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US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks at a news conference in Washington on Friday. Photo: EPA-EFE

Amid Donald Trump’s coronavirus woes, Nancy Pelosi unveils bill to assess presidential capacity

  • US leader, raring to return to campaign trail, will hold event at White House on Saturday
  • Trump to undergo on-air ‘medical evaluation’ on Fox News, in first on-camera interview since his Covid-19 infection was announced

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump’s chief rival in Congress, proposed a commission on Friday to assess a president’s capacity for carrying out his duties – a move that highlights concerns about Trump’s health weeks before the election.

Despite the conspicuous timing of the unveiling, Pelosi insisted that “this is not about President Trump”, who has been treated for Covid-19 for the past week and is desperate to return to campaigning.

Trump on Saturday will hold his first public event at the White House since he tested positive last week, a senior administration official said on Friday. The official, who asked not to be identified, confirmed US media reports that Trump will speak on the theme of “law and order” to a gathering on the South Lawn.

The president is also planning to undergo an on-air “medical evaluation” on Fox News on Friday, during his first on-camera interview since his coronavirus infection was announced.


Donald Trump continues to downplay severity of Covid-19 as more US officials report infections

Donald Trump continues to downplay severity of Covid-19 as more US officials report infections

Trump “will face the judgment of the voters”, Pelosi said. “But he shows the need to create a process for future presidents.”

The top Democrat introduced legislation that would create what she called a commission on presidential capacity to discharge the powers and duties of the office. The bill would establish a 16-member bipartisan panel of medical experts and former executive branch officials.

But with Republicans controlling the Senate, it is highly unlikely that the bill will become law.


The panel would fulfil a process established under the US Constitution’s 25th Amendment that was ratified in 1967, after John F Kennedy’s assassination.

Pelosi said the move would preserve “stability if a president suffers a crippling physical or mental problem” and provide guidance for the transfer of power to the vice-president if needed.

What if Trump is incapacitated? The US Constitution has worrying gaps

Despite the proclamation that the bill is intended to address future presidents, Pelosi directly addressed Trump’s health and how it has raised concerns.

“Clearly he is under medication. Any of us who is under medication of that seriousness is in an altered state,” she told reporters.

“He has bragged about the medication that he has taken, and again, there are articles by medical professions saying this could … have an impact on judgment.”

Trump, who is trailing in the polls, fired back angrily on Twitter – and turned the issue against his election rival Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris.


“Crazy Nancy Pelosi is looking at the 25th Amendment in order to replace Joe Biden with Kamala Harris,” Trump said. “The Dems want that to happen fast because Sleepy Joe is out of it!!!”

House Democrat Jamie Raskin, a constitutional scholar who unveiled the bill with Pelosi, said the Covid-19 crisis, which has killed 212,000 Americans and ravaged White House staff, shows the “wisdom” of the 25th Amendment.


“What happens if a president – any president – ends up in a coma, or on a ventilator, and has made no provisions for the temporary transfer of power under Section 3? Who has the powers of the presidency at that point?” he asked. “We do need to do this.”

Multiple US presidents have temporarily transferred power to their VPs under Section 3 provisions when they were expected to be incapacitated, including Ronald Reagan and George W Bush when they underwent anaesthesia for operations.

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Meanwhile, questions remain about whether Trump, who announced on October 2 he had the virus and spent three nights in a military hospital, is still contagious.


White House doctor Sean Conley said in a memo released on Thursday that Trump had completed his course of therapy for Covid-19, remained stable since returning home from the Walter Reed medical facility on Monday and could resume public engagements on Saturday.

Trump said soon after that he hoped to hold campaign rallies in the crucial swing states of Florida on Saturday and Pennsylvania on Sunday, but aides said the short notice would make the events difficult to stage.

“There are medical tests under way that will ensure that when the president is back out he will not be able to transmit the virus,” McEnany said, adding Conley would lay out the details later. “He won’t be out there if he can transmit the virus.”

Additional reporting by Reuters