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Harvard prof explains how ‘President Pelosi’ could become reality if election not decided on time

'There's a fail-safe mechanism built into the constitution itself'

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe explained last week how "President Nancy Pelosi" could become a reality at 12:01 p.m. on Jan. 20, 2021.

What's the background?

Last week, President Donald Trump triggered an alarm when he suggested delaying the presidential election.

"With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???"

There are significant concerns regarding how to safely conduct the election during the coronavirus panic.

Democrats suggest mailing voters ballots, but Republicans claim that method will increase the influence of voter fraud in election results.

What did Tribe say?

Speaking with MSNBC host Joy Reid on Friday, Tribe explained that, if the election is not settled on time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could temporarily become president via a constitutional "fail-safe."

There is a procedure — it's a very elaborate procedure — in every state for resolving disputes by the date of the so-called "safe harbor" on December 8th. So, really, all of the efforts that Trump is making to both pretend that he can extend the date of the election, which everyone understands he can't do that. That date is set at November 3rd by act of Congress.

All of that is designed simply to cast doubt in the way that Putin wants to and the way that Bannon has tried to do from time to time on the ability of our system to work. They're trying to make it look chaotic but there's a fail-safe mechanism built into the constitution itself. That is no matter how much dust he throws into the gears, at high noon on January 20th, 2021, if there has not been a new president elected, at that point, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House become president of the United States.

Indeed, as Tribe explained, the president cannot change the date of the election — only Congress has that power.

With regard to his claim about Pelosi, the 20th Amendment dictates that the president, and his vice president, must vacate office by noon on Jan. 20 after the election. Because the speaker of House is second in the presidential line-of-succession, it is presumable that Pelosi would assume office until the winner of the election is decided.

However, as Snopes cautioned, such a scenario is uncharted territory, making Tribe's theory, that Pelosi could become president, "unproven" at best.

One last thing…
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