Lame duck (politics)

Lame duck (politics)

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A lame duck is an elected official who is approaching the end of his or her tenure, and especially an official whose successor has already been elected.

Description


The status can be due to
  • having lost a re-election bid
  • choosing not to seek another term at the expiration of the current term
  • a term limit
    Term limit
    A term limit is a legal restriction that limits the number of terms a person may serve in a particular elected office. When term limits are found in presidential and semi-presidential systems they act as a method to curb the potential for monopoly, where a leader effectively becomes "president for...

     which keeps the official from running for that particular office again
  • the abolishment of the office, which must nonetheless be served out until the end of the official's term.


Lame duck officials tend to have less political power, as other elected officials are less inclined to cooperate with them.
However, lame ducks are also in the peculiar position of not facing the consequences of their actions in a subsequent election, giving them greater freedom to issue unpopular decisions or appointments. Examples include last-minute midnight regulations
Midnight regulations
Midnight regulations is a term for United States federal government regulations created by executive branch agencies in the lame duck period of an outgoing President’s administration.-Process of creating new regulations:...

 issued by executive agencies of outgoing U.S. presidential administrations and executive orders issued by outgoing presidents
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

. Such actions date back to the Judiciary Act of 1801 ("Midnight Judges Act"), in which Federalist President John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

 and the outgoing 6th Congress
6th United States Congress
The Sixth United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, consisting of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. It met at Congress Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and in Washington, D.C. from March 4, 1799...

 amended the Judiciary Act to create more federal judge
United States federal judge
In the United States, the title of federal judge usually means a judge appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate in accordance with Article II of the United States Constitution....

 seats for Adams to appoint and the Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 to confirm before the Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 was inaugurated and the Democratic-Republican majority 7th Congress
7th United States Congress
- House of Representatives :-Senate:* President: Aaron Burr * President pro tempore:** Abraham Baldwin , first elected December 7, 1801** Stephen R. Bradley , first elected December 14, 1802-House of Representatives:...

 convened. In more recent history, U.S. President Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

 was widely criticized for issuing 140 pardons
Bill Clinton pardons controversy
President Bill Clinton was criticized for some of his pardons and acts of executive clemency. While most presidents grant pardons on several days throughout their terms, Clinton chose to make most of them on January 20, 2001. Collectively, the controversy surrounding these actions has sometimes...

 and other acts of executive clemency on his last day in office, including two former close colleagues, donors, fellow Democratic members and his own half-brother
Roger Clinton, Jr.
Roger Cassidy Clinton is an American actor and musician and the half-brother of former President Bill Clinton.Roger Clinton was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas , the son of Virginia Clinton Kelley and Roger M...

.

Origins of the term


The phrase lame duck was coined in the 18th century at the London Stock Exchange
London Stock Exchange
The London Stock Exchange is a stock exchange located in the City of London within the United Kingdom. , the Exchange had a market capitalisation of US$3.7495 trillion, making it the fourth-largest stock exchange in the world by this measurement...

, to refer to a broker
Stock broker
A stock broker or stockbroker is a regulated professional broker who buys and sells shares and other securities through market makers or Agency Only Firms on behalf of investors...

 who defaulted on his debt
Debt
A debt is an obligation owed by one party to a second party, the creditor; usually this refers to assets granted by the creditor to the debtor, but the term can also be used metaphorically to cover moral obligations and other interactions not based on economic value.A debt is created when a...

s. The first known mention of the term in writing was made by Horace Walpole
Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford
Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford was an English art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician. He is now largely remembered for Strawberry Hill, the home he built in Twickenham, south-west London where he revived the Gothic style some decades before his Victorian successors,...

, in a letter of 1761 to Sir Horace Mann: "Do you know what a Bull and a Bear and Lame Duck are?" In 1791 Mary Berry
Mary Berry (writer)
Mary Berry was an English author, born at Kirkbridge, North Yorkshire.-Walpole:She and her sister Agnes had a remarkable association with Horace Walpole...

 wrote of the Duchess of Devonshire
Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire
Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire , formerly Lady Georgiana Spencer, was the first wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, and mother of the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Her father, the 1st Earl Spencer, was a great-grandson of the 1st Duke of Marlborough. Her niece was Lady Caroline Lamb...

's loss of £50,000 in stocks, "the conversation of the town" that her name was to be "posted up as a lame duck". In the literal sense, it refers to a duck which is unable to keep up with its flock, making it a target for predators.

It was transferred to politicians in the 19th century, the first recorded use being in the Congressional Globe
Congressional Record
The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. It is published by the United States Government Printing Office, and is issued daily when the United States Congress is in session. Indexes are issued approximately every two weeks...

