Everyone is anticipating the swearing-in on Tuesday of Barack Obama as our 44th president. Three years ago, however, I considered the possibility that the person sworn in on January 20, 2009, would actually be our 45th. In speculating about the future, I hit some marks (Pelosi is speaker; Bush is hugely unpopular) and missed others (the Senate does not have a 50-50 split; the House did not aggressively investigate the Bush administration; Al Gore was not the Democratic candidate), but there are some things we may never know.
What if George Bush and Dick Cheney decided it would be good, as a precaution, to immunize themselves from criminal prosecution? You can read my original 2006 post for the entire scenario, but here are the key paragraphs:
The president had hoped that someone would say something uplifting on the occasion of his last day in office, but his guests were all business. It would have been difficult in any case to offer the customary platitudes about missions accomplished or goals achieved. The nation was eager to see him gone and his approval numbers had long languished in the low twenties, rivaling Nixon's just before his resignation. The disastrous 2006 elections had saddled him with a Democratic House of Representatives and nonstop congressional hearings on executive branch corruption had taken a toll. Articles of impeachment had not been voted, but scores of Bush administration officials had scrambled to secure immunity in return for their testimony. The American people seemed simultaneously disgusted and fascinated by the spectacle. The president had been disappointed in his hopes that they would soon be sated and lose interest. Instead the voters had decided that the 2006 results were a half-measure. They had used the 2008 election to increase Speaker Pelosi's margin in the House and broken the tie in the Senate, making Harry Reid the majority leader. Both the Democratic and Republican nominees for president had campaigned against the incumbent, the latter only slightly less overtly than the former.Think it couldn't happen? It all depends on Dick, doesn't it?
The secretary of state was carrying a slender portfolio. She slipped a single sheet of paper out of it, stiff bond paper carrying the White House letterhead, and placed it on the desk before the president. He took up a pen and quickly signed it. “Here you go, Dick.”
“Thank you, Mr. President.” The vice president accepted the proffered sheet of paper, folded it carefully, and slipped it into the inside pocket of his coat. The secretary of state pulled another sheet of paper from her portfolio and placed it before the president. George Bush stared at it for several seconds, then wielded his pen again.
“Thank you, Mr. President,” said the secretary of state, suddenly keenly aware that it was now just a courtesy title. She carefully placed the resignation letter back into her portfolio. Mrs. Cheney began to rummage in her large handbag and pulled out a Bible. With impeccable timing, a muffled rap on the door accompanied the entrance of Mr. Alito, the junior associate justice of the Supreme Court. The Court was precariously split down the middle and the president had been unable to fill the Stevens vacancy because the emboldened Democrats in the U.S. Senate had blocked his nominee. The Democratic president-elect would begin his term of office with a crucial Supreme Court appointment.
President No. 44
Justice Alito was wearing a business suit rather than judicial robes. He greeted the occupants of the Oval Office and they quickly arranged themselves, Cheney with his right hand lifted, his left hand on the Bible in his wife's hands, and Bush and Rice to one side. “Please repeat after me. I, Richard Cheney, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The former vice president echoed the justice's words, ending his recitation with an emphatic, “So help me God!” The words were a traditional coda to the presidential oath of office, but they were not actually in the U.S. Constitution.
“Congratulations, Mr. President,” said Justice Alito, shaking Cheney's hand. The new president exchanged a quick kiss with the new first lady and then shook hands with his immediate predecessor and the secretary of state. “Okay,” he said. “Let's finish this.”
Secretary Rice dipped into her portfolio again. In addition to the presidential resignation letter, it contained her own previously signed presidential pardon and one other sheet of White House stationery. She placed it on the desk and President Cheney signed it. He handed the document to Bush, who stared at it until Rice suggested she take care of it for him. He gratefully handed his own presidential pardon to the secretary of state.
“Of course, it's not like we are really going to need that,” he said, trying to make light of it.
“It doesn't hurt to be safe, George,” said President Cheney. The former president's eyes widened at the use of his first name and he flinched as if struck. Bush opened his mouth as if to speak, then closed it again.