Could There Be a President Nancy Pelosi?

Rules of succession are murky if a president is elected but dies before taking office.

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With one candidate regularly receiving threats and the other trying to become the oldest-ever candidate elected to the presidency, it's not crazy to be asking what happens if either Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. John McCain gets elected but dies before taking office. Who gets the job? Thankfully, the Congressional Research Service has looked into the issue. But the answer isn't clear. Generally, says CRS, the veep-elect would most likely move up, but the Electoral College could choose somebody else since there is no constitutional road map like the one if a sitting president dies.

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One solution Congress is considering: Have the political parties pick "standby candidates" during the nominating conventions. It gets muddier if the president and veep, after being sworn in, die before their cabinet is approved in the Senate. Reason: While Speaker Nancy Pelosi would become president, any previous transition work would be tossed out the door—"a de facto decapitation of the executive branch," says CRS. And what if all 19 on the presidential succession list die? The plan before Congress would put our ambassador to the United Nations in charge, followed by other ambassadors.