Democrats provoked an angry tirade from Donald Trump on Friday by proposing a congressional commission to assess whether US presidents are capable of performing their duties or should be removed from office.
The gambit came a week after Trump was flown to a military hospital for treatment for coronavirus and 25 days before an election. The president returned to the White House on Monday but has caused concern with erratic behaviour.
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“This is not about President Trump. He will face the judgment of the voters but he shows the need for us to create a process for future presidents,” Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, told a press conference in which she also took a swipe at the British prime minister, Boris Johnson.
But the timing was impossible to ignore as Trump has continued to give rambling TV interviews, tweet false and contradictory statements and potentially endanger his own White House staff by defying public health guidance.
The president tweeted in response: “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!!!”
The 25th amendment to the US constitution provides the procedure for the vice-president to take over the duties of president if he or she dies or resigns or it is determined that he or she cannot fulfill the functions of the office.
The Democratic congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland, introducing the legislation on Friday, said: “The 25th amendment is all about the stability of the presidency and the continuity of the office.
“Now, it’s never been necessary, but the authors of the 25th amendment thought it essential in the nuclear age to have a safety valve option and, as they often said, we have 535 members of Congress but we only have one president.”
He added: “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. What happens if a president – any president – ends up in a coma or on a ventilator and has made no provisions for the temporary transfer of power? This situation is what demands action.”
This panel would be known as the Commission on Presidential Capacity to Discharge the Powers and Duties of Office. Raskin, a constitutional law professor, said it would be bipartisan and consist of 17 members, including medical personnel, and could only act in concert with the vice-president.
Asked about the timing of the bill, Raskin explained “this situation has focused everyone’s mind” on the 25th amendment.
Pelosi repeated her insistence that it did not