Who Would Be the Senate Majority Leader?

I’m working on the galley proofs of my Bill of Rights book–the last stage before publication. This puts me in the mood to daydream about far-fetched legal scenarios.

Suppose the Senate is divided equally between the parties. Under that scenario, the party of the Vice-President is the majority because the VP breaks ties. But what if the VP dies and the office is vacant? Does the Majority Leader remain the Majority Leader? Or is there no Majority Leader until a new VP is confirmed?

One way of thinking about that is that the Majority Leader must be affirmatively deposed by some Senate resolution or ruling of the Chair. In other words, the status quo is preserved. But what if there was a Senator from the “majority” who was ill (as Senator McCain is now). Then the other party could muster a 50-49 vote ousting the “Majority Leader” and the former majority could not muster a similar vote until the VP was confirmed (which the same Senate could delay).

Of course, the Senate does not have to have a majority leader to function. Perhaps the best rule in such an interregnum is that the office of Senate Majority Leader is also vacant.

An even more complex question would be presented if the VP was merely incapacitated (say, in a coma) rather than dead. Can a majority rest on a comatose VP?

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3 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    A majority leader is a creation of the rules and how to replace him or her would be reliant on that.

    So, yes, I think a vice president being comatose would not necessarily change majority control.

    What are reasonable rules there is a different question. There also will be strong pressure to convince a senator or two to switch. Finally, though the rules make majority party control matter, raw numbers of votes will also matter in the end too.

  2. Howard Gilbert says:

    Suppose there are 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats, and two Independents who choose not to caucus with either party. Now there is no majority, it is going to last for two years, but the Senate has to function. Presumably there is a Republic Leader, a Democratic leader, and they are equal, but there are also two other Senators who really get to run the show.

  3. Eric says:

    It seems that you would also have to figure out what to do with the President pro-tempore in that case as well. As a constitutional position he would step into the VP’s duties as President of the Senate and resolve the issue if there is no VP.