House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is questioning President Donald Trump’s fitness to serve, announcing legislation Thursday that would create a commission to allow Congress to intervene under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution and remove the president from executive duties.
Just weeks before the Nov. 3 election, Pelosi said Trump needs to disclose more about his health after his COVID-19 diagnosis. She raised the idea of invoking the 25th Amendment, which allows a president’s Cabinet or Congress to intervene when a president is unable to conduct the duties of the office.
On Friday, she planned to roll out the legislation that would launch the commission for review.
Trump responded swiftly via Twitter.
“Crazy Nancy is the one who should be under observation. They don’t call her Crazy for nothing!” the president said.
His opponents have discussed invoking the 25th Amendment for some time, but are raising it now, so close to Election Day, as questions swirl about the president’s health. Trump says he “feels great” after being hospitalized and is back at work in the White House. But his doctors have given mixed signals about his diagnosis and treatment. Trump plans to resume campaigning soon.
Congress is not in legislative session, and so any serious consideration of the measure, let alone votes in the House or Senate, is unlikely. But the bill serves as a political tool to stoke questions about Trump’s health during the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill would create a commission as outlined under the 25th Amendment, which was passed by Congress and ratified in 1967 as way to ensure a continuity of power in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
It says the vice-president and a majority of principal officers of the executive departments “or of such other body as Congress” may by law provide a declaration to Congress that the president “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” At that point, the vice-president would immediately assume the powers of acting president.
Pelosi’s move came after she said earlier Thursday that she was “at the table” still ready to negotiate a coronavirus aid package. Trump had abruptly halted talks this week, leaving the economy reeling, his GOP allies scrambling and millions of Americans without additional support weeks before Election Day.
Pelosi said she told Trump’s chief negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, she was willing to consider a measure to prop up the airline industry, which is facing widespread layoffs. But that aid, she said, must go alongside broader legislation that includes the kind of COVID-19 testing, tracing and health practices that Democrats say are needed as part of a national strategy to “crush the virus.”
“Lives are at stake,” Pelosi said at the Capitol. “This is deadly serious.”
In a stunning admission, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that he had stopped going to the White House two months ago because he disagreed with its coronavirus protocols. His last visit was Aug. 6.
“My impression was their approach to how to handle this was different from mine and what I insisted we do in the Senate, which is to wear a mask and practice social distancing,” McConnell said at a campaign stop in northern Kentucky for his own re-election.
The sharp words from all sides after Trump lashed out at Congress come during the final weeks in a campaign year fast turning into a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
Republican allies are peeling away from Trump, with some calling his decision to withdraw from virus aid talks a mistake. Normally, the splintering could provide grounds for a robust package, but with other Republicans refusing to spending more money, it appears no relief will be coming with Americans already beginning early voting.
McConnell held out hope that “we ought to continue to talk” even as several of his own senators said they do not want to pass more aid. More than 210,000 Americans have died and millions more are infected with a virus that shows no signs of abating heading into what public health experts warn will be a difficult flu season and winter.
“There’s no question that the proximity to the election has made this much more challenging,” McConnell said.
The president blew up negotiations this week when he announced his withdrawal, and then quickly reversed course and reached out for fresh aid. It all came in a head-spinning series of tweets and comments days after he returned to the White House after his hospitalization with COVID-19.
First he told the Republican leaders in Congress on Tuesday to quit negotiating on an aid package. By Wednesday he was trying to bring everyone back to the table for his priority items – including $1,200 stimulus checks for almost all adult Americans.
Democrats have made it clear they will not do a piecemeal approach until the Trump administration signs off on a broader, comprehensive plan they are proposing for virus testing, tracing and other actions to stop its spread. They have scaled back a $3 trillion measure to a $2.2 trillion proposal. The White House presented a $1.6 trillion counter offer. Talks were ongoing when Trump shut them down.
“If there’s one thing that has to be in this bill that he has never made as a priority, it’s crushing the virus – instead of the denial, delay, distortion, lack of reality that the president has all along brought to this,” Pelosi said.
“We’ve told the White House, we’re at the table,” she said.
Trump’s diagnosis last week coincides with an outbreak across the White House, as a number of the visitors and high-level advisers to the president have now tested positive and are in quarantine.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.