Kamala Harris held presidency for 1 hour 25 mins: W.House

By: AFP      Published: 11:24 PM, 19 Nov, 2021
Kamala Harris held presidency for 1 hour 25 mins: W.House
Kamala Harris held presidency for 1 hour 25 mins: W.House

Vice President Kamala Harris held presidential powers for a total of one hour and 25 minutes while President Joe Biden was under anesthetic, the White House said Friday.

The White House press office said that official letters to Congress declaring the temporary transfer of power were sent at 10:10 am (1510 GMT).

"The president resumed his duties at 11:35 am," (1635 GMT), the White House said in a statement.

25th Amendment to US Constitution provides for transfer of power

The 25th Amendment to the US Constitution provides for a president to temporarily hand over power to the vice president in the event he or she becomes incapacitated.

President Joe Biden invoked Section 3 of the amendment on Friday to transfer power to Vice President Kamala Harris during the period of time he was sedated for a routine colonoscopy.

Biden, who turns 79 on Saturday, underwent the procedure during a physical on Friday at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, the White House said.

"In view of the present circumstances, I have determined to transfer temporarily the powers and duties of the office of President of the United States to the Vice President during the brief period of the procedure and recovery," Biden said in a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives.

After the procedure, Biden sent another letter stating that he was once again "able to discharge the powers and duties of the Office of President of the United States." 

Adopted in 1967, the 25th Amendment lays out the provisions for a transfer of power from a president who dies, resigns, is removed from office or for other reasons is unable to fulfill his or her duties.

US lawmakers began to address the question in the late 1950s amid the ill health of president Dwight D. Eisenhower.

It took on added urgency following the 1963 assassination of president John F. Kennedy and the 25th Amendment was passed by Congress in 1965 and ratified by the required three-fourths of the 50 US states two years later.

Section 3 of the 25th Amendment addresses the transfer of powers to the vice president when the chief executive declares that he or she is unable to fulfill the powers and duties of the office.

Section 4 -- which has never been invoked -- addresses a situation in which the vice president and a majority of the cabinet determine that the president is no longer able to discharge their duties. 

Invoked on three occasions 

Section 3 has been invoked on three occasions.

The first was in July 1985 when president Ronald Reagan underwent surgery under general anesthesia for removal of a cancerous polyp from his large intestine.

Vice president George H.W. Bush was made acting president for about eight hours while Reagan was in surgery. 

President George W. Bush temporarily transferred power to vice president Dick Cheney in June 2002 and in July 2007 while he underwent routine colonoscopies under anesthesia.

Following Reagan's serious wounding in a 1981 assassination attempt, a letter invoking Section 3 was drafted but was never sent.

In October 2020, there was talk of president Donald Trump invoking Section 3 of the 25th Amendment when he became ill with Covid-19, but in the end he took no such action.

Under Section 4, the vice president and a majority of the members of the cabinet inform the leaders of the Senate and House that the president is incapable of discharging his duties and the vice president becomes acting president.

If a president contests the determination that he or she is unable to fulfill their duties, it is up to Congress to make the decision.

A two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate would be needed to declare the president unfit to remain in office.