WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a new bill Friday that would create a commission to evaluate the mental and physical health of a president and determine whether they should be removed from office under the 25th Amendment.
The announcement comes just one week after President Donald Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19, but Pelosi said Friday that the bill is not directed at Trump. “He will face the judgment on the voters, but he shows the need for us to create a process for future presidents,” she said.
The 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967 and deals with presidential succession should the president die or resign. The amendment’s fourth section, which has never been used, allows the vice president and the cabinet to declare that the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” and remove him from office. The issue could then go to Congress where two-thirds of both the House and the Senate would need to vote in favor of removal and transfer of power to the vice president.
The legislation Pelosi introduced Friday, along with Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, would create a 16-person team of both medical professionals and former executive branch officials, like former presidents and vice presidents, to assess the president’s health and fitness for office.
Pelosi would not say whether Trump should be removed under the 25th Amendment, saying, “That’s not for us to decide.”
But Pelosi did say Friday that Trump is “under medication” and that “any of us who is under medication of that seriousness is in an altered state.”
Trump’s physicians had put him on dexamethasone, a steroid typically recommended for severe cases of COVID-19, and this week Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House's coronavirus task force, said on MSNBC that the medication makes people “very energetic.” Trump’s doctors said Thursday evening he had “completed his course of therapy for COVID-19,” though it was unclear if he is still taking the steroid.
Raskin, a constitutional scholar, said Trump’s diagnosis has “focused everybody’s mind on the need for following through on this suggestion in the 25th Amendment that Congress set up its own body.”
“And I think again in the age of COVID-19, where a lot of government actors who have been afflicted by it, we need to act,” he added.
The House is not in session until after Election Day, meaning Trump may have lost the presidency by the time the legislation even gets a vote, and it’s almost certain to die in the Republican-controlled Senate. (The new Congress will not be seated until January.)
At a press conference Thursday, Pelosi teased that the bill would be released Friday, saying, “Tomorrow. Come here tomorrow. We’re going to be talking about the 25th Amendment.”
Trump was quick to call out the speaker on Twitter ahead of the official bill unveiling, writing, “Crazy Nancy is the one who should be under observation. They don’t call her Crazy for nothing!”
On Friday, Trump tweeted, baselessly, that Pelosi was “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!!!”
According to USA Today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote off moving forward with the bill almost immediately and said Friday at a campaign stop that Pelosi’s suggestion that Trump was in an altered state and unfit to serve was “absurd.”
“Absolutely absurd," he said. "Right here in this last three weeks before the election, I think those kinds of wild comments should be largely discounted."