(WSYR-TV) — President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have tested positive for COVID-19, according to multiple sources. As of Friday, the president only had minor symptoms, but what would happen with the election about a month away if his condition worsens?
The 25th Amendment primarily deals with what would occur if a president passes away, but it also talks about what happens if a president can’t fulfill his duties.
William Banks, a law professor at Syracuse University, says, “If there is a determination that he is unable to fulfill his duties, then he can temporarily or permanently, should the president succumb to the virus, the duties can be passed along to his successor, who in this case would be Vice President Pence.”
America has never had to deal with COVID-19, but the amendment has been used when presidents have gone to the hospital for even minor surgeries.
“So now, even on a few occasions, say where a president has gone under anesthesia for a minor procedure like a colonoscopy, he has transferred his power to the vice president for the period of time needed to complete the procedure,” Professor Banks said. “With the president hospitalized, he should do the same with Vice President Pence.”
President Trump only has minor symptoms as of Friday, but if his condition worsens, Pence, who has already tested negative for the virus, could be thrust into the oval office.
Expectations are for President Trump to decide whether or not he is unfit to fulfill his duties, but the president’s cabinet could step in as well.
“If [President Trump] refuses to abide by the amendment, there is a procedure for the cabinet, a majority of the cabinet, to say that the president is unable to perform his duties, and that the vice president should take over,” Professor Banks said.
There have been eight instances where a president has passed away while in office and, although it is probably unlikely, if President Trump does die due to COVID-19, it would be the first time a president has passed away this close to an election.
If this were to happen, Professor Banks says the election would go on, but it is not a guarantee as to who would be the Republican nominee.
“It would be up to the Republican Party to name a nominee for president,” Professor Banks says. “In all likelihood, it would be Vice President Pence, and of course with so little time, if President Trump would get seriously ill and then die before November 3, there would be very little time for the party to respond in a responsible way to have a process that would allow a new nominee to come forward. So, you would think, yes, it would go to Vice President Pence right away.”
Hopefully, the president is able to make a full recovery from the virus, but this definitely serves as a reminder to all Americans that COVID-19 is still a real threat to our health.
“The irony of the president contracting the virus is that his illness, hopefully it’s minor, would serve as a beacon to those who’ve been following his lead, and not paying much attention to the public health precautions would now begin to do so,” Professor Banks said. “If it makes that difference, if it has that impact on a number of his supporters, that would be a tremendous health benefit for all of us.”
Election day is set for Tuesday, November 3. Be sure to get out and vote.
Order of power if President Trump can’t fulfill his duties:
- Vice President
- Speaker of the House of Representatives
- President pro tempore of the Senate
- Secretary of State
- Secretary of the Treasury