House GOP dysfunction leaves Sen Patty Murray second in line for presidency

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The House of Representatives’ failure to elect a speaker after three ballots on Tuesday means two women will, for a time, remain first and second in line for the presidency should disaster befall President Joe Biden.

The first person in the order of succession, Vice President Kamala Harris, would inherit Mr Biden’s responsibilities if he were to become deceased or incapacitated, or if he were to resign.

Ms Harris, who briefly served as Acting President of the United States when Mr Biden underwent a surgical procedure in November 2021, would be the 10th of the 49 vice presidents to assume the presidency following the death or resignation of a president, and the first since President Gerald Ford was sworn in after Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

But were something to happen to Ms Harris as well, the mantle of leadership of the US would pass to Washington Senator Patty Murray.

Ms Murray, who has served in the upper chamber since 1993, was elected the Senate’s President Pro Tempore on Tuesday. The largely ceremonial position is normally third in the order of succession laid out by the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, which placed it behind the vice president and speaker of the House but ahead of the secretary of state and the rest of the heads of the executive departments.

Although the role of President Pro Tempore is typically bestowed upon the longest-serving senator of the chamber’s majority party, the Democratic caucus’ most senior member — Dianne Feinstein of California — said last year she wasn’t interested in the role, leaving Ms Murray next in line. She is the first woman to hold that position of the 92 individuals who have held it since it was created in 1789.

The Washington Democrat’s second-in-line status will continue until the House of Representatives manages to elect a speaker, which may take some time, because as of Tuesday evening, no GOP candidate for speaker had managed to come close to the 218 votes required to claim the gavel.