Alternative History

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The administration of the 44th President of the United States, Gale Norton, began on January 29, 2002, with the assassination of President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, most of the cabinet and most of Congress at the State of the Union address. Immediately after the attack, Secretary Norton, who had been watching the address live, was sworn in by a federal judge. Stunned, shocked and overwhelmed by the sudden shift in the fate of the world, President Norton initially gave confusing and conflicting orders, and the command-and-control of the response to the attack was disrupted. It has been argued since that time that this contributed to the high death factor, and that had help arrived earlier and more efficiently, the death toll would not have been quite so high.

President Norton was the first woman to become President, albeit under extraordinary and tragic circumstances. With the Capitol building still aflame, the President recovered her composure and made a televised address, in which she declared war on the 'enemies of freedom', and said 'there will be nowhere these cowards can hide where they will not be found'.

The nation stopped for days, and it was a week before the last of the bodies was recovered from the ruins of the Capitol building. With no active Congress, the business of government ground to a halt, and despite President Norton's visibility and reassurances, it wasn't until mid-February that the US government once again began operating. Until that point, it was, arguably, the military and the disaster relief operations that were in effective control of the federal government.

On February 14, the remnants of the Congress convened in, of all places, a conference room at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC. There were only fifteen surviving Congressmen, and three surviving Senators. Unanimously, the 15 Congressmen chose the longest-serving of them, Jim Kolbe of Arizona, as the new Speaker. The Presidency pro tem of the Senate passed to the longest-serving of the three remaining Senators - Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. On February 29, one month after the Capitol Attack, President Norton nominated the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Richard Myers, to be the new Vice President. The fifteen members of the rump House of Representatives confirmed Myers in record time, on March 1.

With Vice President Myers installed, President Norton invoked the 25th Amendment on March 4 and 'took some time to gather her thoughts', an action for which she was initially criticised but which over time Americans came to accept. Myers, as Acting President, nominated the new Cabinet.

The eighteen-member Congress had been operating under a "quorum only" system because no Congressman or Senator had asked for a quorum determination due to the emergency. It was now, before the Cabinet could be confirmed, that the acting Minority Leader of the House, Peter DeFazio, did so, as he believed Congress could not act any longer without the full House present. The Congress agreed to defer all business until after a special election on April 23. Acting President Myers appointed his cabinet as recess appointments. One of the appointments, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who survived the Capitol Attack, immediately set to work building an international coalition to 'wreak the terrible revenge of the freedom-loving nations' on the perpetrators of the attack.

On April 23, the new Congress was elected, though its term would only last until January 3. The election was one of the most low-key in American history, and the turnout one of the highest. The Republican Party won a majority in the House and 53 Senators, although neither they nor the Democrats had done any serious campaigning. The special election was fought only on one issue - the response to 1/29. Acting President Myers rode the wave of patriotic fervour to help deliver the Republican victory. After the new Congress convened, President Norton resumed the duties of her office. Speaker Kolbe remained in his post.

At the general election that November, Congress remained virtually unchanged. This time, however, the campaigning was rife, as the nation remained united behind President Norton and her 'War on Terror' being conducted in Afghanistan. The Republicans won a convincing victory, and picked up several Governorships by association. The bipartisanism was over, and the domestic war began in earnest.

President Norton and Vice President Myers were re-elected on November 2, 2004, winning a landslide victory against the Democratic candidate, Wesley Clark and running mate John Kerry. Norton and Myers won all 50 states and 535 electoral votes, becoming the first candidates ever to make a clean sweep of every state, though Clark won the District of Columbia. In January 2006, President Norton's approval ratings stood at 59%, down from an all-time high of 96% in the weeks following the attack.

The United States House of Representatives is one of the two chambers of the United States Congress; the other is the Senate. Each state receives representation in the House in proportion to its population but is entitled to at least one Representative. The most populous state, California, currently has 53 representatives. The total number of voting representatives is currently fixed at 435. Each representative serves for a two-year term. The presiding officer of the House is the speaker, and is elected by the members of the house.

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The Norton Cabinet