First woman in US history, VP Kamala Harris, gets presidential power today

President Joe Biden having routine colonoscopy

Photo of Dominic Genetti

The temporary transfer of presidential power is nothing new. It happens more often than one may think.

But what makes this transfer special and historic today is that Vice President Kamala Harris will be the first woman in the history of the United States to possess presidential power. 

President Joe Biden is undergoing a routine colonoscopy and while he's under anesthesia, his power as the president goes to his successor. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki released a statement explaining the details. She notes the vice president will work in her office in the West Wing of the White House.

Succession to the office of the president stretches out across his cabinet after it surpasses high-ranking government officials.

The vice president is number two, followed by the speaker of the House and then the president pro-tempore of the Senate. The secretary of state and secretary of the treasury round out the top five.

However, should a situation arise that allows the vice president to assume the presidency, it is their choice as to who serves as the second in command. Such incidents arose following the resignation of President Richard Nixon when Gerald Ford took over the office, and after President John F. Kennedy's assassination when Lyndon B. Johnson became commander-in-chief.

Johnson is the only president to be sworn into office outside of the U.S. capital. He was sworn in on Air Force One in Dallas.

Additionally, a practice that's become almost routine since 9/11 is removing a member on the presidential succession list from the joint session of Congress when the president delivers the state of the union address and other speeches to both branches of government. This secures a person to assume power in the event of a mass catastrophe.

In March of 1849, Missouri Senator David Rice Atchison was technically president for a day — although it's a debatable subject. 

Atchison was president pro-tempore of the Senate when the tenure of the president and vice president expired at noon on Sunday, March 4. Incoming president Zachary Taylor didn't want to be inaugurated on a Sunday and pushed his swearing into the next day. Some historic reports indicate Atchison spent most of the day in bed.