President Donald Trump’s announcement of his COVID-19 diagnosis early Friday has many wondering what will happen if he becomes incapacitated and is no longer able to lead the nation.
Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced Friday evening that Trump will be transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. McEnany said he was experiencing “mild symptoms” Friday.
If Trump’s condition becomes too grave for him to carry out his duties, however, the 25th Amendment provides guidelines for what would happen next.
In line to assume presidential duties first is Vice President Mike Pence, followed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, president pro tempore of the Senate Chuck Grassley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
In cases where a president is incapacitated but won’t give up their powers, Section 4 of the 25th Amendment dictates that the vice president and a majority of the cabinet can come forward and force the president to relinquish his powers, says William Howell, University of Chicago Professor in American Politics.
In the current volatile political climate, however, Howell says the ability to have a clear transfer of powers if needed is “cause for some concern.”
The president may declare himself unable to do his job and empower the vice president temporarily, according to Brian Kalt, a law professor with Michigan State University. Both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush used this process before being sedated for surgery.
Alternatively, the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet may deem the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” and transfer power to the vice president. The president may later declare himself able and try to retake power.
But if the vice president and Cabinet object within four days, and are backed by two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate, the vice president stays in power, Kalt said.
Trump’s positive test comes just hours after the White House announced that senior aide Hope Hicks came down with the virus after traveling with the president several times this week.
Trump led a fundraiser in New Jersey Thursday after knowing he had been exposed to Hicks.
Trump is 74 years old, putting him at higher risk of serious complications from a virus that has now killed more than 205,000 people nationwide.
A spokesman says Vice President Mike Pence tested negative for the virus on Friday.
White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah said Friday that Trump has not transferred power to Vice President Mike Pence, according to NBC’s Geoff Bennett.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.