House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) on Friday announced legislation that would create a commission to rule on a president’s fitness for office and enable Congress to attempt to oust any president deemed unfit under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.
The bill would create the Commission on Presidential Capacity to Discharge the Powers and Duties of Office. Democrats are calling it “the body and process called for in the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
“This is not about President Trump,” Pelosi insisted at a news conference announcing the bill. “He will face the judgment of the voters. But he shows the need for us to create a process for future presidents.
“This legislation applies to future presidents, but we are reminded of the necessity of action by the health of the current president,” Pelosi said.
On Thursday, Pelosi said President Donald Trump was in “an altered state” after being diagnosed with the coronavirus and taking drugs for treatment. He also spent the weekend at Walter Reed Medical Center.
The 25th Amendment created the procedure for the vice president to become acting president should the president be rendered unable to perform his duties by death, illness, resignation, or some other inability. The amendment states that whenever the vice president and a majority of Cabinet officials, or a majority “of such other body as Congress may by law provide” declare the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” then the vice president shall assume the “powers and duties” of the presidency.
According to Pelosi, the commission would be comprised of top former executive officials and medical experts “selected in a bipartisan, bicameral way.”
“In times of chaos, we must hold fast to our Constitution,” Raskin said. “The 25th Amendment is all about the stability of the presidency and the continuity of the office.”
He noted the amendment was adopted with “overwhelming” bipartisan support after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Raskin explained that the 25th Amendment provides the president with an opportunity to reject the determination by his vice president and Cabinet or by this proposed commission that he is incapable of performing his duties. Such a dispute would be resolved by a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress agreeing that the president cannot perform the duties of his office.
“In the age of COVID-19, which has killed more than 210,000 Americans and now ravaged the White House staff, the wisdom of the 25th Amendment is clear,” Raskin said.
The proposed legislation would enable Congress to direct the commission to conduct a medical exam of the president to determine if he is incapacitated. If the president refuses to be examined, the commission could take his refusal into account in making their recommendation on his fitness to serve.
Answering a question from the media on the timing of the legislation, Raskin acknowledged “there’s never a really good time to do it,” but “this situation has focused everyone’s mind” on the need for a standing committee to fulfill the requirements of the 25th Amendment.
Pelosi and Raskin announced their bill after President Trump and several White House officials tested positive for COVID-19. Trump was hospitalized for three days last week at Walter Reed National Medical Center where he received treatment. He returned to the White House triumphantly on Monday, releasing a video telling Americans “don’t be afraid” of the virus and praising U.S. medicine.