Trump's Impeachment Means We'll Have President Mike Pence

by Chris Tognotti
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After a tumultuous week for President Donald Trump, a lot of people are talking impeachment. First, he fired former FBI director James Comey, then admitted he did so while considering the Trump-Russia investigation in a nationally televised interview. Days later, he tweeted the suggestion that he may have secretly recorded a conversation with Comey. With impeachment foremost in many people's minds, you might be wondering what Trump's removal from office would mean for the executive branch. Namely, would Mike Pence become president if Trump were impeached?

If you're a Democrat or a progressive dreaming of impeachment, it's worth pumping the brakes: Of all the people floating the idea, Republicans in Congress are not among them, and nothing will happen unless they decide to break ranks. Under different circumstances ― either with a less brutally servile GOP, or one faced with a Democratic president who'd been behaving this way ― you can rest assured the talk would already have begun.

But Republicans seem utterly unwilling to do so, even when confronted by what looks a lot like an effort to obstruct a federal investigation. As such, the impeachment scenario will probably not come up. But if it did, and assuming Pence were not similarly implicated in serious wrongdoing, the answer would be yes: you'd be looking at President Pence.

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Of course, it's worth noting that the last time a president resigned in disgrace, just narrowly ahead of being impeached outright, his original vice president was no longer standing. Former president Richard Nixon won in 1972 with Spiro Agnew as his vice president, but Agnew resigned amid a tax evasion scandal less than a year before Nixon departed. As a result, Agnew's replacement as vice president, Gerald Ford, ended up in the Oval Office.

There's no particular reason to think Pence would be brought down, however. As a well-liked and relatively stable member of the Republican establishment, he's ostensibly even more insulated from consequences than Trump is ― and nobody on the Republican side is making a serious move against Trump.

It is true, however, that there are some major unanswered questions about his role in some elements of the Trump-Russia controversy. The most recent and glaring being the fact that he claimed Comey's firing was done at the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and had nothing to do with the Russia investigation, a story that imploded almost immediately when Trump admitted to NBC News' Lester Holt that he'd decided to fire Comey before talking to Rosenstein, thanks at least in part to "this Russia thing."

In the unlikely event that Pence were somehow removed from office before Trump, a new vice president would be selected by Trump, although they'd require a majority approval by both the House and Senate. In the event Trump and Pence were removed from office at the same time, the presidency would go to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. And if Ryan for some reason couldn't serve, then you'd be looking at President Orrin Hatch. (Hatch is a Republican senator from Utah who is the current President pro tempore, which makes him third in line to the presidency.)

But rest assured, with GOP majorities in both the House and Senate, Trump getting the boot is extremely unlikely. As such, none of this is likely to come into play ― that is, unless there's an absolute decimation of the Republican Party in the 2018 midterm elections.