US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on May 12, 2020 (AFP / Saul Loeb)

Pelosi in presidential succession, but not guaranteed VP spot

Copyright AFP 2017-2020. All rights reserved.

Facebook posts claim US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would become Kamala Harris’s vice president if Joe Biden was elected and unable to serve his full term. This is misleading; the 25th Amendment of the Constitution states that the vice president becomes leader in case of presidential inability and chooses a vice president who has to be confirmed by Congress; the speaker of the House is third in line for the presidency if both the president and the vice president are incapacitated. 

“If Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wins the election but cannot serve his full term, vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris would assume the role of president and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would become vice president. LET THAT SINK IN,” an October 9, 2020 Facebook post reads

A screenshot of the text displayed in the Facebook posts taken on October 12, 2020

Other examples of the claim can be found here and here.

However, the 25th Amendment of the Constitution, which covers presidential succession, indicates that the posts are false.

According to Section 1 and 2, a vice president becomes president if the latter dies, resigns or is removed from office. However, it says the appointment of a subsequent vice president must be approved by a majority vote in both the House and Senate. 

The Constitution does not specify who exactly should fill the position of vice president, Adam Winkler, Professor at UCLA School of Law specializing in constitutional law, told AFP. 

He said Pelosi could theoretically be chosen by Harris in that scenario, although it would be “highly unlikely” for Harris to “pick a person of Pelosi’s age to serve.” 

“Under a federal law, the Speaker of the House is third in line for the presidency if both the president and the vice president are incapacitated, but that law does not provide that the Speaker of the House becomes the vice president in any circumstances,” he said. 

This is also stated in the section of the United States Code entitled “Vacancy in Offices of Both President and Vice President; Offices Eligible to Act.”

“If, by reason of death, resignation, removal from office, inability, or failure to qualify, there is neither a President nor Vice President...then the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall, upon resignation as Speaker and as Representative in Congress, act as President,” the text reads.

The misleading claim gained in popularity after Pelosi proposed a commission to assess presidential capacity on October 9, 2020 -- a move that highlighted concerns about Donald Trump's health weeks before the election. 

The proposed bill would establish a 16-member bipartisan panel of medical experts and former executive branch officials. With Republicans controlling the Senate, it is however highly unlikely that the bill will become law.

Pelosi pushed back criticism and insisted the commission was “not about President Trump, who had just returned to the White House after he was treated in hospital for Covid-19

Pelosi has been targeted by various misleading claims in the run-up to the US election on November 3. AFP Fact Check previously debunked other claims about the House Speaker here, here and here

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here for more.
US Elections 2020