Spoiler alert: This post includes plot details of recent episodes of Showtime’s Homeland, ABC’s Designated Survivor, and CBS All Access’ The Good Fight.
I hadn’t realized how many TV presidents I was juggling until I started to see story lines this year about the 25th Amendment.
A 51-year-old addition to the U.S. Constitution, inspired by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and meant to, among other things, spell out the line of presidential succession, took out Showtime’s Homeland President Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) on Sunday night, after a majority of the cabinet whom she’d tried to fire handed the Oval Office to her vice president, Ralph Warner (Beau Bridges), on the grounds that she was unfit to hold office.
Truth is, Keane has been a mite paranoid. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t out to get her.
A few days earlier, on ABC’s Designated Survivor, President Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) was threatened with removal under the disabilities section of the amendment after recordings of his sessions with a therapist were leaked to the public. As part of a deal made with his recently appointed vice president, Eleanor Darby (Aunjanue Ellis), to forestall his removal, the president agreed to undergo questioning by a lawyer, played by Michael J. Fox, supposedly to determine his mental fitness.
(No, I don’t quite understand this, either, but if this is what it takes to bring Fox aboard for the rest of the season, I’m all-in.)
In January, CBS’s Madame Secretary invoked the 25th to remove its own fictional president, Conrad Dalton (Keith Carradine), who’d begun to behave erratically and had ordered a nuclear strike against Russian satellites. Before you could say, “World War III,” Dalton’s actions were attributed to a benign brain tumor, and the character recently returned to office after a medical leave.
Meanwhile, CBS All Access’ The Good Fight is taking a different tack, addressing the question of the actual president’s fitness to hold office, with a story line in which the law firm led by Delroy Lindo and Christine Baranski’s characters is being asked to make a case for the impeachment of President Trump.
Whether this is all coincidence or Hollywood-style wishful thinking, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that ABC’s Scandal got there first.
In 2012, after the show’s then-president, Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn), was shot, Vice President Sally Langston (Kate Burton) became the acting president under the fourth section of the 25th Amendment — which has yet to be invoked in real life — replacing a president who’d become incapacitated.
Here, by the way, is what Section 4 says:
“Whenever the vice president and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide transmit to the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the vice president shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as acting president.
“Thereafter, when the president transmits to the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office, unless the vice president and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide transmit within four days to the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon, Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the vice president shall continue to discharge the same as acting president; otherwise, the president shall resume the powers and duties of his office.”