Get the facts: How the 25th Amendment works

Here's what to know about the 25th Amendment.


The 25th Amendment details how presidential power can be transferred, either temporarily or more permanently, in the event a president is unable to do the job.

Here's what to know about it.


The push for an amendment detailing presidential succession plans in the event of a president's disability or death followed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. President Lyndon B. Johnson in his 1965 State of the Union promised to “propose laws to insure the necessary continuity of leadership should the President become disabled or die.” The amendment was passed by Congress that year and ultimately ratified in 1967.


Yes, presidents have temporarily relinquished power but not all invoked the 25th Amendment. Previous transfers of power have generally been brief and happened when the president was undergoing a medical procedure.


To temporarily transfer power to the vice president, a president sends a letter to the speaker of the House of Representatives and president pro tempore of the Senate stating the commander in chief is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of [the] office.” The vice president then becomes acting president. When the president is ready to resume authority, the president sends another letter. That's spelled out in the amendment's Section 3.

The next section of the amendment, Section 4, lays out what happens if the president becomes unable to discharge duties but doesn't transfer power. In that case, the vice president and majority of the Cabinet can declare the president unfit. They'd then send a letter to the speaker and president pro tempore saying so. The vice president then becomes acting president.

If the president ultimately becomes ready to resume his duties, the president can send a letter saying so. But if the vice president and majority of the Cabinet disagree, they can send their own letter to Congress within four days. Congress would then have to vote. The president resumes duties unless both houses of Congress by a two-thirds vote say the individual is not ready. The section has never been invoked.


Section 4 of the amendment gives Congress the power to establish a “body” that can, with the support of the vice president, declare that the president is unable to do the job. If they agree the president is unfit, the vice president would take over. But Congress has never set up the body.

On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a former constitutional law professor, proposed the creation of a commission to fill that role. The legislation would set up a 16-member bipartisan commission chosen by House and Senate leaders. It would include four physicians, four psychiatrists and eight retired statespersons, such as former presidents, vice presidents and secretaries of state. Those members would then select a 17th member to act as a chair.

After the commission is in place, Congress would be able to pass a resolution requiring the members to examine the president, determine whether the president is incapacitated and report back. Raskin introduced a similar bill in 2017.