Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge could be added to the presidential line of succession as part of a terrorist-protection measure gathering bipartisan approval across Capitol Hill.
The bill quietly passed the Senate Friday before the Fourth of July recess and has broad support among House leaders.
It calls for Mr. Ridge to be eighth in the line of succession to the presidency, after four Cabinet members -- the secretaries of state, Treasury and defense, and the attorney general. The measure seeks to correct the homeland security bill of 2001, which did not include that office in the succession.
Asked to respond to the legislation, Mr. Ridge told the Associated Press yesterday, "One of our responsibilities obviously is continuity of government ... and where the Congress thinks the secretary should fit, that's their judgment. I'm satisfied with it."
In the event of a terrorist attack wiping out the top seven presidential successors, the secretary of homeland security would be the most qualified and experienced to lead the nation, said Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican and legislation sponsor.
"We need to be prepared for even the worst-case disaster scenario," Mr. DeWine said.
"The secretary of homeland security is the head of the largest and one of the most powerful Cabinet-level departments. It makes sense to break with tradition and elevate this new Cabinet secretary in the presidential line of succession," Mr. DeWine said.
"The eighth position reflects the gravity of the role of the secretary of homeland security in our government."
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, also sponsored the legislation, which he said he hoped never would be needed.
"But it's critically important that our nation be prepared in times of crisis," Mr. Dodd said.
Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is sponsoring bipartisan legislation resulting from a study group appointed by leaders to ensure that the legislative branch would continue to function after a terrorist attack or another catastrophe.
"This clarification of presidential succession is critical if we are to survive a successful terrorist attack on the nation's leadership," Mr. Cox said.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, is carrying a companion bill to the Senate measure.
A senior Republican leadership aide said there is no apparent opposition to adding the position to the succession list. "If the administration supports it, we'll pass it," the aide said.
Presidential succession was established by law in 1792 and listed the vice president first in the line of succession, followed by the Senate president pro tem and then the speaker of the House. That was changed in 1886 with the addition of Cabinet officers.
The law was amended in 1947 by President Truman and listed the Cabinet members as successors according to the dates their offices were established.