Republican President Donald trump announced in the wee hours of Friday morning that he and First Lady Melania Trump had become two of the nearly 7.3 million Americans who have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The news came after one of Trump’s closest associates, Hope Hicks, tested positive for COVID-19. Those who have been in close proximity to the president in recent weeks have since undergone testing or are expected to be soon.
Those officials include Vice President Mike Pence, who tested negative for viral respiratory infection early Friday, and the former Democratic Vice President. Joe biden, who shared a stage of debate with Trump earlier this week.
Trump’s diagnosis reverberated across social media, with people expressing a range of emotions in response to the announcement. Some shared sadness and compassion, others shared anger and undisguised joy, The Associated Press reported.
The announcement also raised several questions. Chief among them: who would take over as commander-in-chief if the president was incapacitated by the virus or was too ill to perform his duties?
American history offers some glimpses.
What the story tells us
For now, it looks like Trump is capable of performing his presidential duties. White House officials have stressed that he and the first lady are both doing well at the moment.
The US Constitution and US presidential history, however, shed light on what would happen if Trump became too ill to act as Commander-in-Chief.
Under the 25th amendment, a president in medical incapacity has the possibility of temporarily transferring the power to the vice-president and can recover his authority whenever he considers himself fit to fulfill his functions.
Section 3 of the amendment, which describes such a procedure, has however rarely been used.
The section was only used in cases where the Commander-in-Chief was physically incapable, including when Republican President Ronald Reagan temporarily handed over the leadership to then-Vice President George Bush during his colon surgery in 1985 and twice later when Bush as president was sedated for a colonoscopy, according to the Brookings Institute.
The last time a president suffered a fatal injury or illness during his tenure and the 25th Amendment was about to be used was 39 years ago, when Reagan was shot in a assassination attempt.
While the White House at the time prepared the letters necessary to invoke Section 3 of the amendment, it did not end up signing the documents. The surgeons managed to remove the bullet from the president, and Reagan recovered.
The line of succession
What if a president dies in office has been set in stone by the US Constitution for over 200 years.
Eight presidents have died in office, four of natural causes and four of assassination. The reigns of the presidency were handed over to the vice president in each case.
The Constitution made little mention of presidential succession until the mid-1900s, however, only specifying that the powers and duties of the presidency should rest with the vice president if the commander-in-chief is removed from office, resigns, is unable to act. to do his job. or die.
This constitutional language was reinforced in 1947 with the revision of the Presidential Succession Law.
The original act of 1792 placed the President of the Senate pro tempore and the President of the House of Representatives in the line of succession, but in 1886 Congress removed them from that list, according to the US Senate.
On July 18, 1947, Democratic President Harry Truman signed the Deed of Succession which reinserted these officials, but placed the Speaker of the House before the Speaker of the Senate pro tempore.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would therefore assume the presidency if Trump and Pence become unable to serve.
In the spring, the White House said it had no plan for such an eventuality.
“It’s not even something we’re talking about,” said Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary. “We keep the president in good health. We keep the vice president healthy and, you know, they’re healthy right now and they will continue to be.
Still, CNN analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner said in an interview with the media that Pelosi should protect itself and apply increased public health precautions.
“Continuity of government requires that we have a clear leader here. It’s very possible that the president and vice-president are both getting sick right now, ”Reiner said. “So I would limit the Speaker’s activity and make sure she is truly isolated in a relatively sterile environment.”
|Order of succession:|
|1. Vice President – Mike Pence|
|2. Speaker of the House of Representatives – Nancy Pelosi|
|3. President Pro Tempore of the Senate – Chuck Grassley|
|4. Secretary of State – Mike Pompeo|
|5. Secretary of the Treasury – Steven Mnuchin|
|6. Defense Secretary – Mark Esper|
|7. Attorney General – William Barr|
|8. Home Secretary – David Bernhardt|
|9. Secretary of Agriculture – Sonny Perdue|
|10. Secretary of Commerce – Wilbur Ross|
|11. Labor secretary – Eugene Scalia|
|12. Secretary of Health and Social Services – Alex Azar|
|13. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – Ben Carson|
|14. Transport Secretary – Elaine Chao *|
|15. Energy Secretary – Dan Brouillette|
|16. Education Secretary – Betsy DeVos|
|17. Secretary of Veterans Affairs – Robert Wilkie|
* Chao is not a U.S. citizen by birth, so he is not eligible to become interim president.
Trump’s health and the risks of COVID-19
Reiner stressed that now is not the time for Americans to panic. He said it is “very likely” that the president and the first lady, currently in quarantine, will recover from the virus.
“The Constitution of the United States has a very well defined mechanism for transferring power, even temporarily,” he added.
A note made public by White House doctor Dr Sean P. Conley said Donald and Melania Trump are doing well at the moment and planning to stay home during their recovery.
“The White House medical team and I will maintain vigilant surveillance, and I appreciate the support provided by some of our nation’s top medical professionals and institutions,” Conley wrote. “Please be assured that I expect the President to continue to perform his duties without interruption during his convalescence, and I will keep you informed of any future developments.
Trump’s age, 74, still presents risks.
Older people are more likely to develop serious side effects after contracting the coronavirus and are much more at risk of dying from the virus compared to younger patients.
As of September 30, more than 190,000 people had died from COVID-19 in the United States, and approximately 153,000 were over 65 years of age. Almost 42,000 of the recorded deaths were among people aged 65 to 74, with older men. more likely to die than older women, according to data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many coronavirus patients who are the same age as the president have recovered, although the severity of symptoms and the length of time individuals have recovered have varied considerably.
Quoting health experts, The New York Times reported that next week will be crucial in determining the course of Trump’s illness.