Congress can confirm a new Vice President, but if Congress couldn't operate due to an emergency like the attack on the Capitol, then there would be no one to fill in the the Vice President. Why is there no Vice Presidential line of succession?

  • 3
    Such a line of succession might make sense if the US voted separately for the Vice President still. But they don't anymore; POTUS just picks a running mate they think will bring them more votes.
    – TylerH
    Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 15:14
  • The Office of VP is in the gift of the President, so as long as there is a line-of-succession for the President (and there is), there is no need of one for the VP. If the President is incapacitated, the VP takes over. The new P's first job is then to appoint a new VP to fill the seat that was just vacated. If the VP is incapacitated, the P simply installs a new one. So there is never a situation in which we don't now how to fill the VP position. Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 8:14

3 Answers 3


The Vice President has exactly two jobs according to the Constitution:

  1. To preside over the Senate, breaking ties if and when necessary, but otherwise not voting or doing much else of substance.
  2. To become President or Acting President pursuant to the 25th Amendment.

#2 is not relevant here as it is part of the Presidential line of succession (which has numerous backup options if the VP is unavailable), so that leaves #1. But if we descend from the platonic ideal of "what the Constitution says" into the real world, the VP in fact spends little time presiding over the Senate, except when their casting vote is needed (this is more common when the Senate is closely divided, as you might expect). Instead, they spend most of their time facilitating the goals of the President. This often involves conferring with people such as lawmakers, cabinet members, and other federal officials, as well as a variety of other unglamorous behind-the-scenes tasks. Most of these tasks boil down to various forms of planning, negotiation, and coordination of the administration's policy agenda, and as a result, no Constitutional authority is required to carry them out (which is why the Constitution does not describe any of these tasks explicitly). Meanwhile, the Senate elects its own President pro tempore, who presides in the VP's absence (or further delegates that task to someone else).

So there are two reasons not to have a VP line of succession:

  1. As Rick Smith points out, the VP can't do their job very effectively if they do not share the President's policy goals. It's therefore preferable to let the President select a VP explicitly.
  2. If Congress is unable to come into session, then the Senate doesn't need anyone to preside over them. If they can come into session, but don't want to confirm a new VP for whatever reason, they could just elect a President pro tempore and carry on as usual. Unlike a vacancy in the office of the President, a vacant VP office is not an emergency, as the VP is not responsible for any particularly important Constitutional functions. It therefore makes more sense to just leave the office vacant for however long it takes to get a new VP confirmed.
  • 4
    GIven the tendency for the President to choose their VP, does that imply that the VP does not technically get elected by the presidential elections, but rather given the job by the elected president? Are candidates running for office required to nominate a VP (and make it publically known) before the election? Is it binding? E.g. can Biden now change who his VP will be?
    – Flater
    Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 13:52
  • 10
    "The Vice President has exactly two jobs according to the Constitution:" The VP has a 3rd job in the Constitution: To invoke the 25th amendment, section 4, along with a majority of either the cabinet or another body provided by law, to declare the President unable to discharge his duties. There is no substitute for the VP in invoking this section.
    – user102008
    Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 17:45
  • 5
    @Kevin: No it isn't. Becoming Acting President has backup options when there is no VP because there are people further down in the line of succession. Invoking section 4 of the 25th Amendment to declare the President unable to discharge his duties has no backup options when there is no VP.
    – user102008
    Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 18:16
  • 6
    @Kevin: For the VP (or someone further down in the line of succession) to become Acting President is the result of invoking section 4 (or 3) of the 25th amendment. However, in order to actually invoke section 4 of the 25th amendment, the VP plus either a majority of the cabinet or a majority of another body provided by law must transmit a declaration to the Speaker of the House or President pro tem of the Senate. That can't happen if the there is no VP or the VP is incapacitated. That declaration is a job of the VP with no backup.
    – user102008
    Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 18:22
  • 6
    @Kevin: Well, lines of succession are for unusual cases. And it's not that implausible that both the Prez and VP would be incapacitated (or the Prez incapacitated and the VP killed) by the same event. My point is that none of the reasons given in your answer apply to this job of the VP (the job of invoking section 4 of the 25th amendment), and this job might be a legitimate reason to have a VP line of succession.
    – user102008
    Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 18:58

The major purpose of the office of Vice-President is to have someone to succeed the President at need. Since there is a Presidential line of Succession specified by law in the case where there is no Vice President, and since a new VP can be confirmed by Congress, there is not an obvious need for a separate line of succession to the VP.

  • I suspect that the real reason for the Vice Presidency is this: the Electors are required to vote for two persons, but to most people it's absurd to cast two votes for one office, so there must be a second office. Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 7:48
  • @ Anton I think that is backwards. The two votes by each elector were because there were two officwes to fill. The office of VP was designed as a replacement, a ":drop dead deputy", that is a perspon who could step into the office if the President dropped dead. In short, an elected Crown Prince. Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 15:04
  • 1
    To discourage scattering votes among local favorites, each Elector was required to vote for someone outside their own State; but it would be wrong to entirely forbid them to vote for a local. Hence the two votes. (Federalist #68 appears to agree more with you than with me; Hamilton was a great rationalizer.) Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 21:32

Why is there no Vice Presidential line of succession?

Were there a line of succession, the vice president could be of a different party or, in other ways, incompatible.

During the consideration of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, it was decided that the president should nominate a person to be their vice president. This was primarily for compatibility — the same reasons that a presidential candidate chooses a vice presidential candidate at a nominating convention.

This is explained further in the relevant part of the report.

Report on Presidential Inability and Vacancies in the Office of Vice President, S. Rep. No. 89-66


Section 2 is intended to virtually assure us that the Nation will always possess a Vice President. It would require a President to nominate a person who meets the existing constitutional qualifications to. be Vice President whenever a vacancy occurred in that office. The nominee would take office as Vice President once he had been confirmed by a majority vote in both Houses of the Congress.

In considering this section of the proposal, it was observed that the office of the Vice President has become one of the most important positions in our country. The days are long past when, it was largely honorary and of little importance, as has been previously pointed out. For more than a decade the Vice President has borne specific and important responsibilities in the executive branch of Government. He has come to share and participate in the executive functioning of our Government, so that in the event of tragedy, there would be no break in the informed exercise of executive authority. Never has this been more adequately exemplified than by the uninterrupted assumption of the Presidency by Lyndon B. Johnson.

It is without contest that the procedure for the selection of a Vice President must contemplate the assurance of a person who is compatible with the President. The importance of this compatibility is recognized in the modern practice of both major political parties in according the presidential candidate a voice in choosing his running mate subject to convention approval. This proposal would permit the President to choose his Vice President subject to congressional approval. In this way the country would be assured of a Vice President of the same political party as the President, someone who would presumably work in harmony with the basic policies of the President.

  • 2
    Read up on the shenanigans that lead to Nixon's VP Spiro Agnew's resignation (followed by Gerald Ford's nomination and appointment as VP) to see section 2 of the 25th amendment in action. It was the only time section 2 has been used. Nixon was about to enter his Watergate death spiral, and he saw Agnew's resignation as a nice distraction. It left Ford as a nice trivia question, he's the only VP or President (he ended up in both roles) who never won election as either a VP or president.
    – Flydog57
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 6:24

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