Why an oil tycoon or brain surgeon could end up president

  • Rex Tillerson, once of ExxonMobil and now decretary of State, is fourth in line, followed by former banker Steve Mnuchin.

Did you know that a former CEO of ExxonMobil is fourth in the U.S. presidential line of succession? Or that Ben Carson — neurosurgeon, controversial former presidential candidate and now secretary of Housing and Urban Development — stands 13th in line to replace President Donald Trump if he dies, resigns or is removed from office?

The transportation secretary is 14th in line, but since Elaine Chao is a naturalized U.S. citizen — not born in the United States — she is ineligible.

Rex Tillerson, CEO and chairman of Exxon Mobil.
Martin Simon | CNBC
Rex Tillerson, CEO and chairman of Exxon Mobil.

Amid the continuing investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, there, of course, has been a great deal of discussion and news coverage of the 45th commander in chief not completing his full term in office.

If a sitting president leaves office, the vice president — currently Mike Pence — becomes president for the rest of the term. If he is unable to serve, the next person in the line of succession acts as president (see the chart below). To date, only a vice president has ever replaced the president.

The second in line, after Pence, is House Speaker Paul Ryan. And that oilman, who would follow Ryan and then Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch, into the West Wing? That would be Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

American presidential succession laws date to 1792. The line of succession has been shuffled several times, including in 1868, when Congress removed the leaders of the Senate and House from the list, and, most recently, in 1967.

U.S. Presidential Line of Succession

Current Officer
1 Vice President Mike Pence (R.)
2 Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R.)
3 Senate President (pro tempore) Orrin Hatch (R.)
4 Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R.)
5 Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (R.)
6 Defense Secretary James Mattis (I.)
7 Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R.)
8 Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke (R.)
9 Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue (R.)
10 Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (R.)
11 Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta (R.)
12 Health & Human Svcs. Secretary Tom Price (R.)
13 Housing/Urban Dev. Secretary Ben Carson (R.)
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao* (R.)
14 Energy Secretary Rick Perry (R.)
15 Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (R.)
16 Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin (I.)
17 Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly (I.)
*Not natural-born U.S. citizen so ineligible for Presidency. Source: Wikipedia

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