How Congress Failed to Plan for Doomsday

What would happen if some crazed gunman or terrorist massacred Congress? We don’t really know—and that’s bad news for our democracy.

without the coincidental presence of Majority Whip Steve Scalise—there wouldn’t have been any Capitol Police presence, meaning no security to return fire and stop the shooter. “It would’ve been a massacre.”

.. if ever there were a mass slaughter of top members of Congress—a chemical or biological attack, or even a shooting incident that merely injured or incapacitated a large number of senators or representatives—business could come to a grinding halt and leave the House and Senate impotent for weeks or even months.

.. America’s continuing inability to rebuild Congress after a catastrophic attack is, one might say, supposed to be a feature, not a bug.

.. The men and women who have occupied the House leadership before Scalise have decided that they don’t want members to be easily replaced, even if preserving congressional traditions means that senators and representatives would be sidelined from post-disaster decision-making.

.. What if an attack incapacitated large numbers of senators and representatives without immediately killing them?

.. From the 1940s to 1962, as it wrestled with the issue of presidential succession, Congress saw more than 30 different proposed bills and constitutional amendments about what to do in the case of a mass death of its membership

.. The Senate .. had relatively clear constitutional policies about how to appoint interim senators to fill a vacancy. The House, though, had no clear way to reconstitute itself quickly

.. The House prides itself on the fact that every person who has ever set foot in the body has been duly elected by the people

.. Had United Flight 93 taken off on time, instead of 41 minutes late, and the passengers hadn’t had time to learn of the other attacks and storm the cockpit, the plane might very well have successfully continued to Washington and hit the Capitol building at about the same time as American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon.

.. “With hundreds dead and perhaps hundreds of others in burn units in hospitals, Congress would likely have been without a quorum, without a building, without the ability to function,”

.. What if an attack wiped out the vast majority of the body? Would anyone want a subset of just a handful of representatives, perhaps just a dozen, score, or even a hundred, making sweeping decisions about declarations of war, new appropriations or the massive civil liberties curbs likely to be imposed following a large-scale attack?

.. In the case of the death of the president and vice president, a nine-member House could then elect a new Speaker, who would become president of the United States for the remainder of the term.

.. if the sitting vice president had been a victim of the incident as well, a new No. 2 could not be confirmed absent a House quorum, since both bodies have to confirm such a position.

.. Two years after 9/11, in 2003, its final report called for a new constitutional amendment to expedite special elections in the wake of an attack and to otherwise smooth the reestablishment of a devastated Congress.

.. One idea floated was that each member of Congress should designate his or her own list of successors in case of incapacitation

.. Every single proposal for congressional continuity was imperfect and troublesome in one aspect or another

.. Nevertheless, since the beginning of “continuity of government” planning during the Cold War, officials had successfully made just these types of trade-offs in other areas

.. they looked at it from their own narrow parochial perspective and it was, ‘I’ll be damned if I’m going to let this son of a bitch pick my successor!”

.. Speaker Hastert finally attached “continuity of Congress” legislation to an existing appropriations bill—a parliamentary move frowned upon in normal practice—and forced the Senate to accept it without amendment. The bill, which ultimately became law and remains in force today

.. it required states to hold “expedited” special elections within 49 days

.. Congress has effectively abdicated its responsibility to participate in the nation’s governance during the worst-case scenarios that could befall our country in the future