US House Democrats proposed creating a commission to determine whether to transfer a future president’s powers, in the event that they are no longer fit for office.
Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who sponsored the bill, said there would be a 17-member commission. There would be eight medical personnel, eight former executive branch officials and the 17th member would be selected by the commission itself.
Raskin said he hoped the legislation would be passed within the next year.
“What happens if a president, any president, ends up in a coma or on a ventilator and has made no provisions for the temporary transfer of power,” he asked on Friday.
‘Not about President Trump’?
Despite the conspicuous timing, less than a month before presidential elections, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference that the move was “not about President Donald Trump,” who was hospitalized with the coronavirus last week.
“He will face the judgement of the voters,” Pelosi said, although she has raised questions about Trump’s mental fitness following his diagnosis with the virus and his course of medication.
Trump, meanwhile, pounced on the initiative on Twitter. He sought to argue that Pelosi and the Democrats might actually have in mind their candidate Joe Biden, who — in case of winning the election — would be the oldest president in US history on the day of his inauguration.
“Crazy Nancy Pelosi is looking at the 25th Amendment in order to replace Joe Biden with Kamala Harris,” Trump claimed. “The Dems want that to happen fast because Sleepy Joe is out of it!”
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the initiative was “absolutely absurd” during an appearance in his home state of Kentucky, with a White House spokeswoman also labeling the plan “absurd.”
What is the 25th Amendment?
The 25th Amendment to the US Constitution establishes the means for the transfer of presidential power if the president or vice president becomes incapacitated or dies. It was written after the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“In times of chaos we must hold fast to our Constitution,” said Raskin.
The amendment is made up of four sections. The first two sections involve the line of succession and what to do should the vice presidency become vacant. House Democrats are attempting to work on section 3, which allows for the temporary transfer of power from the president to the vice president.
It has rarely been invoked after the amendment was put in place in 1967. The amendment was invoked in 1981 when President Ronald Reagan was shot. Reagan again gave power to his vice president in 1985 when he had a polyp removed from his colon, temporarily giving then-Vice President George H.W. Bush the presidency for one day. President George W. Bush used the amendment’s third section twice to temporarily pass the power of the presidency to Dick Cheney when he was anesthetized to undergo colonoscopies in 2002 and 2007.
The final section states that the vice president and a majority of principal officers of the executive departments “or of such other body as Congress may by law provide” may declare to Congress that the president “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Should that happen, the vice president would immediately assume the position of acting president.
Pelosi gave her presentation next to a sign with the amendment’s text written on it, with the phrase “or of such other body as Congress may by law provide” highlighted in yellow. She argued that Trump’s bout of illness had shown the need to formally establish such a body, namely the proposed 17-person commission.
kbd/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)
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