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

Republican rage targets Facebook and Twitter

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Republicans and conservatives are unloading on Facebook and Twitter a day after the companies limited the sharing of a New York Post story based on emails and files apparently stolen from Hunter Biden.

Where it stands: The attacks are passionate, but the likelihood of government action against the platforms remains low. Even the most realistic and increasingly popular proposal — to punish online platforms by removing their prized liability shield — would be a steep uphill battle.

The cliffhanger could be ... Georgia

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It hasn't backed a Democrat for president since 1992, but Georgia's changing demographics may prove pivotal this year — not only to Trump v. Biden, but also to whether Democrats take control of the Senate.

Why it matters: If the fate of the Senate did hinge on Georgia, it might be January before we know the outcome. Meanwhile, voters' understanding of this power in the final days of the election could juice turnout enough to impact presidential results.

Amy Harder, author of Generate
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Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty

The most notable part of Thursday’s presidential debate on climate change was the fact it was included as a topic and assumed as a fact.

The big picture: This is the first time in U.S. presidential history that climate change was a featured issue at a debate. It signals how the problem has become part of the fabric of our society. More extreme weather, like the wildfires ravaging Colorado, is pushing the topic to the front-burner.

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