House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., flanked by Congressman Jamie Raskin, D-Md., held a news conference on Friday to announce the introduction of legislation drafted by Raskin designed to create a commission, at the request of Congress, to study and reach conclusions concerning the fitness of the president of the United States under section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
That section deals with the temporary transfer of power to the vice president in case the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
Reporters present questioned the timing of the announcement, coming just a few weeks before the presidential election.
“This is not about President Trump,” Pelosi said. “He will face the judgment of the voters. But he shows the need for us to create a process for future presidents.”
Reaction from the White House was swift, but apparently President Trump is taking Pelosi at her word that the bill is not directed at him. The president tweeted, “Crazy Nancy Pelosi is looking at the 25th Amendment in order to replace Joe Biden with Kamala Harris. The Dems want that to happen fast because Sleepy Joe is out of it!!!”
Raskin originally introduced his bill in 2017 (H.R. 1987), which creates a bipartisan process to form an 11-member commission comprised mostly of physicians, who would examine the president’s mental and/or physical health at the request of Congress. Raskin was candid at the time about his bill targeting Trump.
“Since January, President Trump has thrown our country into chaos at every turn,” Raskin said in a December 2017 press release. “For the security of our people and the safety of the Republic, we need to set up the ‘body’ called for in the 25th Amendment. The President can fire his entire Cabinet for asking the same question tens of millions of Americans are asking at their dinner tables, but he cannot fire Congress or the expert body we set up under the Constitution. At a moment of unprecedented presidential chaos, the Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity is essential, urgently needed and indispensable.”
The 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967, following concerns arising from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. It contains four sections, the first three dealing with: 1) the vice president’s succession to the presidency in case of the president’s death, removal or resignation; 2) the designation and approval of a new vice president when needed; and 3) the temporary transfer of power to the vice president by the president in cases where he will be incapacitated, as during surgeries and other procedures such as occurred with President Ronald Reagan and President George W. Bush.
Section 4 of the amendment, which Raskin’s legislation addresses, deals with the case of involuntary, temporary transfer of power to the vice president when the “president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” That section requires that both the vice president and one of the following groups concur on the president’s disability: “a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may be law provide.”
Although not absolutely necessary because the president’s cabinet executives can always provide the necessary second vote required by the 25th Amendment (except in Raskin’s 2017 hypothetical where Trump fires them all), the amendment does allow for an alternative, created by Congress, to replace the majority vote of the cabinet. But the vice president would have to concur, as the amendment requires.
Will this legislation go anywhere?
It’s highly unlikely the current, Republican-controlled Senate would even take up the measure, or that President Trump would sign it. Should Democrats sweep into the White House and take control of the Senate and keep control of the House in January, however, it’s possible it could pass.
That is, if the Democrats are still interested in the bill at that point.
Photo from CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS
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