During a chat I had this afternoon, someone brought up an interesting situation to contemplate. The Presidency of George Bush fils ended today at noon EST, but Mr. Obama wasn’t sworn in until 12:10. Who then, the question was, President during those ten minutes.
One mildly unsatisfactory answer is Ms. Pelosi. If there is neither a President nor Vice President, then the duty falls to the Speaker of the House.
An even less satisfactory answer is Mr. Biden. The way that was explained, he was sworn in at 11:58. I find it unsatisfactory for two reasons. The most important to me is that after conjuring up this inter-administration gap, this closes it before it started. The second reason follows from what I think the best answer is.
The best answer to my mind is the simplest: no one. The office doesn’t magically fall to the next person in line, they actually have to be sworn in. When Mr. Kennedy was murdered, there was a short gap between his death and Mr. Johnson being sworn in and during that gap, there was no President. It’s the swearing in that makes the President. Similarly, in the event that an election gets thrown into the House and they didn’t decide until the 21st, there’d be no President for that day.
If there was indeed a gap (I could argue there was none), the person to whom the office fell was unequivocally Mr. Obama. He was at the time President-Elect. Even if Mr. Biden were somehow actually Veep, the obvious President-to-be is the President-Elect. Of course, this is also why the answer of Ms. Pelosi is unsatisfying. Even if we’re running the Executive like a Swiss railway, we know who the incumbent executives are.
Nonetheless, it’s fun to muse over. Feel free to spin your own argument for whomever.
The clever reader may also note that I said “today” despite it being past midnight server time. I have a personal rule that it’s still today until one goes to bed; it’s still night until one has breakfast; it’s still morning until one has lunch. And besides, it’s still the 20th in Hawaii, the President’s home state.