House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin introduced a bill Friday that would set up a bipartisan, bicameral commission that would have the power to relieve the president of his or her powers under the 25th Amendment, provided the vice president agrees.
Pelosi, though, said the bill is not directed at the current president.
“This is not about President Trump,” Pelosi said. “He will face the judgment of the voters. But he shows the need for us to create a process for future presidents.”
Under the bill, the commission would consist of 16 members appointed by the speaker of the House, House minority leader, Senate majority leader, and Senate minority leader, each of whom would select a physician and a psychiatrist for the commission. Those same congressional leaders also would select former Executive Branch officials. The result is the commission would consist of eight Republican-appointed and eight Democratic-appointed members. The 16-person commission then would select a 17th member to serve as chair.
None of the members can be current elected officials or federal employees under the bill.
It would be called the Commission on Presidential Capacity to Discharge the Powers and Duties of Office.
Section 4 of the 25th Amendment gives two separate groups the power to decide if “the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”: 1) a majority of “principal officers of the executive departments,” or, 2) a majority “of such other body as Congress may by law provide.” The vice president also must agree to the recommendation. If the president objects to the action under the 25th Amendment, then a two-thirds vote of Congress is required to relieve the president of his or her duties.
Congress passed the 25th Amendment in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination, when Lyndon Johnson took office. At the time, there was no constitutional way for Johnson to select his own vice president. (Section 2 of the 25th Amendment addresses such a scenario.)
Raskin said “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?” Raskin asked.
Raskin acknowledged Congress did not set up the body referenced in Section 4 when the 25th Amendment was sent by Congress to the states in 1965 for ratification.
“I wish that Congress had set up this permanent body 50 years ago. It did not do it. But we do need to do this,” Raskin said. “The framers of the 25th Amendment knew that you could not always count on the Cabinet to act. And so Congress has a role to play. And that role must be totally bicameral and totally bipartisan.”
Sen. Birch Bayh, who died in 2019 and helped pass the 25th Amendment, said the purpose of Section 4 was to deal with “an impairment of the president’s faculties, meaning that he is unable either to make or communicate his decisions as to his own competency to execute the powers and duties of his office.”
Said Pelosi, “A president's fitness for office must be determined by science and facts. This legislation applies to future presidents. But we are reminded of the necessity of action by the health of the current president.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Drew Angerer/Staff
Video courtesy: ©Reuters
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.