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Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis: What lies ahead could include a constitutional crisis over succession

As President Trump continues to recover from coronavirus at the White House, lots of questions regarding constitutional guidance on succession are being asked. If Trump were to become incapacitated, what would happen?

The 25th Amendment, ratified by the states in 1967, dictates that the Vice President assumes the presidency if the President cannot continue in this role. This constitutional provision is commonly called the Disability Clause. It also specifies that if the President is unable to perform the functions of his office, the Vice President will serve as acting president.

Lines of succession are also addressed in the 1886 Succession Act, which made members of the President’s cabinet direct successors if the Vice President could not serve. Under Harry Truman, both houses of Congress agreed to amend the 1886 Act making the Speaker of the House second in line after the Vice President, followed by a long list of possible substitutes. The Secretary of Education (as Battlestar Galactica fans know) is fifteenth in line. Neither the Succession Act nor the 25th Amendment have ever been invoked for longer than a few hours.


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