House Democrats on Friday unveiled legislation creating a panel to gauge a president's capacity to perform the job — and potentially remove the commander in chief from office in cases of decided debility.
The commission would be permanent, applying to future administrations, but it's a clear shot at President Trump, whose treatments for the coronavirus have raised questions about their effects on his mental acuity.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a sharp critic of the president, has fueled those questions in the the days since Trump returned to the White House after three nights in the hospital, floating the idea that Trump's drug regimen — which includes a steroid linked to mood swings — might be affecting his decisionmaking.
"The president is, shall we say, in an altered state right now," the Speaker told Bloomberg News on Thursday.
The Democrats' legislation invokes the 25th Amendment, which empowers Congress to create "a body" which, working with the vice president, can remove a president deemed "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."
Sponsored by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a former professor of constitutional law, the bill would create a 17-member panel charged with judging the president's fitness — and empowered to remove that figure when deficiencies are determined. In such a case, the vice president would take over.
"This is not about President Trump; he will face the judgment of the voters," Pelosi told reporters Friday. "But he shows the need for us to create a process for future presidents."
The proposal has no chance of being enacted, with Congress on recess and the Senate and White House currently controlled by Republicans. Indeed, GOP leaders have already dismissed it as a political stunt.
"Look, that's absurd. Absolutely absurd," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "Again, right here in this last three weeks before the election, I think those kinds of wild comments should be largely discounted."
But the bill marks another effort by Democratic leaders to energize their base ahead of the Nov. 3 elections, while feeding accusations that Trump — already under fire for his fitful response to the coronavirus pandemic — has become increasingly erratic under treatment for his own case of COVID-19.
Pelosi on Thursday had previewed the legislation's unveiling. The Speaker was vague about what prompted her decision to do it now, just 25 days before the elections, but hinted it was related to the White House's refusal to reveal when Trump last tested negative for the virus.
"Why is the White House not telling the country that important fact about how this spread and made a hot spot of the White House?" she asked.
Trump was quick to fire back, proposing that it's Pelosi, not him, who should be examined for fitness of office.
"Crazy Nancy is the one who should be under observation," he tweeted. "They don’t call her Crazy for nothing!"
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany piled on Friday morning, telling "Fox & Friends" that Pelosi's gambit is "absurd."
"The only one who needs to be looking at the 25th Amendment is Nancy Pelosi herself," she said.
Even before its release, the legislation was already stoking accusations from the president's Republican allies that Democrats, frustrated with Trump's victory in 2016, are doing everything in their power to overturn the wishes of voters in that election — a charge frequently lodged during Trump's impeachment.
"I wouldn’t put it past @SpeakerPelosi to stage a coup," Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) tweeted Thursday. "She has already weaponized impeachment, what’s to keep her from weaponizing the 25th amendment?
It's also likely to fuel the GOP argument that Joe Biden, Trump's 77-year-old Democratic challenger, lacks the vigorous health and mental sharpness to make sound decisions on behalf of the country.
"Joe's not lasting two months as president, OK?" Trump said Thursday in an interview with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, his first since returning to the White House from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Ratified in 1967 in response to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the 25th Amendment allows for the president to cede the authority of the office voluntarily when "he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."
In such a case, the vice president assumes the powers of the presidency. That scenario occurred twice under the President George W. Bush, who transferred power briefly to Vice President Dick Cheney in 2002 and again in 2007. Bush was undergoing colonoscopies in both cases.
But the 25th Amendment also empowers other Washington policymakers to usurp the president's powers involuntarily when questions of those same incapacities arise. In such cases, the vice president can join forces either with a majority of the administration's top Cabinet officials or with "such other body as Congress may by law provide."
Such a body has never been created. Raskin's bill would do so.
Under Raskin's bill, the new panel — dubbed the Commission on Presidential Capacity to Discharge the Powers and Duties of Office — would feature 17 members: four physicians, four psychiatrists and eight former high-ranking executive officials to be chosen from a pool of former presidents, former vice presidents, former surgeon generals and former heads of the State, Treasury, Defense and Justice departments. Those 16 figures would be decided by the bipartisan leaders of both chambers of Congress.