The Kefauver Plan

Carey Estes Kefauver, United States Senator from Tennessee and the original champion of clarifying matters of presidential succession once and for all.

President Eisenhower's 1955 health problems put the question of presidential disability and succession in the minds of many, and the Kennedy assassination in 1963 moved it front and center - particularly in the minds of two Senators who eventually made the 25th Amendment a reality.

One was C. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee.  A two-time Presidential candidate and the Democratic Party's nominee in 1956, Kefauver opened hearings before the Senate's subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments, presenting a proposal rooted in the disability agreement between Eisenhower and Nixon, but containing modifications designed to quell concerns expressed by some members of Congress.

Kefauver's original proposal, made in 1958, called for the Vice President and a majority of the members of the Cabinet to present the issue before Congress, whereupon they'd decide the matter - a two-thirds vote of each house being necessary to declare the President disabled.  Though Kefauver continued to advocate the idea during the 86th and 87th Congresses, he failed to secure passage of the legislation.

In 1960, Kefauver's efforts were bolstered by the American Bar Association, who undertook the first serious study of presidential succession and disability.  It ultimately recommended a constitutional amendment that, unlike the Eisenhower-Nixon agreement, didn't establish a specific procedure but rather gave Congress the general power to establish a means by which it could declare a President disabled.  But as with the Kefauver plan, Congress failed to act on the ABA's recommendations.

The inauguration of John Kennedy moved the question of presidential succession and disability to the back burner - but it shouldn't have.  At only 43 years old, Kennedy was seen as young, vibrant and vigorious - hardly a candidate to become disabled while in office.  Decades later however, Kennedy's medical history would reveal that a comprehensive succession law was as much needed under Kennedy as it had been for Eisenhower.

But Kefauver pressed on, being joined later by New York Senator Kenneth Keating.  Keating would propose Senate Joint Resolution 35 - a bill that encompassed many points recommended by the ABA study.  Kefauver and Keating would later be joined by Connecticut Senator Thomas Dodd, and by the summer of 1963, it appeared as though at long last the issue of presidential disability would be addressed.  But as had happened so many times before, fate would intervene.

On August 8, 1963, Kefauver suffered a massive heart attack on the floor of the United States Senate, dying two days later.  His death would essentially kill the drive toward addressing presidential disability, and with it nearly the Senate subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments.

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