Congress reexamines the 25th amendment

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Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

President Donald Trump delivering a speech at a campaign rally in Phoenix. Trump will be seeking his second term as president in 2020.

By Karlee Van De Venter, Arts and Features Editor

President Trump announced on Oct. 1 that he and the First Lady tested positive for COVID-19. Trump is considered high-risk because of his age, meaning this could be very serious for his health. This has brought up the future of his presidency as well as the election, in the event he does not recover. 

The 25th Amendment states, “In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.” 

It also clarifies that if the vice president and cabinet majority consider the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” the vice president would then take over. There are ways the president can contest that, which would ultimately lead to a vote in congress. 

This means that if Trump’s condition worsened to extreme levels, Vice President Mike Pence could take over as president, so long as the majority agreed with him. It also means that Trump could willingly give Pence presidential powers. 

But the amendment gives no parameters on how to determine someone unable to discharge powers. While certain interpretations have been made, there are no actual guidelines that prevent future loopholes. 

The amendment has been used by two presidents thus far. George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan both voluntarily gave their respective vice presidents temporary power while undergoing surgery. The amendment also addresses vacancies in vice presidency, and has been used twice in that regard. Richard Nixon used it when Spiro Agnew resigned as vice president and appointed Gerald Ford, who was then approved by Congress. After Nixon resigned and Ford became president, Ford then had to use the amendment to appoint Nelson Rockefeller. 

“In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.” -25th Amendment

However, it does not address what to do if something happens to a presidential candidate this close to an election. Turns out, the protocol for that is very complex and relies on a lot of moving pieces. 

Usually, if a candidate were to die, their party would hold a convention to appoint a replacement. This gets complicated when you take into account state laws regarding election ballots. By October, over 40 state deadlines for ballot revisions have passed. Technically, it’s possible to leave the deceased person’s name on the ballot, and people could still vote for them. If they won, their position would then be considered vacant. But it would still come down to votes and Congress decisions, and be an ultimately lengthy process.

If a candidate has been deemed president-elect (which happens after Congress declares a winner per electoral college votes) then dies, their vice president-elect would be sworn in. 

If a candidate dies between Election Day and the day Congress declares a winner, things are extremely uncertain. It essentially would come down to the current state of affairs and Congress’s decision. But there is very little specific framework for this situation. 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi addresses the lack of framework in her new proposed bill. It would create a Commission on Presidential Capacity to Discharge the Power and Duties of Office. Section 4 of the 25th Amendment outlines that “executive departments or such other body as Congress may by law provide” can declare the president as unfit, if accompanied by the Vice President. Pelosi’s proposal would provide a body specifically for this purpose, for less confusion in potential circumstances. 

According to the proposed bill, the Speaker of the House, House Minority Leader, Senate Majority Leader and Senate Minority Leader would appoint 16 individuals: four physicians, four psychiatrists and eight former high-ranking statesmen. Those 16 would then appoint a seventeenth member as chairperson. 

“This is not about President Trump,” Pelosi said in a recent press conference for the bill. “He will face the judgement of voters. But he shows the need to create a process for future presidents.” 

The bill is a rework of legislation proposed three years ago by congressman Jamie Raskin, who introduced with Pelosi. 

With such little time before the election, it is unlikely that the bill will be implemented before the next term starts. However, it still addresses the gaps in framework for future presidents. The full bill can be found here