Oct 9, 2020
Nancy Pelosi Press Conference on 25th Amendment Bill Proposal Transcript October 9
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a press conference on October 9 to unveil legislation that would establish a bipartisan congressional commission to evaluate a president’s fitness to serve under the 25th Amendment. This announcement followed questions around President Trump’s ability to serve during his coronavirus treatment. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
Transcribe Your Own Content
Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.
Nancy Pelosi: (00:00)
Thank you for being here. We are really very honored to have Congressman Raskin to lead us through his legislation, which is so very important. So I hope you will prepare yourselves for a civics lesson, or a presentation on the Constitution of the United States. The 25th amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1967 after the assassination of President Kennedy with strong bi-partisan support. Members of Congress have a duty to take all necessary action to preserve continuity of government and protect the stability and integrity of our democracy for the future. That is why today, again, it is my honor to welcome Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a constitutional scholar, as he introduces legislation to establish a commission on presidential capacity to discharge the powers and duties of the office. This is not about President Trump. He will face the judgment of the voters, but he shows the need for us to create a process for future presidents.
Nancy Pelosi: (01:17)
Throughout America’s history, our leaders have created and strengthened guardrails in the constitution to ensure stability and continuity of government in times of crisis. The 25th amendment creates a path for preserving stability. If a president suffers a crippling physical or mental problem and is, in the amendment, “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office and transfers his power.” Specifically section four of the amendment empowers Congress to set up an independent body to confront such a crisis. Congress has a constitutional duty to lay out the process by which a president is president in capacity, and the president of any party is determined. This bill honors the duty by creating a standing commission of top former executive officials and medical experts selected in a bipartisan, bicameral way.
Nancy Pelosi: (02:23)
A president’s fitness for office must be determined by science and facts. This legislation applies to future presidents, but we are reminded of the necessity of action by the health of the current president. With this bill, the Congress honors our oath to support and defend the constitution and protect the American people, and we uphold our responsibility to preserve our republic for generations to come. Now it is my honor to yield to the distinguished gentlemen from Maryland, a constitutional authority by teaching it, honoring it, and again, legislating to honor our constitution. Congressman Raskin, thank you for your leadership.
Jamie Raskin: (03:11)
Madam speaker, thank you very much. I’m honored by your words, and thank you for inviting me to present to the press this legislation. In times of chaos, we must hold fast to our constitution. The 25th amendment is all about the stability of the presidency and the continuity of the office. It’s a tool that was adopted by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the House and in the Senate in 1965, an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the state legislatures, three quarters of whom passed it in 1967. The 25th amendment is designed to guarantee the continuing peaceful transfer of power in our country. The principal authors of the amendment, like Senators Birch Bayh and Robert F. Kennedy and Congressman Emanuel Celler from New York wanted to resolve basic questions about stability, continuity, and succession in the office of the presidency. So section one established that if the presidency is vacant, the vice president becomes the president, and believe it or not, that was ambiguous at the time.
Jamie Raskin: (04:25)
Section two establishes that if the vice presidency is vacant, the president nominates a vice president, and by concurrent majority vote of the House and Senate, that nominee becomes the vice president. Section three established a process for the temporary transfer of power by a president who is incapacitated. By transmitting to the president pro tempore of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House, a statement establishing a temporary disability, and this has happened multiple times with various presidents, including President Reagan, who transferred powers to Vice President Bush when he underwent colorectal surgery. Now section four deals with the problem of a president who becomes incapacitated, but has made no provision to temporarily transfer powers, meaning in the words of Senator Birch Bayh, that the president is unable, either to make or to communicate his decisions as to his own competency to execute the powers and duties of his office.
Jamie Raskin: (05:30)
In that case, the vice president and a majority of the cabinet or the vice president and such other body that may be established by Congress may determine that there is a presidential incapacity and notify the president pro tempore and the speaker of the house of that inability to conduct the powers and duties of office. In that case, the powers would be transferred to the vice president. Now if you read section four, you will see that the president has the opportunity to object, that he actually can conduct the powers, despite what the vice president and these bodies are saying, and ultimately there would be a vote of the House and the Senate and it requires two thirds to side with the vice president. So it’s made procedurally difficult to make sure that this is really only for the most extreme situations, where you have a president who cannot fulfill the functions of the office.
