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Trump and Pence on the first day of the Republican convention. Photo: David T. Foster III-Pool/Getty Images

The Constitution establishes a chain for who becomes "acting president" if the president is incapacitated — but even if President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both fell ill from the coronavirus, many responsibilities could be delegated to White House staff before they'd turn to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Why it matters: It's highly unlikely, but given Trump's positive COVID-19 test, there's a protocol under Section 3 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution for Trump to temporarily cede authorities to Pence.

  • If Pence is incapacitated, the power could pass to the speaker of the House of Representatives, a Democrat and one of the administration's fiercest foes.

Be smart: Pence tested negative for the virus again this morning. And the president himself could feel very sick and still be able to continue doing his job.

What they're saying: "If both the president and vice president are very sick but functioning, they can delegate decisions to subordinates," said Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University.

  • "Actual succession under the 25th Amendment only kicks in with an effective vacancy due to death or complete incapacity."
  • Section 3 has been invoked three times since its adoption in 1967 — all for short-term medical procedures. Ronald Reagan invoked it once, and George W. Bush did it twice.

How it works: The president could send written notification to the speaker of the House and Senate's president pro tempore that he is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office," thereby making the vice president the acting president.

  • When the president decides that he's fit to assume duties again, he would send another "written declaration to the contrary" to the two congressional leaders, and he's automatically president again.
  • In July 2007, Vice President Dick Cheney served as acting president for a little more than two hours after Bush wrote this letter, before he underwent a colonoscopy.

Between the lines: Section 4 of the 25th Amendment lays out a process if the vice president and a majority of the cabinet needed to declare that the president is incapacitated.

  • While a provocative topic, Section 4 has never been invoked. Were there a dispute between the president and vice president over capacity to serve, it would come down to a two-thirds vote of Congress.

Go deeper

McCarthy says second Trump impeachment would "divide our country more"

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Greg Nash - Pool/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is urging Democrats not to impeach President Trump for a second time following Wednesday's assault on the U.S. Capitol building.

What he's saying: "Impeaching the President with just 12 days left in his term will only divide our country more," McCarthy wrote in a statement. "I have reached out to President-elect Biden today and plan to speak to him about how we must work together to lower the temperature and unite the country to solve America’s challenges."

Jan 10, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Reports: Pence to attend Biden's inauguration

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/Pool/Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence will attend President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20, per multiple reports Saturday.

Why it matters: It's a major break from President Trump, who said Friday he won't attend.

House expected to introduce articles of impeachment next week

Speaker Pelosi. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The House is planning to introduce articles of impeachment against President Trump as early as Monday, several sources familiar with the Democrats' plans tell Axios.

What they're saying: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Friday night that if Trump doesn't immediately resign: "I have instructed the Rules Committee to be prepared to move forward with Congressman Jamie Raskin’s 25th Amendment legislation and a motion for impeachment."

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