive means," Cox said. "The hierarchy of solutions was rules first, statutes second, constitutional amendments ó if at all ó third and last. It is enormously difficult to amend the Constitution, and we might not ever get it done. And we didnít want to undertake amending the constitution lightly."

A potential threat to stable continuity that could be addressed by statute is presidential succession.

"We have a sturdy presidential succession in almost all cases," Cox said. "But if one assumes the simultaneous death of the president, vice president, Speaker, Senate President Pro Tem, there are serious anomalies."

Cox was referring to the ambiguity in the Presidential Succession Act of 1947. The secretary of State would become president following the death or incapacitation of the president, vice president, Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem. But it is unclear in the statute whether the election of a new Speaker would then launch him or her into the presidency and oust the secretary of State.

"Itís rather clear that a time when the nation needs [stability] in its government, you donít want musical chairs in the Oval Office nor do you want to displace a known leader with an obscure figure, especially if the process is such a rump one," Cox said, explaining that if only two Members of the House remained, one could become Speaker and then theoretically challenge the new presidentís legitimacy.

"A solution to that problem is to say that instead of a situation in which an election of Speaker after the fact trumps, we go down the list only once," Cox said.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) began calling for a constitutional amendment to deal with a potential crisis. His language would give governors the power to make temporary appointments to the House if more than 25 percent of the Members were killed or incapacitated. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) introduced similar resolutions during the 107th.

Baird praised the rules changes, which he helped to promulgate as a member of the working group, in a statement Wednesday.

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