Joe Biden’s acting presidency is far from guaranteed, but the president-elect is considering it

After being told not to go to Capitol Hill, Joe Biden has been handed one of the most pressing duties that an under-anesthesia president can take on: choosing, within the hour, his acting president.

Republicans on Capitol Hill are calling on the Senate to confirm the NAACP’s Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. to be Biden’s acting president — three days after Biden was rushed to a hospital for a procedure to relieve discomfort in his leg. “If I were in my chair, I would go right to the floor,” Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said in a statement. “I would ask people to leave their politics at the door — to delay to see if a senator or two is willing to stand up and help. This is very important.”

Biden’s deputy, David Axelrod, took to Twitter to place the blame squarely on the Senate Republicans, writing, “If only Republicans would stop trying to block the president of the NAACP from serving the White House by refusing to have him confirmed. If Democrats want to address obstruction, move Biden’s nominee ASAP.”

The appointment of an acting president is a reserved duty in the system of presidential succession, one that has been largely reserved for vice presidents, like Biden, or recent ex-presidents, like Jimmy Carter. In a 1978 National Constitution Center pamphlet, titled “Historical Perspectives on Presidential Appointments,” it stated that the most common job such an appointment has been is to “maintain an orderly government during an absent president,” as reporters interviewed were quick to point out Thursday afternoon. Though such appointments can be made “in the event of any emergency,” a president can also “terminate” the appointment if it is determined that the person they have chosen is “not qualified” to hold the position.

In 1964, Kennedy nominated John T. McGraw to serve as acting secretary of the Department of Energy, citing his experience as a high school junior, to serve in the interim as the highest-ranking government official under the president-elect and his immediate predecessor. Kennedy asked McGraw to “assume an office without responsibility,” and pay his own own way until the new administration could announce its political appointees. In 2016, President Barack Obama nominated Council of Economic Advisers Chair Jason Furman to serve as acting chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers until Democrats take control of the Senate in January — an incident that resulted in a kerfuffle when Republicans said Furman needed to publish his resume. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., famously told Furman to “shut up” while the congressman was on the Senate floor.

Vice President Mike Pence initially said that he would defer to Biden’s decision to name his acting president, but then indicated Wednesday that he felt Biden should designate someone to replace him on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee if he were unable to return. Biden’s office took the announcement seriously, forcing Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to begin calling other senators on the Foreign Relations Committee to see if they’d agree to support a Biden appointment. Lee had earlier alluded to a conflict of interest for Biden in that the former senator and senator-elect from Delaware recently endorsed the Nevada attorney general, Maxine Waters, over Republican Sen. Dean Heller, who also backed Waters in that race. Biden’s endorsement of Waters may conflict with the Senate’s voting procedure, which would grant him and one other senator a vote to name the interim senator of his choice.

John Miller, CNN

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