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031 If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?

31. If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who
becomes President?
The Speaker of the House

“What would happen if the president died?” Many people enjoy thinking about these what-if scenarios, where they try to think about what might happen if certain other things happen. If the president dies, the vice president becomes the new president. But what if the vice president dies? Then the Speaker of the House of Representatives becomes president. But what if his or her replacement dies? And his or her replacement? You get the idea.

The U.S. government needs leadership, so it is important to have a plan for succession (or a plan for who will become the next president if something is wrong with the current president). The Presidential Succession Act (or law) lists 15 people who will become president if the current president and his or her successors (or the people who come after that person) are not able to serve (or work in a public position) as president.

But then the question becomes: What happens if all 15 people die and are unable to serve as president? Actually, there is no answer to that question. U.S. law lists only these 15 positions. If they all die at the same time, then there wouldn’t be a clear president of the country. But instead of extending the list (or making it longer), our government tries to avoid (or not let happen) the possibility of all 15 people dying at once.

How does the government do this? The government never lets the president and all of his or her successors be in the same place at the same time. For example, once a year the president makes a State of the Union Address, which is a long speech about how well the country is doing that year. Almost all of the important members of the government go to hear the State of the Union, but one of the people who is on the succession list is always kept away from the rest of the people that day. He or she has to go to another hidden (or secret) place while the president is speaking. That way, if the building is attacked during the State of the Union, there will still be one person alive who is on the succession list, and he or she can become president.


what-if scenario – an imaginary description of what might happen if certain other things happen
* Have you thought out all of the what-if scenarios of what would happen to your family if you died unexpectedly?

succession – the plan for who will become the next person to work in a particular job when the current person can no longer do the job
* In a country ruled by a king, succession is easy because the oldest son becomes the next king.

Act – a written law
* The Clean Air Act is supposed to keep America's air clean and safe for breathing.

to serve – to work in a public position; to work in a government job
* Who is currently serving as the governor of Nebraska?

to extend – to make something longer; to make something bigger
* They want to extend their Internet services across the country.

to avoid – to do something so that something else does not happen; to find a way to prevent something from happening
* We wanted to avoid the storms on our drive across country and decided to take a different route.

State of the Union Address – a long speech made by the U.S president every year about how well the country is doing that year
* Do you think the president will talk about healthcare in this year's State of the Union Address?

hidden – secret; not known to other people
* This old church has a hidden hallway to the building next door.