Column: How can we stop an unstable president from taking us over a cliff with him? Pelosi has a plan

President Trump taking off his mask standing on a White House balcony after returning from the hospital.
What happens if the president becomes unfit for office? That’s what a new bill in Congress aims to clarify.
(Getty Images)

If you’ve spent any time in the past week listening to President Trump, you have to be alarmed by his mental and emotional state.

“Hi, perhaps you recognize me,” he said Wednesday in a rambling, nutty video that sounded like a cheesy infomercial. “It’s your favorite president. And I’m standing in front of the Oval Office at the White House, which is always an exciting place to be.”

Trump’s face makeup was so dark, I thought for a moment it was Tan Mom, not Tan Don.


The president made a bunch of odd claims. He said that taking an experimental antibody treatment for his COVID-19 infection was his idea, not his doctors’. He promised to approve the drug for widespread use. (That’s the FDA’s job.) He vowed it would be free. (It won’t.)

“It’s a cure,” he said, though there is no known cure at this point.

“I want everybody to be given the same treatment as your president because I feel great,” he said. “I feel perfect. I think it was a blessing from God that I caught it.”

On Thursday, in a rambling, nutty interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network, he attacked two of his most loyal allies, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Atty. Gen. William Barr, for failing to pursue and/or prosecute Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, who, according to Trump, have committed “the greatest political crime[s] in the history of our country.”

That evening, in a rambling, nutty interview with Sean Hannity, he attacked Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who authorities say was the target of a serious kidnapping and assassination plot by domestic terrorists, for her stringent COVID-19 measures.

“She’s complaining,” he said, “but it was my Justice Department that arrested them .… What she is doing is a horrible thing to the people.”


He also proclaimed, “If I weren’t president, you wouldn’t have a 2nd Amendment right now.”

Trump’s delusions of grandeur are now having delusions of grandeur.


On Friday, in an entirely related development, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) introduced a bill to create a commission that would be responsible for applying the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The amendment, enacted 53 years ago after the assassination of President Kennedy, says that if the president dies or becomes incapacitated, the vice president becomes president.

But who decides whether or not the president is incapacitated?

The 25th Amendment says that the vice president and a majority of the president’s Cabinet may declare the president unable to do his job, or that Congress can pass a law designating another body responsible for declaring the president unfit, should the need arise.

If the proposed bill passes, the president could be declared incapacitated either by the Cabinet or a commission created by Congress, made up of medical experts and former high-ranking government officials. In either case, the vice president would have to be on board.

So, let’s say you have an unusually narcissistic president who has been on medication, say a steroid like dexamethasone that is known to sometimes impair judgment. Obviously, such a president is not going to declare himself incapacitated. That is the very nature of impaired judgment.

And let’s say his Cabinet is composed of loyalists who are terrified of crossing their already mercurial boss even as he trashes them on national media.

That’s the point at which the proposed Commission on Presidential Capacity to Discharge the Powers and Duties of Office, designed to be bipartisan, bicameral and as free of politics as is humanly possible, would step in.

“This is for the most extreme situations where you have a president who cannot fulfill the responsibilities of the office,” said Raskin. “What happens if the president of the United States is in a coma? Or on a ventilator?”

Or — and this is me just spitballing here — he is out of his flipping mind?

The president’s strange behavior, exacerbated by a brush with mortality and possibly heavy doses of a steroid used to combat serious COVID-19 infections, has created an imperative here.

As Raskin said on Friday, “The situation has focused everybody’s mind.”


I know what some people are thinking: Like the impeachment, this must be another Democratic plot to get rid of a duly elected president.

Except it’s not, because the bill would only apply to future presidents.

If Trump wins reelection, it could apply to him. If former Vice President Joe Biden wins, it could apply to him as well.

This is so obvious that even Trump tried to score a political point by noting it.

“Crazy Nancy Pelosi is looking at the 25th Amendment in order to replace Joe Biden with Kamala Harris,” he tweeted Friday. “The Dems want that to happen fast because Sleepy Joe is out of it!!!”

Biden is not “out of it,” but at 77, he would be the oldest president to assume office.

If elected, he could certainly, at some point in his presidency, suffer some form of incapacitation.

The country will be well served by the creation of a commission that would — free of politics — help guide the nation though a moment in which the president is not able to think clearly, behave appropriately or properly carry out the duties of his office.

Exactly, come to think of it, like the moment we are in right now.