House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday backed the creation of a congressionally appointed commission that would determine whether a president is capable of performing his duties, insisting that it wasn’t specifically about President Trump while suggesting that his recent diagnosis was the motivation for it.
Pelosi said Trump’s coronavirus infection has raised questions about presidential succession, which is governed by the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. Trump spent last weekend at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, setting off a flurry of inquiries about whether Vice President Pence would assume authority, even temporarily.
“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,” Pelosi told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appears at a Capitol Hill news conference alongside text from Section 4 of the 25th Amendment. (Sarah Silbiger/For The Washington Post)
She later added: “This legislation applies to future presidents, but we are reminded of the necessity of action by the health of the current president.”
Pelosi’s comments and her embrace of the legislation come against the backdrop of Trump’s dismissiveness about the threat of the coronavirus and his erratic response to negotiations on a federal relief package.
After abandoning the talks earlier this week, Trump said Friday that he wants a major deal with Pelosi and Congress.
“I would like to see a bigger stimulus package, frankly, than either the Democrats or the Republicans are offering. I’m going in the exact opposite now, okay?” he said in an interview with syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh.
In the same wide-ranging interview, the president referenced Pelosi’s efforts on the legislation to create the commission, saying: “She’s gone crazy. She’s a nut job.”
Pelosi declined to comment on the status of the relief talks at the Friday morning news conference.
The 25th Amendment formalizes that the vice president takes over the duties of the presidency in the event of a president’s death, inability to perform his duties or resignation from office. It also lays out a process by which a sitting president’s powers may be removed. Congress’s role, however, is limited.
Pelosi endorsed legislation by Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) that would create a bipartisan Commission on Presidential Capacity to Discharge the Powers and Duties of Office to “help ensure effective and uninterrupted leadership” in the presidency. The commission would be composed of medical professionals and former high-ranking executives selected equally by Republicans and Democrats.
The commission would work in concert with the vice president to determine if a president were unfit to serve.
While Pelosi declined to say if Trump had reached such a state, she argued that medications he has taken could impair his judgment. Earlier in the week, she specifically called out his use of steroids that she said may be having an effect on his mental capabilities.
“Clearly [Trump] is under medication. Any of us who are under medication of that seriousness . . . is in an altered state,” the speaker said. “And again, there are articles by medical professionals saying this could, as I said earlier, could have an impact on judgment.”
Pelosi has been known to try to goad the president, aware that his blusterous reactions can repel voters. In the past, she has accused Trump of engaging in a coverup, implored his family to have an intervention over his behavior and said she prays for his health — the latter of which infuriated the president.
Some Democrats view her full-throated endorsement of the Raskin proposal as a bid to do the same.
The Raskin legislation has no chance of becoming law as long as Republicans control the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters in Kentucky on Friday that the idea was “absurd, absolutely absurd.”
“Again, right here, in this last three weeks before the election, I think those kinds of wild comments should be largely discounted,” McConnell said.
Trump, in a tweet, suggested that Pelosi’s purpose in pushing the commission was to make the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), president if Joe Biden is elected.
Trump associates have accused Pelosi of wanting to invoke the 25th Amendment to oust the president after she led the effort to impeach him a year ago. The Republican-led Senate acquitted him on two impeachment charges.
Pelosi, however, said that the matter is not about Trump — or for her to determine if he is healthy enough to serve.
“That’s not for us to decide,” she said, adding: “People want to know. We have to give some comfort to people that there is a way to do this, very respectful of not making a judgment on the basis of a comment or behavior that we don’t like, but based on a medical decision, again, with the full involvement of the vice president of the United States.”
Raskin said that, in the midst of a pandemic that has killed at least 212,000 Americans while many at the White House have been infected, the legislation is critical.
“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?” he asked.