(the official record of the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

) of January 14, 1863: “In no event . . . could [the Court of Claims
United States Court of Claims
The Court of Claims was a federal court that heard claims against the United States government. It was established in 1855 as the Court of Claims, renamed in 1948 to the United States Court of Claims , and abolished in 1982....

] be justly obnoxious to the charge of being a receptacle of ‘lame ducks’ or broken down politicians.”

Australia


In Australia, regardless of when the election is held, the Senate
Australian Senate
The Senate is the upper house of the bicameral Parliament of Australia, the lower house being the House of Representatives. Senators are popularly elected under a system of proportional representation. Senators are elected for a term that is usually six years; after a double dissolution, however,...

 (upper house
Upper house
An upper house, often called a senate, is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the lower house; a legislature composed of only one house is described as unicameral.- Possible specific characteristics :...

) sits from the 1st of July following the election to the 30th of June three years later, while the newly elected members of the House of Representatives (lower house
Lower house
A lower house is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the upper house.Despite its official position "below" the upper house, in many legislatures worldwide the lower house has come to wield more power...

) take their seats immediately after an election. A Senate that is destined to lose its majority as a result of such a change is called a lame-duck Senate and often attracts criticism if it blocks Government measures introduced in the House of Representatives.

For example, after the 2004 election, it became clear that the governing Liberal Party
Liberal Party of Australia
The Liberal Party of Australia is an Australian political party.Founded a year after the 1943 federal election to replace the United Australia Party, the centre-right Liberal Party typically competes with the centre-left Australian Labor Party for political office...

/National Party
National Party of Australia
The National Party of Australia is an Australian political party.Traditionally representing graziers, farmers and rural voters generally, it began as the The Country Party, but adopted the name The National Country Party in 1975, changed to The National Party of Australia in 1982. The party is...

 coalition
Coalition
A coalition is a pact or treaty among individuals or groups, during which they cooperate in joint action, each in their own self-interest, joining forces together for a common cause. This alliance may be temporary or a matter of convenience. A coalition thus differs from a more formal covenant...

 would gain a majority in the new Senate, which was due to sit the following July. In May, some months after the elections but before the new Senate came to power, the old Senate refused to pass new tax laws that had been passed by the House, which served to merely delay the passage of those laws until the new Senate assembled.

A recent example is that of minor party Family First
Family First Party
The Family First Party is a socially conservative minor political party in Australia. It has two members in the South Australian Legislative Council...

 Senator Steve Fielding
Steve Fielding
Steven "Steve" Fielding , was a Senator representing the state of Victoria and the federal parliamentary leader of the Family First Party in Australia. Elected to the Senate at the 2004 federal election on two percent of the Victorian vote, he failed to gain re-election at the 2010 federal election...

 who, on losing his seat at the 2010 election, threatened to block supply if the Labor Party was successful in forming a minority government.

United States


In U.S. politics, the period between (presidential and congressional) elections in November and the inauguration of officials early in the following year is commonly called the lame duck period. In regard to the presidency, a president is a lame-duck after a successor has been elected, and during this time the outgoing president and president-elect usually embark on a transition of power
United States presidential transition
A presidential transition or presidential interregnum refers to the period of time between the end of a presidential election and the inauguration of a new President of a country...

.

Until 1933, inaugurations occurred on March 4. Congress usually had two sessions, the second of which was usually held from the December after the election of the next Congress until March. This session was commonly called the "lame duck session". Criticism of this process led to the passage of the 20th Amendment in 1933, which moved the beginning of the new Congress to January 3 and the inauguration of the president to January 20, thus shortening the lame duck period.

A president elected to a second term is sometimes seen as being a lame duck from early in the second term, because presidents are barred from contesting a term four years later, and is thus freer to take politically unpopular action. Nonetheless, as the de facto leader of his or her political party, the president's actions affect how the party performs in the midterm elections two years into the second term, and, to some extent, the success of that party's nominee in the next presidential election four years in the future.

Examples


Perhaps the most disastrous lame duck period in US history was the 1860–1861 transition from the administration of James Buchanan
James Buchanan
James Buchanan, Jr. was the 15th President of the United States . He is the only president from Pennsylvania, the only president who remained a lifelong bachelor and the last to be born in the 18th century....

 to that of Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

. Buchanan held the opinion that states did not have the right to secede, but that it was also illegal for the Federal government to go to war to stop them. Between November 6, 1860 and March 4, 1861, seven states seceded and conflict between secessionist and federal forces began, leading to the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 between the Northern and Southern states.

The lame duck administration of Herbert Hoover
Herbert Hoover
Herbert Clark Hoover was the 31st President of the United States . Hoover was originally a professional mining engineer and author. As the United States Secretary of Commerce in the 1920s under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, he promoted partnerships between government and business...