Jamie Raskin: (06:33)
Now it’s never been necessary, but the authors of the 25th amendment thought it essential in the nuclear age to have a safety valve option, and as they often said, we have 535 members of Congress, but we only have one president. In the age of COVID-19, which has killed more than 210,000 Americans and now ravaged the White House staff, the wisdom of the 25th amendment is clear. What happens if a president, any president, ends up in a coma or on a ventilator and has made no provisions for the temporary transfer of power. Under section three, who has the powers of the presidency at that point? Is it the chief of staff? Is it the vice-president? Is it the secretary of state? This situation is what demands action under section four. I wish that Congress had set up this permanent body 50 years ago. It did not do it, but we do need to do this, certainly in the next Congress. The framers of the 25th amendment knew that you could not always count on the cabinet to act, and so Congress has a role to play, and that role must be totally bicameral and totally bipartisan.
Jamie Raskin: (07:52)
And the legislation that I introduced today would seek to establish a 16 member commission that could act in the event of such an emergency, and a chair, a 17th member chosen by the 16 members themselves. Eight members are chosen half by Republican leaders and half by Democratic leaders, from medical personnel, physicians, and other medical authorities. The other eight members are drawn from the ranks of former high ranking executive branch officers, including former presidents, vice-presidents, attorney generals, secretaries of defense, treasury, and state and surgeon general. So the commission is entirely bipartisan, and of course under the 25th amendment, it can act only in concert with the vice-president, who is the key actor under the 25th amendment. So the constitution is designed to give us the tools that need to deal with the many crises of human affairs that can affect the continuity of democratic self-government. We are in the middle of a momentous election, and as the speaker said, the people will decide that. But when we get through this, the problem that we’re talking about today is something serious that we have to face, and I’m delighted to introduce this legislation and to answer any questions you may have.
Speaker 3: (09:26)
Can you address the concern here with this condition? Number one, the idea that medical professionals, on this condition would not have examined the president. There are ethical issues as to whether or not that’s appropriate for them to rule or make a judgment on a president health if they have not done that. And number two, you say this is something in the future Congress that could be addressed. And speaker, you said this was not about this president. How can we read that at this point in time when you’re talking about COVID-19, this not be about this president?
Jamie Raskin: (09:58)
So I’ll answer the first question. I’ll let the speaker take the second. The legislation sets up a process by which Congress, through concurrent votes in the House and the Senate, could direct the commission to conduct a medical exam of the president, and that would include whatever the members of the commission think is necessary to determine whether or not there’s an incapacity. If the president refuses, and the president would have a right to refuse, that could be taken into account by the commission, which would have to rule based on all of the other evidence that it has.
Nancy Pelosi: (10:34)
Again, this isn’t about any judgment anybody has about somebody’s behavior. This is about a diagnosis, a professional medical diagnosis. Let me just back up for a second, just to put personal here. When this happened, it was after the assassination of President Kennedy, and you may not know this, you weren’t born yet, but there was no … and Lyndon Johnson became president. There was no vice president, and if anything had happened to President Johnson, and his health was not the greatest, the Speaker of the House would have become the president of the United States. So this sets up how you would elect another vice president, how a vice president would be chosen by the president, but voted upon by the House and Senate, and of course that’s what happened with the Gerald Ford. He was … after Spiro Agnew, all that, he was appointed the vice president, and very popular in the Congress on both sides of the aisle, both sides of the Capitol.
