Legend:   E-mail posits a “Bill and Hillary Clinton” presidency.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, January 2008]

The making of a nightmare…

This will give you sleepless nights

Let me describe it to you briefly…

1. Hillary wins the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States

2. Naturally, she wants to choose as her running mate someone with a lot of knowledge and experience in government and foreign affairs, someone who is a seasoned campaigner who could bring a lot of strength to the ticket. Who better than Bill, her husband?!!!

3. Hill and Bill go on to win the election in November and the Democrats maintain control of the House and the Senate.

4. Hillary is sworn in as President on January 20, 2009. The next day, after all the inauguration parties are over, she calls a press conference to make an announcement: she is resigning as President!!! Bill, as the
Vice President, immediately becomes President!!! This is all perfectly legal under the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, for it states that “no person may be elected as president more than twice”. Bill is not being elected for a third term but is merely serving out the remainder of Hillary’s term — all 4 years of it.

5. But wait! There’s more! The following day Bill calls a press conference to make an announcement. He has chosen someone to fill the now-vacant office of Vice President. Guess who he picks? Why, Hillary, of course!!!

Origins:   As many pundits (and a few candidates) have already pointed out, by the time the U.S. swears in its next president in 2009, a member of either the Bush or Clinton families will have held the office for the past twenty years — and the possibility remains that yet another Clinton could occupy the White House for the following four or eight years.

But what about two Clintons in the White House (a scenario that could be described as a dream, a nightmare, or something in between, depending upon one’s political point of view)? Is that a possibility?

The scheme outlined above is an exceedingly unlikely one: Senator Hillary Clinton likely stands to lose far more political capital than she’d gain by naming her husband as her running mate, nor would there be much reason for her — after having campaigned so long and hard to attain the presidency on her own — to immediately cede office in favor of him. But, regardless of its likelihood, is this scenario at least technically plausible?

The Founding Fathers placed no limits in the Constitution regarding how many times any one person could be elected (or otherwise serve) as President. However, in 1947 (after Franklin D. Roosevelt had broken with tradition and won four consecutive presidential elections), Congress passed an amendment (ratified by the requisite number of states in 1951) that created a two-term limit for future Presidents. That amendment would seem to disqualify Bill Clinton from again attaining the office of President, as he was elected to, and served, two full terms in that office between 1993 and 2001.

However, the wording of the 22nd Amendment doesn’t literally say that no one can be President for more than two terms; only that no one can be elected President more than twice:

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.

Presumably this still leaves open the loophole (intended or not) that one who had already been elected twice could still serve as President again by attaining that office through other means — particularly, by being Vice-President (and thus next in the line of succession) when the sitting President dies,

becomes incapacitated, or resigns.

But does that loophole really exist? Some maintain it doesn’t because the 12th Amendment (ratified in 1804 to fix some unexpected issues with the originally-specified methods for selecting the President and Vice-President) states that “no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.” So, one who has already twice been elected President isn’t eligible to become Vice-President afterwards and thereby sneak into the presidency again through the back door.

Again we bump into some problems of literalness, though, because some would argue that a person who has already run up against the limits of the 22nd Amendment isn’t “constitutionally ineligible” to be President (i.e., doesn’t fail to meet one or more of the requirements specified in Article II of the constitution, such as being at least 35 years old or a natural-born citizen of the United States) but is merely constitutionally ineligible to be elected President.

Ultimately, the only answer is that there is no answer: this is an interpretive issue that (should it ever arise) would have to be decided by judicial branch. And there’s still one last monkey wrench that could be thrown into the process: According to the 25th Amendment, any person nominated by the President to fill a vacancy in the office of Vice-President has to be confirmed by a majority vote of both houses of Congress. Even a Congress with Democratic majorities in both houses probably wouldn’t have much motive to play along with such political chicanery.

Last updated:   4 February 2008