, before the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 (November 8, 1932 — March 4, 1933) was a notably difficult period. After the election, Roosevelt refused Hoover's requests for a meeting to come up with a joint program to stop the downward spiral and calm investors, claiming it would tie his hands, and as this "guaranteed that Roosevelt took the oath of office amid such an atmosphere of crisis that Hoover had become the most hated man in America." During this period of essentially leaderless government, the U.S. economy ground to a halt as thousands of banks failed.

Canada


Unlike the United States Congress, there is no "lame duck" session of Parliament in most Commonwealth
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

 countries between the general election and swearing in of elected officials. In almost all cases, the outgoing prime minister or premier hands over power directly to their designated successor after a leadership contest or general election. Usually, when the leader of a ruling party steps down, they also relinquish their caucus leadership role at around the same time, so there is no need for an interim caucus leader
Parliamentary leader
A parliamentary leader is political title given in various countries to lead a caucus in a legislative body, whether it be the countries respective parliaments or provincial legislature...

.

The transition between William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King, PC, OM, CMG was the dominant Canadian political leader from the 1920s through the 1940s. He served as the tenth Prime Minister of Canada from December 29, 1921 to June 28, 1926; from September 25, 1926 to August 7, 1930; and from October 23, 1935 to November 15, 1948...

 and Louis St. Laurent
Louis St. Laurent
Louis Stephen St. Laurent, PC, CC, QC , was the 12th Prime Minister of Canada from 15 November 1948, to 21 June 1957....

 is perhaps the only lame duck example in Canadian federal politics. After resigning the leadership of the Liberals
Liberal Party of Canada
The Liberal Party of Canada , colloquially known as the Grits, is the oldest federally registered party in Canada. In the conventional political spectrum, the party sits between the centre and the centre-left. Historically the Liberal Party has positioned itself to the left of the Conservative...

, King became parliamentary leader
Parliamentary leader
A parliamentary leader is political title given in various countries to lead a caucus in a legislative body, whether it be the countries respective parliaments or provincial legislature...

 and continued as Prime Minister of Canada
Prime Minister of Canada
The Prime Minister of Canada is the primary minister of the Crown, chairman of the Cabinet, and thus head of government for Canada, charged with advising the Canadian monarch or viceroy on the exercise of the executive powers vested in them by the constitution...

 for some months following the leadership election of his successor, St. Laurent, who became party leader but continued as a member of King's cabinet
Cabinet of Canada
The Cabinet of Canada is a body of ministers of the Crown that, along with the Canadian monarch, and within the tenets of the Westminster system, forms the government of Canada...

 during this time.

While Pierre Trudeau
Pierre Trudeau
Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau, , usually known as Pierre Trudeau or Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was the 15th Prime Minister of Canada from April 20, 1968 to June 4, 1979, and again from March 3, 1980 to June 30, 1984.Trudeau began his political career campaigning for socialist ideals,...

 retired from politics in 1984, he directly handed power over to John Turner
John Turner
John Napier Wyndham Turner, PC, CC, QC is an English Canadian lawyer and retired politician, who served as the 17th Prime Minister of Canada from June 30 to September 17, 1984....

 after the leadership contest. However, Trudeau recommended that Governor General
Governor General of Canada
The Governor General of Canada is the federal viceregal representative of the Canadian monarch, Queen Elizabeth II...

 Jeanne Sauvé
Jeanne Sauvé
Jeanne Mathilde Sauvé was a Canadian journalist, politician, and stateswoman who served as Governor General of Canada, the 23rd since Canadian Confederation....

 appoint over 200 Liberals to well-paying patronage
Patronage
Patronage is the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows to another. In the history of art, arts patronage refers to the support that kings or popes have provided to musicians, painters, and sculptors...

 positions, including Senators, judges, and executives on various governmental and crown corporation boards, widely seen as a way to offer "plum jobs" to loyal party members. These appointments generated a severe backlash across the spectrum. Turner had the right to recommend that the appointments be cancelled: advice that Sauvé would have been required to follow by constitutional convention
Constitutional convention (political custom)
A constitutional convention is an informal and uncodified procedural agreement that is followed by the institutions of a state. In some states, notably those Commonwealth of Nations states that follow the Westminster system and whose political systems derive from British constitutional law, most...

. However, he let them stand and made a further 70 appointments himself. Turner refused to produce a written agreement he'd made with Trudeau before taking office, documenting a secret deal that saw Trudeau step down early. This is seen by many as Trudeau attempting to exercise some lame duck influence before resigning as Prime Minister.