February 03, 2005

But Seriously . . .

Can't we handle this in a different way? In this day and age, it seems profoundly unwise to plan an event that places, in one building:

The President of the United States;
His entire cabinet;
The Vice President, and the Speaker of the House.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff;
The entire Supreme Court
and both chambers of the legislature.

All it would take would be one very successful strike, and AQ could knock out our government more effectively than they planned to do on 9/11.

There would be no one left to rebuild the rest: we'd have to elect new everything from scratch. It makes no sense. It's unwise.

Posted by Attila at February 3, 2005 02:11 AM

By law, or perhaps custom, there is always someone in the official line of succession out of town during events like the SOTU. I know that doesn't seem like much but it's enough to keep a command structure intact.
In the case of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for instance, their deputies are always someplace else.
A successful attack would be messy, the human cost great, but ours is a government of laws, men and women can be replaced. The military wouldn't miss a beat, the Governors of the various States would appoint replacement Senators, the Deputy Secretaries would serve in their Cabinet positions pending confirmation by the new Senate and, within just a few months a new House would be elected. The first order of business would be to appoint a new Supreme Court.
Nor would a successful attack on the Capitol during the SOTU be easy, Security leading up to, during, and after such events is tighter than a gnat's ass, from guys and dogs looking for bombs to armed fighters overhead. The danger isn't during the SOTU, it's during an ordinary Wednesday when both Congress and the Court are in session and the President at his desk. A small nuke would get them all.

Posted by: Peter at February 3, 2005 06:30 AM

Peter's right -- there's always a Cabinet member who isn't in the chambers during a SOTU. Normally the newsies on TV remark on this and identify who's not present.

Posted by: McGehee at February 3, 2005 07:56 AM

I'm no evil mastermind, but I consider myself to be a fairly smart guy. I cannot conceive of how a large-scale attack on our capital could be carried out on "State of the Union" night. The District is studdied with anti-aircraft missile batteries, and there's a full-time CAP. Vehicle and foot traffic can't get anywhere near the Capitol. So in order to carry out an attack, the bad guys would have to get their hands on a strategic nuclear weapon — in the hundred-kiloton range — and somehow smuggle it into the country. A weapon that size shines like a spotlight in neutron and gamma radiation, and would be detected from miles away by the folks who are responsible for looking for such things.

Unless we're talking about a James-Bond-style scheme involving burrowing under the Capitol with a tunnel-boring machine from southern Maryland, I just can't imagine how the Bad Guys could get a weapon capable of killing everybody in the building into a position where they could use it.

Posted by: Jeff Harrell at February 3, 2005 10:14 AM

All the above are correct, but I worry that the trigger would be pulled too late. I don't want to hear stories about planes violating DC air space as we do now. I want to hear stories about planes being shot down inside DC air space. Then I'll worry less about attacks during the SOTU or on any given Wednesday. Harsh...sure...but that's the game were playing now.

Posted by: Don at February 3, 2005 11:49 AM

Read Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor (the end) and Executive Orders (the whole book).

If we had a President and state governors, we could reconstitute the Supreme Court, cabinet and Senate. However, we'd have to wait until the next scheduled General election (November of an even year) to reconstitute the House. That would be a mess - we couldn't even pass a bill to pay for fighting whoever did it.

I would assume that in such a case, the states would call for a Constitutional Convention to amend the Constitution to allow a special election for the House (and probably the Senate). However, that opens up the whole "lots of other amendments" can or worms.

We really need to pass an amendment to handle the case of a significant portion of the House being unable to serve.

p.s. I think I'm in love with your site logo. :-)

Posted by: Mark at February 3, 2005 12:24 PM

1) I'm well aware that one cabinet minister sits the SOTU out. But I don't see how the Transportation Secretary or whatever would be capable of pulling a whole new government out of his/her hat.

2) Let's remember that if things had gone per plan on 9/11, both the White House and the Capitol would have been hit. We missed dealing with the "many dead ligislators" problem because flight 93 was delayed, and taken out of the game by its own passengers. We missed having a damaged White House (and maybe even a dead VP/First Lady) because the White House is harder to spot from the air than AQ anticipated, and the hijackers had to settle for the Pentagon, which is easy to recognize.

3) My understanding is that Mark is correct, and we don't have a mechanism in place for replacing legislators in a timely fashion after a disaster. We need to fix this in any event.

4) The fact that "life would go on" after the government got decapitated doesn't mean that it's a hot idea to do things this way. Cheney, the Joint Chiefs, the Supreme Court and probably the cabinet should have been elsewhere last night.

This is not an arena wherein we can afford another "failure of imagination."

We're supposed to be Americans: more interested in what's practical than pomp and circumstance. Some of these people should be watching the event on video monitors.

Posted by: Attila Girl at February 3, 2005 01:08 PM

Shoot, don't worry.
Cheney is an android. Clinton is bulletproof. Pelosi became one of the undead decades ago. I think President Bush might be Spiderman in an alter ego, and so his Spidey-sense would save him.
We'd have enough govt no matter what happened.

Posted by: Nathan at February 3, 2005 07:31 PM

They might knock out most of the federal government, but you still have 50 functioning state governments. I would expect the governors of Maryland and Virginia to step in with immediate disaster relief to DC. I would expect some rapid, if temporary, devolution of power to the states, until a new national government could be set up. Our system is quite resilient, and I'm sure such a scenario has a contingency plan dating back to the Cold War.

Posted by: JohnL at February 4, 2005 09:02 AM

I'm not so sure.

Posted by: Attila Girl at February 4, 2005 09:43 AM

Look, congresscritters die all the time, there are 535 of them and a bunch of them are old farts, heck, some even older than me. If a Senator drops dead, the Governor of the State appoints someone to fill out the rest of the term.
If it's a representative that keels over, well that's another story. If there is only a short time until the next election, nobody worries too much, it's custom that a Representative from the other Party will sit out a controversial vote, much like they do when they are going to be out of town. It's called 'paired voting' and is as old as the House of Representatives.
If more than a couple=three months is left on the two year term, a special election is called.
If the whole House, or a substantial part of it were wiped out, say by a bad bunch of Gin in the cloakrooms or a bomb or virus-covered money, then there would be a special election.
The wheels wouldn't stop turning, by the time that bugetary problems showed up we'd have a whole new crowd of congresscritters.
Our system is a lot more resiliant than you seem to realise.

Posted by: Peter at February 5, 2005 12:13 AM

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