- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

House Republicans yesterday introduced a bill requiring speedy elections if an attack kills at least 100 House members, a proposal designed to counter calls for a constitutional change to allow the appointment of representatives.

“We alone, of all federal officials, have been directly elected by the people, never appointed,” said Rep. David Dreier, California Republican. “I believe the Framers did this for a reason … We cannot let terrorists force us to change the structure they created for us.”

The bill crafted by Mr. Dreier and House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, provides that when the speaker of the House announces there are 100 or more vacancies in the body, state political parties would each choose a nominee and hold a special election within 21 days.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, praised the proposal, saying it will allow Americans to “retain their local voice in Washington … without changing the Constitution.”

After September 11, Congress began developing plans to keep the government running in the event a massive attack killed significant numbers of elected officials.

Currently, the Constitution requires elections to fill unexpected House vacancies, whereas such vacancies in the Senate can be filled relatively quickly by appointments.

A commission run by the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Brookings Institution recommended last month that Congress pass a constitutional amendment allowing governors to appoint replacement House members after a catastrophe, as they can appoint senators.

The commission report says a constitutional change is “the only solution that adequately addresses the problem of filling mass vacancies in Congress quickly after a catastrophic event.”

Rep. Brian Baird, Washington Democrat, agreed. He said the Sensenbrenner plan is a good start, but has shortfalls involving the length and details of the process.

He said a constitutional amendment would allow the House to be fully reconstituted within a few days of a disaster, whereas the Sensenbrenner bill could leave the House nonfunctional for weeks if all or most members were killed.

It’s an even bigger problem if the president were killed in the same attack and an unelected Cabinet official took over, Mr. Baird said.

Were the House nonfunctional, he said, the country would be run by an unelected official with no House to keep him in line.

“They’re willing to allow an unelected person, with no checks, to take this country into nuclear war,” Mr. Baird said, adding that this is “deeply disconcerting.”

Mr. Baird plans to introduce a constitutional amendment this fall that would allow House members to appoint a temporary replacement for each seat if there is a catastrophe, to serve until special elections are held.

Rep. Christopher Cox, a California Republican who led a bipartisan working group on this issue in the last Congress, said he would prefer not to change the Constitution, and the Sensenbrenner bill is a start. But he wondered what would happen if the speaker were killed in the attack and unable to call for special elections.

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