To quote the constitution:

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States

I also read that this applies to the Speaker of the House. What happens, then, if the Speaker of House needs (as in the President and Vice President are incapable of doing their job) to become president but wasn't born in the United States of America?

To quote the constitution again:

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

1 Answer 1


Could the Speaker of the House become president if he wasn't born in the USA?

Maybe yes, maybe no. The scenario has never been put to the test.

Natural Born Citizen

Per the language in the U.S. Constitution, a person who is not a "natural born Citizen" is not eligible to serve as president.

But what does "natural born citizen" mean? And how would the courts interpret the term if the Presidency actually landed on the lap of a foreign-born Speaker?

Citizen at Birth

If "natural born" means "citizen at birth", which holds that a person is a U.S. citizen if they are born outside of the U.S., and have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen, then the answer to the question can be "yes".

A Speaker born in France, who's father is German and mother is American, can become president.

Both Senator John McCain, who was born in Panama, and Senator Ted Cruz, who was born in Canada, ran for president under the "citizen at birth" interpretation of "natural born".

Born in the United States

If "natural born" means "born in the United States", then the answer to the question is "no".

Under this interpretation, what is the likely outcome if the President and Vice President are unable to serve, and the third in line of succession, the Speaker of the House, was not born in the U.S.?

Presumably, the Speaker would be skipped over.

There is a presidential line of succession, and it doesn't end with the Speaker of the House.

  1. Vice President
  2. Speaker of the House of Representatives
  3. President pro tempore of the Senate
  4. Secretary of State
  5. Secretary of the Treasury
  6. Secretary of Defense
  7. Attorney General
  8. Secretary of the Interior
  9. Secretary of Agriculture
  10. Secretary of Commerce
  11. Secretary of Labor
  12. Secretary of Health and Human Services
  13. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  14. Secretary of Transportation
  15. Secretary of Energy
  16. Secretary of Education
  17. Secretary of Veterans Affairs
  18. Secretary of Homeland Security
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    Worth noting that Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao is in the presidential line of succession but would be skipped over because she acquired her citizenship via naturalization.
    – C. Helling
    Apr 19, 2018 at 22:18
  • 13
    If the line has reached the Sec of Transportation, there may not be any courts for the case to be heard. @notstoreboughtdirt Apr 20, 2018 at 0:58
  • 12
    There's no "presumably" about it. Federal law explicitly says that only people constitutionally eligible for the office can act as President (subsection e). There would be no court case, because there's no ambiguity; someone constitutionally ineligible has no argument under any theory that they should get to succeed to the office.
    – cpast
    Apr 20, 2018 at 1:13
  • 2
    @Michael_B General consensus is that "natural-born" means "citizen at birth." I assumed you meant people who actually weren't natural-born citizens, not people who were natural-born citizens who happened to be born outside the US. If Ted Cruz was President pro tem and the line of succession reached him, he'd become acting President since he's constitutionally eligible for the office.
    – cpast
    Apr 20, 2018 at 1:24
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    @Michael_B Your quote doesn't support the claim at all; it says it includes those born in the US, not that it excludes those born outside. A number of official bodies have considered the question, including state boards of election, state courts, and the US Congress; none have interpreted "natural-born" to exclude those born outside the US to US parents.
    – cpast
    Apr 20, 2018 at 1:33

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