Advertisement

Constitution lays out what would happen should President Trump's health decline

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have wished the president and first lady a speedy recovery.

Advertisement

It's the reality of the situation we're in: Data shows the older you are, the more likely you are to be adversely impacted by COVID-19.

President Donald Trump is 74 years old. His doctor said Friday that he's experiencing mild symptoms.

While Democrats and Republicans have wished Trump and First Lady Melania Trump a speedy recovery, the 25th Amendment has become relevant.

Jalila Jefferson-Bullock is a constitutional law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

She says if the president is "totally incapacitated," there are constitutional options to ensure a continuity of government.

"The 25th Amendment requires total and complete incapacitation," Jefferson-Bullock said, "So if the president can still do something, if he can still perform some of his duties, something he can still give to his aides, if he can still perform his duties, then there’s no reason to invoke the 25th Amendment."

The two relevant sections (which you can read the original text below) clarify the process by which the vice president would become president.

Section 3 lays out what happens if the president voluntarily hands over power, which President George W. Bush did twice when he was under anesthesia for procedures. Essentially, the president submits a letter to both houses of Congress, Jefferson-Bullock said.

Section 4 lays out what happens if the president involuntarily gives power away to the vice president. The vice president and the majority of the Cabinet approve a letter to give to Congress, who votes on the changes.

Jefferson-Bullock says we're living in uncertain times, but people should have faith that the U.S. government will continue to function.

"I think that we at the end of the day have a good system, and I think that the American people can take heart, knowing that we do have a good system," Jefferson-Bullock said.

Section 1

In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Section 2

Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Section 3

Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.