Nancy Pelosi: (11:44)
I love the story about how that happened, because on his 90th birthday, Gerald Ford came to the House, which is where he sprang from. He was the minority leader, and I said, Mr. President, I’m so honored to serve … I was minority leader at the time … I’m so honored to serve in the position that you served in, and he said to me, “I served with your father. I served with your father,” and he started to tell me stories about that. When he died, I was the incoming speaker and we had the honor of opening up the speaker’s office and all the rest, even though I wasn’t going to be sworn in for a day or two, but had possession of the speaker’s office open to his family, who at the time he was minority leader. That’s where he presided, and again, where his children came and did their homework and all the rest.
Nancy Pelosi: (12:38)
So we have a real personal connection to Gerald Ford, who filled this spot, as determined by the 25th amendment to the constitution. We can do a couple of things at once. We can engage in our political activity for the public to make its verdict 25 days from now, and at the same time, honor our responsibilities to have something in place that does not apply to this president, but certainly raises the issue if a president … and this is not with bad intentions. If a president becomes incapacitated by ventilation, whatever it happens to be, that he would not have the ability, as Ronald Reagan had, as President George Herbert Walker Bush, as President George W. Bush had to make a judgment, “For this period of time, I transfer the power.” So this sets up a formula. It’s not for any of us to decide that, it’s about a process to decide it. And as the distinguished gentleman said, without the vice president … the vice president is crucial to this, and that would be the vice president of the president’s party.
Speaker 4: (14:05)
Speaker, just a few weeks ago, or a week or two ago, you were toying with the idea of impeachment. Now you’re talking about –
Nancy Pelosi: (14:12)
I was doing what?
Speaker 4: (14:13)
You were toying with the idea of impeachment.
Nancy Pelosi: (14:14)
I was not toying with impeachment, so let’s not have a predicate that did not exist. Another question, because that is based on a falsity. Yes, sir.
Speaker 5: (14:23)
Madam speaker, I’m just curious about the timing. Why introduce this legislation now? Why not wait until the new session of Congress? Things may have changed, may have a clearer view of the arc of the legislation and the Congress. Wouldn’t it be easier when the decks are cleared just to wait until the next session?
Nancy Pelosi: (14:41)
We want to be ready and it takes time, and there’s been a call for why not execute the 25th amendment? That’s not what we’re doing. We’re saying, let Congress exert the power that the constitution gave it. Jamie, did you want to speak to that?
Jamie Raskin: (15:00)
It’s interesting, when I found that the body had never been set up, and I guess the reason is that there’s never a really good time to do it, because it’s always seen just in its local circumstance, as opposed to the need to have this institutionally, and so I guess I would say the situation has focused everybody’s mind on the need for following through on this suggestion in the 25th amendment, that Congress set up its own body, and I think again, in the age of COVID-19, where a lot of government actors have been afflicted by it, we need to act.
Speaker 6: (15:46)
To my colleague’s question, I mean this is a president who has been impeached. You have made comments in recent days suggesting that you think his mental state might be affected by the drugs that he’s on. What do you say to those who see what you’re doing now and say, “Aha, this is just another attempt to go around the public and try to get rid of this president through a way that’s not an election?”
Nancy Pelosi: (16:07)
Well, let me first say what I said about the president and the drugs was there are those who believe that taking certain medications can affect your judgment. I don’t know … let’s say what I actually said. I don’t know. That’s what I said on a call with my members. So you may have gotten it through several times removed. “There are those, medical professionals, who say that certain medications can impair judgment. I don’t know,” and this is not … I appreciate your question, because this is really important. It’s not about any of us making a judgment about the president’s wellbeing. It’s about this respected bipartisan, both aspects of it, the medical side of it, and the dignitary states inside of it, are selected equally by the speaker, the leader, the speaker, or the leader of the leader in a bipartisan way, and the vice president is crucial to that.
Nancy Pelosi: (17:16)
When we do legislation, it’s important to socialize it so that people understand why, so that we would like to have it in place, and it could be said for future presidencies. If the president wins this election, yes, it would apply to him. If he doesn’t, it’ll apply to the next president of the United States, but this isn’t about anything to say, “We got to do something like this,” about the election. It’s not about the election at all, and I thank the distinguished gentleman from Maryland for this. This has … we could have done this a while back, but the timing is for now, because people want to know. We have to give some comfort to people that there is a way to do this. Very respectful of not making a judgment on the basis of a comment or behavior that we don’t like, but based on a medical decision, again, with the full involvement of the vice president of the United States, whoever he or she may be at the time.
