When did Obama get Presidential authority?

This is not an idle question. The media are all saying he was president at noon, even before he took the Oath. But that’s not my reading of the Constitution, at least in terms of authority. But I have no real training in these matters. Can someone sort this out for me?

Here are the relevant bits, I think.

Article II, Section 1 says

Before he enter on the execution of his office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation:–“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) 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.”

Amendment XX, Section 1 says

The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January….of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.

So that means he was president at noon, but had no authority to execute his office? What if something had happened in those few minutes between noon and when he took the Oath? Presumably the Vice President had constitutional authority, since he had been sworn in. Help, dear readers?

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6 Responses

  1. Ty says:

    You are correct, at least as far as the Constitution is concerned. Which means that Pelosi was in charge for a few minutes there!

  2. Scott Gunn says:

    Yeah, someone else said that on my FB wall. I’m not sure I buy it though. Biden had been sworn in, so presumably a duly sworn-in Veep trumps the SOTH?

    Seems like maybe they should have rearranged and had the Oath before the lovely music, just in case of problems…

  3. Larkin says:

    How could anything happen with “Simple Gifts” in the air? I am quite certain that even the most dark-souled terrorist was transfixed by Mr. Ma and his cello. That guy earned his pay.

    In all seriousness, I can’t see how Pelosi was in charge, as no action had been taken with regards to her. My interpretation is exactly as you said, Scott. Mr. Obama was President, but could not give any directives or do anything until he took that oath.

    The point is that we have such a laid-back democracy, that we can afford to sit back and listen to music before we make any big decisions.

  4. Thomas Peters says:

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been reading on other blogs that, prior to coming on stage, Obama was presented with a book containing the oath, and that he signed under it, so that he became president at 12 noon. The oral oath was just a formality.

    This, of course, could be wrong, but that’s what I’ve read. YMMV.

  5. It is a deep philosophical question of ontology versus functionality. Along the lines of what constitutes the dignity of a human being … is it *being* something or or having the capacity of *doing* something?

  6. Phil Snyder says:

    Barak Obama became President at noon today. He could not exercise his office until he took the oath. Likewise Biden was Vice President at noon. If Something Terrible had happened and Barak were killed or incapicated before he could take the oath, Biden would have become president.

    The more perplexing question is what would have happened if Obama had died or been incapicated yesterday or sometime between the election and noon today?

    Biden wasn’t elected President. He was elected Vice-President. Would he have to be sworn in a VP and then, immediately, sworn in as President? Would the House elect a new President? What would happen?

    Phil Snyder

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