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US Lawmaker Proposes Succession Procedures, in Light of Terror Attacks - 2001-10-11

A U.S. Congressman is proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would ensure a smooth succession of power in the event a large number of lawmakers are killed in a terrorist attack. The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have prompted Congress to consider what was once unimaginable.

Congressman Brian Baird, a Democrat from the state of Washington, is proposing the Constitutional amendment.

Under the plan, governors would be allowed to appoint House members to 90 day terms if 25 percent or more of the 435 House members are killed, disabled or missing in a terrorist attack. The states would then be able to plan and hold special elections within that time frame.

Congressman Baird admits it is a scenario that is difficult to contemplate, but he says it is one that must be addressed.

"It is important that we do this so that our own citizenry has confidence that even if we were to perish as individuals and if this building would be lost, our government and our Constitution would be preserved," Mr. Baird says. "It is important that we do this so that our adversaries know that even if they succeed in taking all of our lives, the torch of liberty that we hold so dear, the Constitution that we have sworn to defend and uphold will persevere," he says.

Republican Congressman Scott McInnis of Colorado noted news reports saying one of the four planes hijacked on September 11 may have been heading for the U.S. Capitol building before it crashed in Pennsylvania.

He told Mr. Baird he thought the proposed amendment is a good idea. "I do not think many of us, including myself, were aware that there was no provision in place in light of a tragedy like this," he said. "Now because of this tragedy, I think you have very competently brought up the issue that we better fill in that gap. I hope it never happens, but the fact is, it might," he said.

When a Senator dies or leaves office before his or her term ends, the Constitution allows governors to fill the vacancy. But the Constitution requires that House members be directly elected.

With time needed to hold primaries and general elections, House seats can be left vacant for months.

The Constitution has been amended only 27 times in more than 200 years, including the 10 articles of the Bill of Rights.

An amendment to the Constitution must be approved by two-thirds of the House and the Senate, and by three-fourths of state legislatures.