Speaker 7: (18:24)
Would that concede then that the president has not met the threshold for you invoking the 25th amendment?
Nancy Pelosi: (18:24)
I don’t understand the question.
Speaker 7: (18:24)
Would you concede that the president has not met the threshold for invoking the 25th amendment?
Nancy Pelosi: (18:37)
That’s not for us to decide.
Jamie Raskin: (18:38)
Yeah, I mean the whole point is … look, we understand that in politics, people point fingers back and forth, but the issues raised are of such gravity and central importance to the nature of our government that we’ve got to think of this in constitutional terms, and this is why we need to set up an institution composed on a bipartisan fashion, in bicameral fashion that will be able to make judgments, whether it is five months from now, five years from now, 50 years from now, whatever it might be. We’re living in an age of a lot of chaos, and I want to say I appreciate what the speaker has to go through on a daily basis, dealing with the chaos of politics, which has been made especially intense recently, and I appreciate her seeing that we need to create some constitutional and institutional foundations for dealing with the chaos, and our forebears who wrote the 25th amendment gave us the tools that we need to deal with these kinds of crisis.
Nancy Pelosi: (19:49)
Our common ground with the American people is the constitution of the United States. It has always been gratifying for me, edifying to go around the country, and no matter Democrats or Republicans, right or left or whatever, that the constitution, the rules, are what really do unify us. And this is a comfort to people, that it’s not about who’s in power saying, “I don’t like the way he or she is acting.” It’s about a process that is bipartisan, based in the constitution, giving Congress the power to do this, which Congress hasn’t done, and again, at a time when people understand that there’s a necessity for it, but again, to your question, it isn’t about any of us making a decision as to whether the 25th amendment should be invoked. That’s totally not the point. That’s not up to us. That’s not up to us, but I do go back to Mr. Raskin’s point. Just put yourself in a situation and your responsibilities to your family, should any of you suffer a stroke or COVID and go to ventilation and all the rest of it and are not capable of making decisions for your family, just because it’s unforeseen, accidental, whatever happens, wouldn’t you have in advance liked to have had a plan for your family, even if it’s temporary, God willing, even if it’s temporary, that would be in place? So that’s what this is.
Speaker 8: (21:27)
Madam speaker, on a related note –
Nancy Pelosi: (21:32)
We’ll just take one more.
Speaker 9: (21:34)
Thanks, Madam speaker. Are you suggesting that President Trump has an altered state of mind? What are the indications of that? And if I may, recently you commented on UK Brexit policy. Do you think that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is an example of somebody whose capacity to govern is reduced by coronavirus?
Nancy Pelosi: (21:55)
I have no idea, nor do I have of President Trump. I just said clearly he is under medication. Any of us who is under medication of that seriousness is an altered state. He has bragged about the medication that he has taken, and again, there are articles by medical professional saying this could, as I said earlier, have an impact on judgment. I don’t have the faintest idea about Borris Johnson, but I’m glad you brought up the subject, because I think we have to be very careful about what happens in the UK.
Nancy Pelosi: (22:34)
We have very stringent rules in terms of the food and drug administration here about the number of clinical trials, of the timing, the number of people, and all the rest, so that when a drug is approved by the FDA and the scientific advisory committee, that is safe and efficacious, then it will have the trust of the American people to take it. Vaccines are about trust. We want people to take it. So we pray that it is soon. The sooner, the better. Not one day sooner than is safe and efficacious, but not one day later either, and my concern is that the UK system, for that kind of judgment, is not on a par with ours in the United States. So if Boris Johnson decides he’s going to approve a drug and this president embraces that, that’s a concern that I have about any similarity between the two. Thank you all very much.