FOR THE WEEK OF OCT. 05, 2020
President Trump's campaign rallies and other events are on hold indefinitely now that he's hospitalized for Covid-19 care. He was flown by helicopter to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., last Friday, less than a day after tweeting that he and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for coronavirus. Trump was described as feeling weak, having a mild fever and being short of breath – symptoms of coronavirus, which has killed about 210,000 people in the United States. White House officials said he’ll remain hospitalized for several days, at least. One appearance that's not cancelled, as of now, is a second televised debate with election challenger Joe Biden on Oct. 15 in Miami. The Nov. 3 election is in four weeks, and there's essentially no chance of a delay. Absentee ballots are being cast now and our country has never postponed a presidential election. Any decision to do so would have to come from Congress, where Democrats control the House.
The sudden health scare brings news coverage of what would happen if symptoms worsen and the president can't easily handle decision-making or other presidential responsibilities. The Constitution and Congress long ago established succession steps in case an elected president is unable to serve. The vice president would step in temporarily or until the next election. Mike Pence, currently in that position and also running for a second term, tested negative Friday for coronavirus. He'll make campaign appearances, starting with a 90-minute debate Wednesday night at the University of Utah against Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, a California senaytor. and attend.
The 25th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1967, lets a president be removed if he can't or won't agree to a power transfer. Pence, acting with the cabinet or a group appointed by Congress, has power to intervene. If a majority of either group decides and informs the House and Senate that the president is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office," then "the vice president shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as acting president." Next in line is the U.S. House speaker, currently Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Removal never has been tried, and political obstacles could make it difficult to unlock now because Republicans control the Senate and Democrats have a House majority. Two-thirds of each camber must agree in order to strip an elected president of power. Other situations become far more complicated, with varying legal opinions about what to do if a president wins election but can’t serve. It's also unclear what happens if the president and vice president are both sidelined by serious illness. There’s no legal process to remove the vice president or transfer power to another individual. "These are all nightmare scenarios because these points of constitutional law have really never been tested," says law Professor Jack Goldsmith of Harvard University.
White House says: "No transfer [of power]. The president is in charge." – Judd Deere, spokesman, on Oct. 2
Scholar says: "While presidential incapacity would be a serious national situation, the government would be able to function in a largely uninterrupted way until the president is recovered." – John Hudak, Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
House speaker says: "Continuity of government is always in place. . . . We have our job we have to do, and this is what we'll do." – Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.