History offers 'sobering' insights on presidential succession: presidential historian
The shocking news — on Friday morning, October 2 — that President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump and Republican adviser Hope Hicks had all tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus raises major concerns about how the White House will function in the days ahead. Presidential historian Jon Meacham addressed this subject during an October 2 appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
Meacham chose his words very carefully, stressing that it is "premature" to speculate too much on how the presidential line of succession might need to be used following Trump's diagnosis and what steps will need to be taken in the White House. But he did point out that the line of succession has been successfully employed during U.S. history and that the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, enacted in 1967, "offers a users' guide to complex and mess human situations."
It remains to be seen how severe Trump's COVID-19 infection will be. Many people who have been infected with the novel coronavirus haven't had any symptoms whatsoever; others have been very sick but recovered. And worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers, more than 1 million people have died from it.
If Trump has only a mild case of COVID-19, there might be no need for Vice President Mike Pence to temporarily take over Trump's presidential duties. But Meacham noted that "if the president chooses to temporarily hand off executive power to the vice president," there is a "history of that."
The 25th Amendment, Meacham noted, deals with presidential succession. Meacham, in light of Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis, recommended, "People should go and read the 25th Amendment."
Under the presidential line of succession, the vice president is in the #2 position — and the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is #3. That means that, possibly, if both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were unable to perform presidential duties, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could temporarily serve as president. Meacham, however, didn't want to speculate on that possibility.
But the historian and frequent MSNBC contributor did say of the president's diagnosis and the possibility that others in his administration might be infected, "It's a sobering moment that requires an informed citizenry….Are we moving into crisis mode? We don't know yet."