Claim: Nancy Pelosi would become president Jan. 20 if the election were delayed.
When President Donald Trump tweeted July 30 about his qualms with mail-in voting and suggested that perhaps the 2020 general election should be delayed, citing a need to “properly, securely and safely vote,” there was a panicked response.
Under the Constitution, a president does not have the power to change an election date; that’s Congress’ call. But if Congress did choose to push Election Day into 2021 and past the constitutionally mandated Inauguration Day, who would take office on Jan. 20?
“President Pelosi” quickly trended on Twitter and screenshots of those tweets were shared on other social media platforms in response to the widespread claim that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi would be next in line to take office on Jan. 20 if there had not yet been a vote.
“If the president doesn’t get re-elected or vacate by Inauguration Day (1/20/21), the Speaker of the House would serve as acting president. That means President Nancy Pelosi,” reads tweet, a screenshot of which was later posted on Instagram.
“Correct me if I’m wrong but if an election gets delayed doesn’t the Speaker of the House become interim president at the end of the incumbent’s term? So Trump wants President Pelosi?” reads another widely spread tweet, also shared via screenshot on Facebook.
Some lawmakers jumped in, too. Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander told reporters that Pelosi would become president if the election were delayed past Jan. 20.
Trump, Pence and Pelosi would leave office if no federal election occurred
The 20th amendment to the U.S. Constitution says the terms of the president and vice president end at noon Jan. 20. If an election had not taken place by that date and successors had not been chosen, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence would be out of office, regardless.
Behind the vice president in the presidential succession, as determined by the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, is the speaker of the House.
It makes sense to assume she’d then take the role of president, but that assumption ignores two important points: Pelosi is also up for reelection in 2020, and the Constitution puts an end date on the terms of members, too.
Congressional terms end, too
The 20th Amendment says terms of senators and representatives end at noon Jan. 3. If a federal election were delayed, then no vote would take place to reelect or remove Pelosi from office. She, too, would have to step down from her position.
In this case, the president pro tempore of the Senate – next in line – would assume office as president. Currently, that person is Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
But there’s more. If no federal election took place, Pelosi wouldn’t be the only member of Congress to leave office. There are 35 senators up for re-election – 22 Republicans – and if they were all removed without any successors, the 100-member Senate would just have 65 members, with Democrats in the majority.
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Because of that, those senators could technically then choose a new Senate president pro tempore, and thus, the president.
Republicans might be able to maintain their hold on the Senate thereafter, though.
A Congressional Research Service report, “Continuity of Government,” says that in the case of a Senate vacancy, depending on state law, governors may make a temporary appointment until an election can be held. That means vacant seats formerly held by Democrats could be filled by Republicans, or vice versa, depending on a governor's pick.
In the case of vacancies in the House, governors can issue a writ of election to fill those vacancies, according to the report.
Election is unlikely to be delayed
Regardless, a delay is extremely unlikely, as politicians on both sides of the aisle have spoken out against the idea.
"Never in the history of the country, through wars and depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time, and we'll find a way to do that again this November 3," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told local Kentucky TV station WNKY Thursday.
Our rating: False
We rate the claim that Nancy Pelosi would become president should the 2020 election be postponed as FALSE because it was not supported by our research. Pelosi’s term ends Jan. 3, and if no federal election takes place, she would have to leave office, just like the president and vice president. That would mean the president pro tempore of the Senate would assume office. Currently, that is Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, though a downsized Senate may swing in favor of Democrats, presenting them the opportunity to elect a new president pro tempore.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Pelosi would not become president if election were delayed