It’s been a wild week for the Trump administration, which is reeling after President Donald Trump announced he and First Lady Melania Trump both tested positive for COVID-19 last Friday. The president’s health has been on everyone’s minds, including Congressional leaders who plan to talk about whether to invoke the 25th Amendment — the legal blueprint that allows the transfer of power from the president to the vice president in the case of the president’s inability to serve, his death, removal, or resignation.
“We're going to be talking about the 25th Amendment tomorrow,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters during her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill. In a follow-up interview with Bloomberg TV, she added, “The president is, shall we say, in an altered state right now. I don’t know how to answer for that behavior.”
Along with the president and first lady, at least 34 White House staffers, aides, and other contacts have tested positive for the virus in the last week, making the highest office in the land a COVID hotspot. Pelosi on Thursday questioned why the White House would not reveal when the president last received a negative COVID test, and stated discussions would begin around whether to invoke the 25th Amendment.
So, what exactly does this mean? The 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967 in response to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination four years earlier. The amendment states that the vice president, followed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, will assume presidential “powers and duties” in the event that a sitting president is unable to. Only nine times in U.S. history has the amendment been invoked: eight times due to a president’s death, and once due to a resignation.
In order to transfer powers over to Vice President Mike Pence, Trump would have to write a declaration to the president pro tempore of the Senate, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, and the House Speaker, Pelosi, that he agrees to do so until he is fit to resume office or another president is elected. If the president refuses to transfer power himself, the vice president and Congressional leaders can send a written declaration to Grassley and Pelosi in his place.
Medical experts working on limited information say that Trump at some point experienced severe COVID-19 symptoms, with “impairment of the lungs and a blood oxygen level below 94 percent, which is a cutoff for severe disease,” The New York Times reported. After returning to the White House on Monday from the Walter Reed Medical Center, Trump’s breathing appeared labored, and as he enters his second week with the virus, his symptoms could take a turn for the worse at any time.
As the Trump administration continues to keep pertinent information about the president’s health from the public and Congress, political leaders have a responsibility to discuss next steps, including when to transfer presidential powers.
Whether it's through the election or not, we just might end up with a new president either way.