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Democrats Zero In on President’s Fitness for Office as Election Looms

WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi, amplifying questions about President Trump’s fitness for office less than a month before the election, introduced legislation on Friday that would create a standing bipartisan group of outside experts tasked with evaluating the president’s mental and physical health and advising Congress on whether the commander in chief’s powers should be forcibly removed under the 25th Amendment.

The measure is certain to die at the end of the year, given that it would need a presidential signature to be enacted. But Democrats’ decision to promote it now — after the president’s coronavirus diagnosis and as Ms. Pelosi has suggested that his treatment might be affecting his judgment — was an unmistakable dig at the sitting president’s capacity to govern, just weeks before voters go to the polls.

“A president’s fitness for office must be determined by science and facts,” Ms. Pelosi said at a news conference on Capitol Hill, where she insisted that the bill, a version of which was introduced before Mr. Trump was hospitalized with the virus, had nothing to do with him. “This legislation applies to future presidents, but we are reminded of the necessity of action by the health of the current president.”

The measure, sponsored by Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, would create a bipartisan commission of health experts, doctors and former senior executive branch officials, such as a former president, selected by top congressional leaders, to report to Congress on the president’s competence.

Mr. Trump has raged against the idea, calling Ms. Pelosi “Crazy Nancy” and accusing her of staging a coup, and on Friday suggested that Democrats had proposed the measure because they were concerned not about his competence, but about that of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., his Democratic rival.

“Crazy Nancy Pelosi is looking at the 25th Amendment in order to replace Joe Biden with Kamala Harris,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter. “The Dems want that to happen fast because Sleepy Joe is out of it!!!”

Republicans blasted the legislation as an attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election.

“Right here in this last three weeks before the election, I think those kinds of wild comments should be largely discounted,” Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, told reporters in his home state of Kentucky.

Congress has never invoked the 25th Amendment to assemble a group like the one being proposed. The amendment was ratified in 1967, in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, to prepare the country for an immediate transfer of power because of an emergency or illness. It directs the vice president to work with a commission to determine whether the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” and could forcibly transfer those powers to the vice president until the president recovered.

Mr. Raskin argued on Friday that the saliency of convening such a commission had been underscored by the pandemic, and said that he wished Congress had set up the panel

Trump’s health looms over fate of second presidential debate

a man standing in a room: Trump's health looms over fate of second presidential debate

© Getty Images
Trump’s health looms over fate of second presidential debate

President Trump’s bout with COVID-19 is casting uncertainty over the second presidential debate, even as both campaigns signal a willingness to participate in next week’s event.

The president intends to participate in person at the debate in Miami, his campaign said Tuesday. Democratic nominee Joe Biden told reporters a day earlier that he would defer to medical experts on whether it would be safe to hold the event but appeared willing to take part if they signed off.

As the debate commission mulls how to move forward given all the unknowns, health experts suggested it’s not worth the risk for the two candidates, both in their 70s, to debate in person when there are alternatives available.

“With technology the way it is right now, why bother? You don’t actually need to do a debate with two people standing together physically in a room,” said Jill Roberts, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida.

“And in that case, we wouldn’t have to worry about whether one person was positive or who was at risk,” she said.

The town hall forum for the debate, slated for the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, means voters will be in the auditorium with the candidates and moderator. The setting creates an added layer of risk, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance Monday stating the coronavirus can spread through “airborne transmission” to people who are more than 6 feet away in indoor, poorly ventilated spaces.

Both candidates this week signaled a readiness to attend and participate in person, even though both are more than 70 years old, putting them at higher risk for having serious complications from COVID-19.

“I am looking forward to the debate on the evening of Thursday, October 15th in Miami. It will be great!” the president tweeted Tuesday.

Biden has been on the campaign trail in recent days and has tested negative for the virus multiple times after sharing the stage with Trump in Cleveland for the first debate on Sept. 29. On Monday, the day Trump was discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Biden said he would defer to health experts on the second debate.

Video: MEDICAL MONDAY: Weighing In On President Trump’s COVID-19 Diagnosis (CBS SF Bay Area)

MEDICAL MONDAY: Weighing In On President Trump’s COVID-19 Diagnosis



“I’m not an expert on it, but I think we should be very cautious, as I’ve thought all along,” he told reporters. “And I’m going to continue to listen to the scientists. But I’m looking forward to having a town hall meeting if that occurs.”

The biggest wild card is Trump’s health, both in terms of whether he will be well enough to debate in person and whether he will be far enough along in his recovery to avoid endangering others in the building.

Trump said he first tested positive on Thursday after returning