October 3, 2013
Obama
President Obama (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

I don’t know whether it’s in poor taste or not,  but I’m going to use the hook of today’s incident at the Capitol to remind everyone that one of the big uncompleted tasks after the September 11 attacks is to fix “continuity in government” problems, and especially to fix the awful current presidential succession law.

It’s now been four years since the Continuity of Government Commission released its second report, which recommended changing the presidential line of succession. They were correct. It’s incredibly stupid to have the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate in the line of succession at all, and it’s not exactly a great idea to have minor Cabinet secretaries in line, either. West Wing’s Speaker of the House Glen Walken and Battlestar Galactica’s Secretary of Education Laura Roslin were terrific characters and made excellent presidents, but that’s no reason to do it that way in our world.

Instead, the commission recommended that after the secretaries of the major Cabinet departments, the line of succession should fall to a new set of people, confirmed by the Senate, including some who don’t live in Washington. So, for example, Barack Obama might select (depending on how the exactly law would be drafted) Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Leon Panetta and Hillary Clinton to fill the spots. The point is that those selected could be (or remain) at least minimally briefed during normal times, so that in an extreme disaster they would be prepared.

That’s the most visible of the changes, but the commission made other suggestions, too, many of which were then ignored. Of course, with the current Congress, hoping they can get basic governing tasks done is probably wishful thinking. But it’s important and should not be forgotten.

Get it done, Congress.