March 07, 2024

Kilmer Introduces Constitutional Amendment to Ensure Congressional Continuity, Reduce Incentive for Political Violence

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Brad Wenstrup (OH-02) William Timmons (SC-04), and Emanuel Cleaver II (MO-05) proposed a Constitutional Amendment (Continuity Amendment) to temporarily fill House vacancies, ensuring congressional continuity and reducing the incentive for political violence.

In recent years, experts from across the political spectrum – including a nonpartisan commission on the continuity of Congress – have raised concerns regarding the current process for addressing a vacancy in the U.S. House following the death of a Member of Congress.

Currently, the Constitution mandates that House vacancies be filled by special elections. These special elections can generally take three to four months. Experts have warned that this delay would leave the House unable to function following a mass casualty event and could perhaps create an incentive for political violence if someone wanted to flip a majority.

“Our proposal solves two concerns. For one, it would ensure the continuity of the legislative branch during times of crisis. And second, because our proposal requires representatives to provide a list of designees who are qualified to serve in their place – almost assuredly from their own party – it would reduce the incentive for political violence,” said Rep. Kilmer. “The risks may be low. But if something catastrophic were to happen, the impacts would be immense. If Congress fails to enact a legitimate continuity plan, the American people will be left wondering why – in the world’s leading democracy – there was no plan to protect our most sacred democratic institutions.”

“In 2017, I was on the baseball field when a violent, gun-wielding extremist attempted to alter the balance of power in the House of Representatives by assassinating Republican Members of Congress,” said Rep. Wenstrup. “With what I witnessed that day, I believe it’s necessary that we as a body act now to ensure that should tragedy strike, God forbid, the House is able to continue the people’s work and preserve the continuity of government. That is why I’m proud to join Rep. Kilmer in supporting this effort and drive the conversation.”

“On a day like the State of the Union Address, I am reminded of how important it is that the American people have continued representation in the People’s House even during times of crisis,” said Rep. Timmons. “Although it is an uncomfortable issue to consider, we would be derelict in our duty if we did not ensure that the proper tools are in place so Congress can continue to do its job on behalf of the American people. Our amendment proposal addresses this issue to ensure the House remains strong and ready to serve in times of crisis.”

“Congress must have the capacity to immediately respond to the needs of the American people no matter the situation; and just because the United States has been fortunate enough to avoid falling headfirst into this potentially disastrous hole in the Constitution does not mean that we should assume it’s impossible,” said Rep. Cleaver. “In fact, after all that the world has witnessed in the past few years, from international conflict to COVID, I think it’s critical that we have a plan in place. The Continuity Amendment is a common sense, bipartisan proposal that disincentivizes political violence and provides a reasonable, rational way forward should a mass casualty event occur in Congress, and I’m proud to join forces with Reps. Kilmer, Timmons, and Wenstrup to begin the process of adding it to the Constitution.”

The Continuity Amendment aims to improve the continuity plan for the House, especially in the case of unexpected vacancies. The amendment proposes:

  • Pre-Designated Replacements: Each newly elected representative would be required to provide a list of at least five individuals who are qualified to serve in their place in the event of their death during their term.
  • Quick Replacement Process: Should a representative pass away, the governor of their state must select a replacement from the provided list within 10 days.
  • Temporary Service: The chosen individual from the list would then serve as a representative temporarily until a special election can be held to elect a new member.

By improving the continuity plan for the House, the proposal aims to address two main issues:

  • Continuity of the Legislative Branch: The proposal ensures that the legislative process can continue without significant disruption during times of crisis by quickly filling vacancies.
  • Reducing the Incentive for Political Violence: Representatives’ replacements will likely come from their own political party, thereby reducing the incentive for targeting members of Congress to change the balance of power.

“Over the past twenty years, two different Continuity of Government Commissions have identified a key weakness in the House: vacancies are not filled for months,” said John Fortier, AEI and Executive Director, Continuity of Government Commission. “Filling House vacancies with a temporary appointment until a special election can be held ensures that the House will be representative of the people and able to act even after great emergencies.”

“Congress has put its head in the sand for too long when it comes to continuity of government, which is critical to ensuring all Americans have representation in the policymaking process,” said J.D. Rackey, Senior Policy Analyst for Structural Democracy, Bipartisan Policy Center. “Without a plan for continuity, we are leaving the political balance of power in Congress up to chance. Through this constitutional amendment, Representatives Kilmer, Timmons, Wenstrup, and Cleaver provide a workable, bipartisan solution to keep the legislative branch operating in the event of a vacancy or national crisis. Ensuring that no American is denied representation in the U.S. House of Representatives is imperative to preserving our democracy.”

“In these days of heightened political violence and hyper-partisanship, unfortunately, the threat of a mass casualty event that could flip the majority from one party to the other, is very real,” said Peter M. Weichlein, CEO, Association of Former Members of Congress. “Even more concerning is that this is not only a threat, but actually an incentive to use violence in order to change the outcome of an election.  A recent poll of the membership of the Former Members of Congress Association found that almost 90% of our Members, regardless of party, considered political violence the main concern heading into the 2024 election.  It is therefore extremely important that Members of Congress like Representative Kilmer and Representative Timmons are thinking through and offering solutions as we navigate the highly volatile world we live in.”

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