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Published: Sunday, 9/21/2003

One veep is enough

While any number of doomsday scenarios could be written, the nation does not need to clutter up the Executive Branch, as proposed by a Florida International University law professor, with a standby vice president who would serve in virtual hiding in case of a catastrophic event that wiped out the top echelon of the U.S. government.

Since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington two years ago, Vice President Dick Cheney has maintained a low visibility for security reasons. In fact, the average American never knows where the vice president is and probably doesn't particularly care.

The election of a president and two vice presidents would present unprecedented political problems. Candidates already have problem enough finding one suitable running mate.

A two-veep system would seem to be fodder for the late-night comedians, joking about the guy who's waiting, somewhere in America for the scrambler call from the White House (if it's still standing), summoning him to work.

There may be some valid questions about the law passed by Congress in 1947, which among other things makes the speaker of the House, the chamber which brings impeachment proceedings against an incumbent, second in the line of presidential succession.

One constitutional scholar maintains that the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate, who is third in line, are not officers “within the meaning of the succession clause.” Rather, the framers of the Constitution had in mind the cabinet officers as successors following the deaths, incapacitation, or removal of the president and vice-president.

Novelist Tom Clancy already has written a book with just such a plot line. It seems, though, that fiction writers will always be one jump ahead of the lawyers who try to tidy up the Constitution.

At present there is a clear line of succession, as contemplated by the 1947 law. It should be a simple enough task to detail a few top-ranking officers of government to go off to a secure location and be available to serve in the event the government of the United States was largely wiped out. They could even take turns going into seclusion.

That being the case, the idea of an assistant vice president in hiding seems slightly batty, if not plainly preposterous.

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