The Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution , Article 3, deals with the situation where no President or Vice President has qualified on January 20.

Section 3

If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.

(Emphasis added)

So, has Congress made such a provision, and, if so, what is that provision?

2 Answers 2


If no President or Vice-President is picked by Inauguration Day, January 20th, then the Presidential Succession Act kicks in. The Act lists the line of succession Acting President. It starts with the Speaker of the House, the President pro tempore and then goes through the cabinet officers. (You can see the full order of succession here.)

You can read more here here and here.

  • 2
    That would be the Cabinet officers of the previous president, yes?
    – DJohnM
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 0:16
  • 1
    @DJohnM yes, but the chance of that mattering is very small indeed.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 17:36
  • 2
    I did not realize until reading the details of this that the Speaker of the House is compelled to resign from Congress in order to become Acting president, until Congress qualifies the true president. Great, an extra piece of gamesmanship if it's really close: the out of power party could filibuster right past the date, thus forcing the speaker's resignation, and this could theoretically flip the vote of the speaker's state delegation; or only after assuring the speaker will be unemployed after all this, come to terms on a candidate.
    – user662852
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 19:21
  • @user662852 in the current situation the heads of both parties in the House, Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy, are both from California, a state whose House representation is Democratic by a large margin. If it weren't the case, since such a mess would happen at least as soon as Jan.6, there is still time for the majority party in the House to select an expendable acting president, make the former Speaker resign, elect that new one as Speaker, and make them become acting president and resign from congress on the 20th. The former speaker then gets re-elected speaker, and all is well. Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 17:19


It’s the Presidential Succession Act of 1947.

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