What happens if Donald Trump becomes seriously ill? The line of succession explained

Rozina Sabur
·3-min read
succession
succession
US Election Article Bar
US Election Article Bar

Just 32 days out from the US presidential election, Donald Trump has been taken to hospital with Covid-19 and will be be monitored there "for a few days", the White House has said.

At 74, Mr Trump is in the age category deemed most vulnerable to the coronavirus, with around 80 per cent of Covid-19 deaths in the US occurring among those aged 65 and older. 

Mr Trump has also been reported to have high cholesterol, and at 17st 6lb (110.7kg), is considered obese for his height, which may also make him more vulnerable to the deadly virus. 

Mr Trump's doctor, Sean Conley, has said the president and his wife Melania Trump are both "well at this time" and receiving treatment. Mr Trump, who has displayed symptoms, is being treated with a Regeneron polyclonal antibody cocktail. He is also taking vitamin C and zinc, melatonin and a daily aspirin, his doctor said.

Dr Conley also suggested that Mr Trump intends to continue "carrying out his duties" while recovering, but as Mr Trump is taken to hospital – and is expected to quarantine for at least the next two weeks – there are some duties the Commander-in-Chief may be unable to perform.

In that instance it is likely that many of his duties will be handed over to Mike Pence, the US vice president. 

Trump has symptoms – what happens now? 

For now, the White House has said that the president will continue working.

Mr Trump will have the best care available but it is still possible that the president could become seriously ill from the virus. 

The US Constitution makes provisions for such a scenario. Under section 3 of the Constitution's 25th Amendment, Mr Trump could declare in writing his inability to discharge his duties. In that instance Mr Pence would become the acting president. 

Mr Trump would then need to declare his fitness to resume office in writing in order to regain his powers.

If Mr Trump were to become incapacitated, section 4 of the 25th Amendment allows the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to inform the leaders in Congress that the president “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”. In such a case, Mr Pence would take over as acting president. 

In order to resume office, Mr Trump would need to inform the leaders on Capitol Hill that he is fit and able to resume his duties and Congress would then vote on the issue. 

If two thirds of both chambers voted that the president is unable to discharge the duties of office, the vice president remains acting president until after the next presidential election - which in this scenario is on November 3. 

Coronavirus podcast: Donald Trump tests positive - what next?
Coronavirus podcast: Donald Trump tests positive - what next?

Mike Pence, the US vice president, and his wife Karen Pence both tested negative for Covid-19 on Friday morning.

His spokesman Devin O’Malley tweeted out the news as the White House attempts to work out how widely the virus has spread at the top of the US government.

The news provides reassurance that Mr Pence will be able to step in should Mr Trump be forced to step back from duties due to the virus.

If Mr Pence should fall ill, Congress could enact the 1947 Presidential Succession Act which places the Speaker of the House of Representatives next in the line of succession, followed by the president pro tempore of the Senate and then members of the Cabinet. 

The current House Speaker is Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, meaning the White House would be under the control of a different party without an election.

However, the rules are far from clear-cut, and any move to transfer power to Mrs Pelosi would likely result in legal challenges, potentially leaving the country in limbo for several weeks.

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