Bill to Speed Cabinet Confirmations Stalls in Senate

Posted September 15, 2004 at 4:51pm

A nonbinding resolution in the Senate intended to lessen the prospects for a potential inaugural catastrophe by having individuals in the presidential line of succession in place before Jan. 20 has hit a partisan roadblock, as some Republicans are balking at voting on a measure that would be necessary in 2005 only if Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is elected president.

The resolution, drafted by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), seeks to establish a protocol for incoming presidents to nominate and the Senate to confirm Cabinet appointees prior to swearing-in day. The two want to ensure an intact line of presidential succession in the event the president and vice president are killed before their Cabinet is nominated and confirmed.

Introduced in late July, S. Res 419 has sat in the Rules and Administration Committee since. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who chairs the panel, indicated last week that the measure won’t come up before the chamber adjourns next month. Lott supports the idea of Cornyn’s proposal and co-sponsored an earlier version written as a joint resolution.

“It’s something we’ve got to do,” Lott said. “Sooner or later we’re going to have a mess on our hands someday because we haven’t thought through the what ifs.”

Despite his support in principle, however, Lott hasn’t moved the measure through his committee and said Thursday there is not time to consider it before the target early-October adjournment.

Cornyn said last week he is frustrated by the unwillingness to bring up relatively noncontroversial measures to ensure continuity of government because of partisan posturing.

“This really isn’t about George Bush or John Kerry,” Cornyn said. “There is some reluctance of the Members to do something, lest anybody be perceived that they are giving a hint of concern about their candidate’s prospects.”

The resolution would be necessary only when “control of the White House shall change from one political party to another,” which is what seems to be the offending language to many Senate Republicans.

The country faces a particular vulnerability on Inauguration Day because all three branches of government are well represented.

The Constitution dictates that the outgoing president’s term ends at noon on Jan. 20. Per tradition, the outgoing president’s Cabinet resigns before the ceremony, leaving federal agencies run by acting secretaries who could become commander-in-chief if the Speaker and the Senate President Pro Tem were killed along with the president and vice president.