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Everywhere other than in Big Media newsrooms, Americans speak openly of President Joe Biden’s cognitive decline and wonder whether he can last out his four-year term. If he cannot last, there are certain things we can be confident will happen and other things about which we can only speculate. The latter will be much more intriguing.
Should Biden leave office, willingly or otherwise, Kamala Harris will become president. This is a given. Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the Constitution makes clear that in “case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President.”
The Constitution, as written, did not address what happens next. The 25th Amendment, adopted after the assassination of President Kennedy, answered that question, at least in principle. It reads, “Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.”
In recent memory, there have been two precedents, both involving Richard Nixon. On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew pleaded no contest to charges of tax evasion and money-laundering and resigned. Despite Nixon’s landslide victory in 1972, Democrats retained firm control of Congress, with a 50-seat majority in the House and a 14-seat majority in the Senate. This mattered. The Democrats all but dictated Nixon’s choice of the congenial, moderate House minority leader, Gerald Ford, to assume the vice presidency. Ford was nominated two days after Agnew stepped down and confirmed by overwhelming majorities in both Houses of Congress.
At the time of Ford’s confirmation, Democrats had good reason to suspect that Nixon would soon be forced out himself. The coordinated Democrat-media plot to oust Nixon as a result of his presumed involvement in the Watergate affair was well underway. The plot climaxed on August 9, 1974, with Nixon’s resignation. Ford was sworn in later that same day.
It now fell to Ford to choose his vice president. Given the composition of Congress, he excluded any conservatives from consideration and settled on the GOP’s most prominent liberal, former New York State governor Nelson Rockefeller. For Rockefeller, the confirmation hearings were considerably rougher than they had been for Ford — less for ideological reasons than for personal ones — but he was eventually confirmed despite opposition from conservatives in both parties.
As history shows, the “when” of a vice presidential opening can determine the “who.” Right now, Big Media remains deeply in denial that there will ever be a “when.” In his well-sourced book on the 2020 campaign, Battle for the Soul, Edward-Isaac Dovere makes only one reference to Biden’s mental state and suggests that the dementia rumor was a conspiracy theory cooked up somewhere deep in a Bernie Sanders soup kitchen.
Last week, White House physician turned Republican congressman Ronny Jackson forced the mental health issue into the news. He challenged Biden to undergo a cognitive assessment, much as President Trump had successfully done. Rushing to Biden’s defense, the Washington Post recruited a professor of public health — his Ph.D. is in sociology — to assure Post readers, “With Biden, not only are there not warning signs, the signs that you see show he’s in exceptional health.” In truth, the warning signs for Hurricane Katrina were less obvious.
In the movie version, reporters with access to the White House would be showing their audiences evidence of Biden’s mental meltdowns and probing their sources to find out what happens next. In real life, they take their own cultish vows of omertà more seriously than did the Corleones. Their emperor remains fully clothed.
Those insiders who do talk, like Dr. Jackson, get punished. The fact that President Obama appointed Jackson admiral for his service as White House physician won him no reprieve. Although entirely irrelevant to the state of Biden’s mind, the Post reminded its readers that, according to the Defense Department, “[Jackson] had bullied and intimidated staff and made inappropriate sexual remarks.”
Lacking access to the White House, I take my cues from presidential history and the extensive research I have done on Barack Obama, including his presumed third term through proxy Joe Biden. One historical given is that timing matters. During the 2020 campaign, having finessed Bernie Sanders out of the race, the Democrats’ leaders knew they had to ride the seemingly moderate Biden as far as he could take them. With the help of the media, they were largely able to conceal the erosion of Biden’s mental facilities. Unless the polls show an impending disaster, Democrats have no more motive to dump Biden before the 2022 election than they did in 2020.
After the election, party leaders will have a decision to make. If they hold majorities in both Houses, they can put that decision off indefinitely. If they lose control decisively in either House, they will be wise to give the media a prompt green light to highlight Biden’s cognitive issues. Once the ground is softened, they can move to usher Biden out through the complex process described in the 25th Amendment. They will have to be quick. There are only two months between Election Day and the installment of a new Congress.
Until January 2023, the Democrats will control the House and share power in the Senate. In 1973 and 1974, Republican senators proved more pliable to Democrat wishes than did GOP House members. Little has changed. For a half-dozen GOP senators, pliability is their vocation. If Democrats wait until a new Congress is seated, they sacrifice much of their negotiating power. The Republicans will insist on an unelectable milquetoast of the Gerald Ford model.
If Biden leaves office when the Democrats still have leverage, that’s when the fun begins. The competing power blocs within the party will stage a quietly vicious knife fight for that second spot. Knowing Harris’s weaknesses, they understand its potential. Until six or so months ago, no one could have denied that spot to New York’s rock star, Governor Andrew Cuomo. His stardom collapsed quicker than Milli Vanilli’s. The Democrats’ values being what they are, his lethal indifference to the fate of thousands of old women did not diminish his star nearly as much as his “unwanted advances” toward a handful of young ones.
Cuomo’s fall had to surprise him. That’s not supposed to happen to Democrats. Dovere speaks at some length about how the Democrat-media “ecosystem” managed to keep the charges of sexual assault leveled against Biden by Tara Reade — Tara who? — out of the news. Although Reade’s accusation was more serious and substantial than any brought against Cuomo, the ecosystem encouraged Cuomo’s accusers. Someone gave the media permission. Someone wanted Cuomo gone.
With Harris as president, this may be the last time in the foreseeable future that a white male will be the preferred Democrat nominee for anything. Although the pickings are slim, Ted Cruz spokeswoman Erin Perrine unwittingly summed up the qualifications of the one white man with a good shot at the job. Said Perrine, “Terry McAuliffe is a swampy career politician who sold his soul to Nancy Pelosi and the radical left to bankroll his fledgling campaign.” Given those qualifications, if McAuliffe wins the Virginia governor’s race in November 2021, he might even be the betting favorite for vice president.
If the party is willing to put two women at the top, the contest gets much more interesting. According to Dovere, the selection for Biden’s VP came down to six women: Harris; Massachusetts’s Sen. Elizabeth Warren; Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer; Biden’s domestic policy council director, Susan Rice; California’s Rep. Karen Bass; and Georgia’s self-appointed governor in exile, Stacey Abrams. Other than Warren and Whitmer, all of these women were in the running to add literal color to a Biden ticket. With Harris as president, they are all redundant. Warren does not have friends enough to put her on an all-female White House team, and Whitmer will be lucky if she doesn’t get recalled.
Only two women have friends enough and ambition enough to get the nod: Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. Obama’s friends are younger. Hillary’s are crueler. May the best and baddest win.