What happens if President Trump becomes too sick to serve? Regent University professor explains


WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR/WAVY) – President Donald Trump’s announcement of his COVID-19 diagnosis early Friday has many wondering what will happen if he becomes incapacitated and is no longer able to lead the nation.

Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced Friday evening that Trump will be transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. McEnany said he was experiencing “mild symptoms” Friday.

If Trump’s condition becomes too grave for him to carry out his duties, however, the 25th Amendment provides guidelines for what would happen next.

In line to assume presidential duties first is Vice President Mike Pence, followed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, president pro tempore of the Senate Chuck Grassley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“[The president] writes a letter to the speaker of the House and the president pro-tempore of the Senate and says ‘I’m not able to serve’ and the vice president becomes acting president until the president writes a letter and says ‘I’m back,'” said Brad Jacob, a constitutional law professor at Regent University.

Both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush used this process before being sedated for surgery.

In cases where a president is incapacitated but won’t give up their powers, Section 4 of the 25th Amendment dictates that the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet can come forward and force the president to relinquish his powers, Jacob said.

That has never happened before, however.

In both cases, the president may declare himself able to retake power.

But if the vice president and Cabinet object within four days, and are backed by two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate, the vice president stays in power, said Brian Kalt, a law professor with Michigan State University.

Trump’s positive test comes just hours after the White House announced that senior aide Hope Hicks came down with the virus after traveling with the president several times this week.

Trump led a fundraiser in New Jersey Thursday after knowing he had been exposed to Hicks.
Trump is 74 years old, putting him at higher risk of serious complications from a virus that has now killed more than 205,000 people nationwide.

A spokesman says Pence tested negative for the virus on Friday.

White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah said Friday that Trump has not transferred power to Pence, according to NBC’s Geoff Bennett.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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