Tennessee Senator C. Estes Kefauver, who led the initial effort to clarify presidential succession and disability via constitutional amendment.

Striving Toward A Permanent Solution

President Eisenhower's health problems put questions of presidential succession and disability in the minds of many, including in the minds of two men who eventually would make the 25th Amendment a reality.

The first of these would be Senator C. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee.  A two-time presidential hopeful and the Democratic Party's Vice Presidential nominee in 1956, Kefauver opened hearings before the Senate's Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments, presenting a proposal rooted in the disability agreement between Eisenhower and Nixon, but containing modifications designed to quell concerns expressed by some members of Congress.  Made in 1958, Kefauver's original proposal called for the Vice President and a majority of the members of the Cabinet to present questions of presidential disability to Congress, whereupon it would decide the matter - a two-thirds vote of each house being necessary to declare a President disabled.  Though Kefauver would continue to advocate the concept during the 86th and 87th Congresses, passage of the legislation would not be forthcoming.

In 1960, Senator Kefauver's efforts would be bolstered by the American Bar Association, who undertook the first serious study of presidential succession and disability.  Ultimately, the ABA recommended a constitutional amendment which, unlike the Eisenhower-Nixon Agreement, didn't establish a specific procedure but rather gave Congress the general power to establish a method by which it could declare a President disabled.  But as with the Kefauver plan, Congress failed to act on the ABA's recommendations.

The inauguration of President John Kennedy in 1961 moved questions of presidential succession and disability to the proverbial back burner - but it shouldn't have.  While at 43 years old the new President was seen as young, vibrant and vigorous; hardly a candidate to become disabled while in office.  Decades later however, Kennedy's medical history would reveal that a comprehensive succession law was as much needed under Kennedy as it had been during the Eisenhower administration. 

Senate Joint Resolution 35

Kefauver, pressing on, would be joined in his efforts by two Senate colleagues - New York's Kenneth Keating and Connecticut's Thomas Dodd - and permanent action addressing presidential succession and disability seemed likely.  In the 87th Congress, the three would submit Senate Joint Resolution 35, a proposed constitutional amendment which read:

In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the said office shall devolve on the Vice President.  In case of the inability of the President to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the said powers and duties shall devolve on the Vice President, until the inability be removed.  The Congress may by law provide for the case of removal, death, resignation or inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what officer shall then be President, or in the case of inability, act as President, and such officer shall be or act as President accordingly, until a President shall be elected or, in case of inability, until the inability shall be earlier removed.  The commencement and termination of any inability shall be determined by such method as Congress shall by law provide.

But before the proposed amendment would reach a vote in the United States Senate, as had happened so many times before fate would intervene.  On August 8, 1963, C. Estes Kefauver suffered a massive heart attack on the floor of the Senate, dying two days later.  His death would seemingly kill the effort to amend the constitution, and with it would very nearly kill the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments.  But in short order, another man would step forward to pick up where Kefauver left off, ultimately making the 25th Amendment a reality.