The Free Congress Commentary - Thwarting A Congressional Power
By Paul Weyrich
Free Congress Foundation's
Notable News Now
June 30, 2003
Do you remember how quickly the amendment to the Constitution which
the president to appoint a vice president in the event of a vacancy
virtually snuck up on us?
There really wasn't much understanding in the country of the implications
that amendment until one day Americans woke up to the fact that they
the first non-elected president in their history. When the duly elected
Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew resigned, President Richard Nixon then
appointed House Minority Leader Gerald Ford as president. This choice
quickly ratified by Congress without much thought, because at that
one really expected Nixon to resign. But as Watergate unfolded, Nixon
his political support evaporate and he feared impeachment. So he did
and there was Gerald Ford, who had only won election victories in
Congressional district in Michigan, installed as the non-elected president
He in turn appointed a vice-president who was despised in many political
circles, Nelson Rockefeller. Rockefeller too was quickly ratified
Congress despite his relative lack of popularity in the nation. Thus
little over two years America had both a president and a vice-president
had never been elected by the people. Lots of people were asking themselves
"how did this happen?" Well, when almost no one was paying
who purport to study such matters proposed the amendment providing
president to be able to name a vice-president in the event of a vacancy.
seemed so innocuous that it sailed through the Congress as well as
requisite number of states.
I mention this background because I am indebted to Howard Phillips
calling to our attention the work of the Continuity of Government
(COG) which is funded by a number of left wing foundations such as
Packard, the MacArthur Foundation and officially co-hosted by AEI
COG, with the likes of former Republican Senator Alan Simpson of
and Lloyd Cutler, White House counsel for both Jimmy Carter and Bill
Clinton, is pushing constitutional amendments that Phillips correctly
believes "could radically transform the constitutional structure
endured with changes for more than 200 years."
COG wants these constitutional amendments passed by September 11,
after the warlike attacks on the USA. They want Congress to remember
had courageous passengers not crashed the hijacked plane in Pennsylvania,
likely was headed for the Capitol and could well have killed most
One of the COG amendments stipulates, "Congress shall have the
regulate by law the filling of vacancies that may occur in the House
Representatives and Senate in the event that a substantial number
are killed or incapacitated."
Phillips said Congress would, in effect, be a permanently seated
constitutional convention, able to change the law regarding the selection
its Members whenever it saw fit to do so.
Phillips quotes Tim Lizardo of Rep. Ron Paul's staff, as pointing
extremely broad nature of this amendment. It would give Congress the
to define "substantial number" of vacancies and "times
emergency" and even might make these appointments when there
"incapacitation" when no emergency exists.
Lizardo says that COG ignores the fact that a Congress of 199 elected
Members and 236 appointed Members would be less than legitimate. "What
Lizardo asks, "the majority of elected Members voted against
a measure while
the vast majority of appointed officials passed the measure into law?"
said the only thing then remotely resembling the will of the people
have been overturned by appointed representatives. .
Another COG proposal is to permit governors to fill all the vacancies
House. Right now Governors can appoint Senators when there is a vacancy,
if there is a vacancy in the House, there has to be a special election.
Phillips wonders how Republicans would feel permitting Gov. Gray
appoint all California House Members if there were vacancies in all
districts. Or likewise how Democrats would feel about having Gov.
Pataki fill all of New York's vacancies.
Simpson claims that these appointments would be temporary. But who
temporary? And if Congress can change the law when it sees fit, perhaps
they will make these appointed seats permanent, once the appointed
dominate the Congress.
The COG scheme, according to Phillips, would let candidates for Congress
(and even Members after they were elected) designate an alternate
Much damage could be done by these appointed Members before elected
again could take their seats, if they ever would again. Once Congress
something it is almost never repealed.
There is a lot of pressure on Congress to pass this legislation.
It may be
well intentioned (although when you look at who is on this Commission
not sure) but Congress needs to take a long, hard look at these proposals
before they are put to a vote.
There is no real need for this legislation. Whatever might remain
damaged Congress can pass temporary rules with which to operate. And
elections can be held in swift fashion. It might well be good for
nation if they had to respond in such elections.
In any case, the brakes need to be applied here. Otherwise we will
ask "how did this happen," only this time the results will
be far more
pernicious and the consequences more far-reaching.
Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.