From Trump to Pence: How the vice president could temporarily assume control

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WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 26: U.S. President Donald Trump looks on after a news conference with Vice President Mike Pence in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House February 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump updated the American people about what his administration’s ‘whole of government’ response to the global coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – President Donald Trump’s hospitalization following his COVID-19 diagnosis has many wondering what will happen if he becomes incapacitated and is no longer able to lead the nation.

If Trump’s condition becomes too grave for him to carry out his duties, 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.

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.

In the current volatile political climate, however, William Howell, University of Chicago Professor in American Politics, says the ability to have a clear transfer of powers if needed is “cause for some concern.”    

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 said Vice President Mike Pence tested negative for the virus following the president’s diagnosis.

White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah said Friday that Trump had no current plans to transfer power to Pence.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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