House of Cards, the addictive political drama series on Netflix, returns for its fifth season on May 30th. This new season will feature the election of 2016, with this being the first time Frank Underwood has run for president. But because Frank was elevated to the presidency when Garret Walker resigned, how many terms is he constitutionality permitted to have?
The 22nd amendment to the Constitution states that if a person is elevated to the office of the presidency, they can still serve for two more full terms, in addition to the time they spend completing the previous president’s term. However, that only applies if the person is elevated to the Oval Office when the previous president had two years or less remaining in their term. For example, if Donald Trump were to resign from office in June 2019, Mike Pence would serve as president for 19 months, but he could still run for president in 2020 and run again in 2024. However, if Donald Trump were to resign from office in June 2018, Mike Pence could run in 2020, but he couldn’t run in 2024, as he served for more than two years of Trump’s term.
So how does this apply to House of Cards? How long has Frank Underwood been in office, exactly?
Well, within the show’s timeline, Frank took over as president on October 30th, 2014, as is made clear on a plaque seen on Frank Underwood’s chair in an episode of the show. This means that Frank Underwood will serve as president for over two years of the previous president’s term. Therefore, he is eligible to run in 2016, but he is not eligible to run in 2020.
In the trailer for Season 5, Frank is seen listing off election year dates in which an Underwood will become president, and he goes all the way up to 2036. Obviously, that’s far too many terms, even if Frank were eligible to run for re-election in 2020. If he theoretically had taken over for Walker with less than two years to go in Walker’s term, Frank could run in 2016 and 2020, meaning he would be president until 2025; then, Claire could run for president and serve for two terms until 2033.
Of course, the show is currently entering its fifth season, and it’s unlikely that it will even make it into the 2020 election anyway. And even if it does, Frank Underwood will almost certainly by driven out of office in disgrace by then, as Tom Hammerschmidt is hot on Frank’s trail and seems very close to figuring out that the president is a murderer.