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Line of Duty

One of the first images after the Sept. 11 terror attack in New York City was of a somber President Bush, with Secretary of Education Rod Paige standing nearby, speaking at a Sarasota, Fla., school.

Mr. Bush left immediately after his brief remarks about the news. Mr. Paige stayed and spoke to students and parents on the importance of reading. After the event, though, Secret Service agents escorted the secretary to a secure location near Sarasota, where he stayed overnight. With commercial air travel shut down temporarily, he returned to Washington by military plane the next morning.

The sudden protection for Mr. Paige—who does not normally travel with a Secret Service detail—had a pressing rationale amid concern that attacks might be aimed at the nation's top leaders.

Mr. Paige is 14th in the line of succession to the presidency—after the vice president, the speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and 10 of his fellow Cabinet members.

Potentially, Mr. Paige could have been 16th in line. Because of education's relatively recent ascension to Cabinet status in 1980, the education secretary is the 13th Cabinet member in the presidential queue. But two secretaries further up the chain were born overseas—Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao in Taiwan and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez in Cuba—and are constitutionally prohibited from becoming president.

The late Terrel H. Bell, President Reagan's first education secretary, ruefully recounted in his memoirs his keen disappointment at missing Mr. Reagan's first State of the Union speech to avoid having the entire line of succession in the same place. One Cabinet member is typically designated to stay away. As the holder of the most junior Cabinet post, before the creation of the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1989, Mr. Bell was the obvious choice.

In a bit of self-effacement, the former secretary called his book The Thirteenth Man.

—Joetta L. Sack [email protected]

Vol. 21, Issue 4, Page 25

Published in Print: September 26, 2001, as Federal File

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