House Administration Moves Bill Aiming to Ensure House Continuity

Posted November 19, 2003 at 6:08pm

The House Administration Committee reported out a bill Wednesday aiming to fill the largest gap in Congressional continuity — providing for the replacement of House Members if large numbers of lawmakers were killed.

The measure — sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) and Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) — was amended to require special elections within 45 days if the Speaker declares more than 100 House Members have died, presumably in a terrorist attack.

“Under this legislation, the House will maintain its ‘intimate sympathy with the people,’ as James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, by remaining a body composed only of those elected by the people. I look forward to House consideration of this legislation early next year,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement.

The previous version of the bill would have required elections within 21 days after a catastrophe and was widely derided by elections experts as near impossible without opening up the process fraud and disenfranchising large numbers of voters.

House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) suggested the change to the bill. His amendment shortens the time frame within which state party officials may nominate a candidate after the Speaker’s declaration from the 14 days in the original bill to 10 days.

“The shortened nomination period would provide additional time on the back end for election officials to print ballots, test election systems, recruit poll workers, etc., while still allowing party officials adequate time to make candidate nominations,” Ney said in his opening statement.

The measure was sent to the full House for its consideration on a party-line vote. Democrats, led by ranking member John Larson (D-Conn.), opposed it on the grounds that it does not deal with incapacitation, an issue which many experts believe Congress is more likely to face than wide-scale deaths.

Larson also believes a constitutional amendment allowing for the temporary appointment of House Members is the only way to ensure that Congress is not paralyzed in a time of national crisis, leaving the president to impose marshal law.

Like other supporters of an amendment, Larson wants to move amendment language and a measure expediting special elections on parallel tracks so as to avoid acceptance of what they deem only a partial solution.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has proposed amendment language and held several hearings on continuity of government.

The 17th Amendment allows governors to fill Senate vacancies by appointment in the case of death, resignation or expulsion from the chamber. But the Constitution provides that House vacancies must be filled by special election. And both chambers could potentially be rendered inoperable without a quorum if a majority of their Members were incapacitated.