Season 3 of House of Cards was the breaking point for First Lady Claire Underwood since she walked out on Frank after he continually ignored her own quest for power. The Underwoods are back for Season 4 on Mar. 4 and, as Claire tries to find an outlet for her ambition, could the First Lady run for Congress on House of Cards ? As I scoured to see if any laws or rules forbid this in the U.S. Constitution or otherwise, I realized that fans of the Netflix show have only seen a portion of what Claire is capable of — legal or not.
In the U.S., the First Lady's role is not technically official — she is not elected and she is not paid. While that doesn't mean a male president could not give his wife official duties to perform, it's important to note it's not an elected, official role. Since President Underwood undervalued his partner in crime for his own political desires back in Season 3, Claire left him.
And, just as she had tried to gain power while Frank was president as the ambassador to the U.N., she could set her eyes on Congress in Season 4. In the official trailer for the new season, Claire is shown for a split second giving a press conference with hard-hitting journalist Kate Baldwin in the audience at 34 seconds in the below video. While this could be Claire announcing a great deal of things (like a divorce??), it could also be her announcing a campaign.
I couldn't find anything in the Constitution dealing with a First Lady running for an elected office, most likely since women back then weren't considered capable of such things! Let's remember they didn't even get the right to vote until 1920, so the thought of a woman running for a congressional seat likely never occurred to the Founding Fathers. (Ugh.) But, there is some history — mostly recent — of first ladies growing their political power. The only First Lady to ever be a part of Congress was Dolley Madison. According to the National Women's History Museum, she was given an honorary seat in Congress years after her husband, President James Madison, died. In more current times, there were talks of whether or not First Lady Michelle Obama would run for Senate in the 2016 election cycle. Considering her husband would be out of the White House by the time she was sworn in as a Senator, there would have been no conflict if she had wanted to do that, especially considering that's what Hillary Clinton did when she became elected as a U.S. Senator while her husband Bill was finishing his final term. Hillary also became the first — and only (as of now) — spouse of a president to win an elected office.
Yet with Hillary's scenario and Michelle's hypothetical one, their president husbands were in their last terms of office and could not be elected again. If Claire were to run on House of Cards for Congress in the 2016 election cycle, there could be more of a conflict since Frank is also running for president at the same time. Yet, while there is no precedent for this exact scenario, if Frank loses the presidential election, then it wouldn't be fair to have kept his wife from running her own campaign and being elected to Congress. Although having both people in a married couple becoming elected officials in the same year is a rarity, it is not unheard of, according to The New York Times.
Another theory to consider (if these two crazy kids stay married) is the fact that Congress members serve for two years, while the president serves for four years. So, just a pure shot in the dark here, if Frank did win the presidency (hey! he did win the Iowa caucus in the Season 3 finale), and Claire and Frank stayed married, perhaps Claire could wait until a midterm election in 2018 to run for Congress. Yet again, I can't find anything about the legality of that, and I can only hope the show would still be on two years from now.
So, to answer the question, just like the ambassador scenario last season, I could find no precedent set for or law against the First Lady running for Congress, making it a possibility that Claire could do that. (Plus, the show loves to suspend reality just a bit considering the current standing president in the show is a murderer.) However, all of this depends on whether or not Claire stays married to Frank. After all, could those be divorce papers he has Doug hand over to her in the below clip? Maybe she'll be able to run for Congress free and clear.
Images: David Giesbrecht/Netflix (2)