Bush, not Reagan, was the 'Acting' President

Reagon for 'Acting Governor' Button

Reagan's long Hollywood career was an issue California Democrats tried to exploit in 1966. hide caption

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Alexander Haig 'I'm in Charge Here' Button

Alexander Haig mistakenly thought he was in charge in 1981 when President Reagan was shot. But V.P. Bush actually was in charge in 1985 when Reagan underwent surgery for colon cancer. hide caption

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Clement Atlee Button

A passionate -- and exhausting -- keynote speech at the 1956 Democratic convention. hide caption

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Thirty-five years ago today, the Supreme Court ruled his ouster from Congress was illegal. From Ken Rudin's Collection hide caption

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Q: Is it true that George H.W. Bush was "acting president" for one day while Ronald Reagan was in surgery? Has anyone ever been "acting president" before? — Tom Adams, Fort Mill, S.C.

A: The 25th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1967, states, "In case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by law provide for the case of removal, death, resignation or inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what officer shall then act as President, and such officer shall act accordingly, until the disability be removed, or a President shall be elected."

Note: If you wish to be notified when a new Political Junkie is published, drop me a line at politicaljunkie@npr.org.

Also, when sending in a question, please be sure to include your city and state.

The first time this was ever put into use came on July 13, 1985, when President Reagan underwent colon cancer surgery and Vice President Bush became "acting president." Just prior to the operation, Reagan sent letters to the speaker of the House and the Senate president pro tempore advising them he "will be briefly and temporarily incapable of discharging the Constitutional powers and duties of the office of the president of the United States," and thus "Vice President George Bush shall discharge those powers and duties in my stead commencing with the administration of anesthesia to me in this instance." This transfer of power lasted all of eight hours — from 11:28 a.m. until 7:22 p.m. — after which Reagan sent follow-up letters stating he was able to resume the duties. Various press reports say that for most of his tenure as acting president, Bush played tennis.

Vice President Dick Cheney is the only other person to serve as "acting president." On June 29, 2002, President George W. Bush underwent a colonoscopy, during which Cheney assumed the duties for two hours and 15 minutes.

Q: Did Ronald Reagan graduate from Eureka College, or did he drop out to work for a radio station? — Barbara Strickland, West Palm Beach, Fla.

A: Reagan graduated from Eureka College in Eureka, Ill., on June 7, 1932, with a B.A. in sociology and economics.

Q: What were the final figures for President Bush and Sen. John Kerry in the New Jersey presidential primaries on June 8? — Barbara Bennett, Neptune, N.J.

A: Bush was unopposed on the Republican side. Kerry won the Democratic primary with 92.1 percent of the vote, or 191,816 votes. Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich finished second, getting 9,074 votes (4.4 percent), followed by Lyndon LaRouche with 4,528 votes (2.2 percent) and George Ballard III with 2,758 votes (1.3 percent). Democrats have carried the Garden State in the last three presidential elections.

Q: I became a "political junkie" when, as a child, I watched Gov. Frank Clement of Tennessee on black and white television give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. I was mesmerized. My question: what year was this, 1952 or '56? I remember that Adlai Stevenson was running for president, but I don't remember much else. — Connie Templeton, Seattle, Wash.

A: It was 1956, in Chicago. Stevenson was once again selected by the Dems to run against Dwight Eisenhower, and the highlight of the convention was when Stevenson threw open the choice of his running mate to the delegates; they picked Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee.

The Bible-thumping Clement sure did give a passionate and memorable speech the evening of Aug. 13, 1956, but the 36-year-old "boy governor" may not have appreciated all the reviews. It was truly a red-meat speech, in which he referred to Nixon and Eisenhower as the "vice hatchet man slinging slander and spreading half-truths while the top man peers down the green fairways of indifference." Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia remembers being so enthralled with the speech that he missed the birth of his second son.

But the general consensus is that Clement's keynote may have been one of the worst in history. In his over-the-top, hour-long attack on the Eisenhower administration, he kept saying, "How long, O Lord, how long?" Eventually, as the speech went on and on, the delegates were asking the same thing of him. Red Smith, a New York sports writer, described Clement's speech as "slaying the Republicans with the jawbone of an ass."

Q: Your March 10 column listed presidential running mates with the same first name, but you forgot about the Democratic ticket of 1912 and 1916. Woodrow Wilson's given first name was Thomas, and thus the ticket was Thomas Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Marshall. — Joshua Davey, Eugene, Ore.

A: OK, you got me on that one. Speaking of presidents' forgotten first names — at least, forgotten by me! — did you know that Ulysses Grant's name is actually Hiram Ulysses Grant? At Grant's birth on April 27, 1822, his parents had not decided what to name him, so each family member wrote a name and put it in a hat. They drew out "Hiram" and then "Ulysses," and that's how he got his name. So the real answer to the perennial "who's buried in Grant's tomb?” is a guy named Hiram.

Also, for the record, Grover Cleveland's real first name is Stephen, and Calvin Coolidge's is John. Until his adoption in 1917, Gerald Ford was Leslie King Jr.

This Day in Campaign History: In a 7-1 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the House acted illegally when it voted in 1967 to bar Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-NY) from Congress because of financial misconduct (June 16, 1969).

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