US President Donald Trump makes his way to board Air Force One before departing from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on October 1, 2020.
MANDEL NGAN | AFP via Getty Images
LONDON — President Donald Trump on Friday confirmed he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for Covid-19, prompting many to seek clarity on the procedures in place to deal with a variety of scenarios.
The president, 74, who is regularly tested for Covid-19, said via Twitter that he and the first lady would now begin their quarantine and recovery process.
The development, which comes late in the run-up to the Nov. 3 presidential election, has raised the possibility that others at the highest levels of U.S. government could have been exposed to the virus in recent days and may need to quarantine as well.
White House physician Dr. Sean Conley said in a letter that the president and first lady were “both well at this time, and they planned to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence.”
Conley said the White House medical team would maintain a “vigilant watch,” before adding he expected Trump “to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering.”
“I will keep you updated on any future developments,” Conley said.
What happens now?
In a research note published earlier this year, John Hudak, a senior fellow and deputy director at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Effective Public Management, outlined some of the scenarios designed to “protect the president, the integrity of the office, and the continuity of government” in the event of a positive Covid-19 test.
Hudak said the test, in itself, would not be cause for emergency action. Instead, Trump “would likely be able to continue his everyday activities and manage the office either undisturbed or with mild challenges.”
It was expected to create some challenges for those around him, however. “The need for 24-hour Secret Service protection could put agents at risk for contracting it. But given modern technology, the president could quarantine and have remote or sufficiently distanced contact from most, if not all, aides, including the individual(s) who would be involved in the presidential daily brief,” Hudak said.
US Vice President Mike Pence speaks on Covid-19 testing in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on September 28, 2020.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
Trump’s positive coronavirus test does mean other precautions need to be taken, with those in the line of succession likely to be in limited contact with the president to reduce their chances of contracting the virus.
Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Chuck Grassley (who serves in the role of president pro tempore, making him third in line for the presidency), and members of the cabinet will all need to be isolated from the president, Hudak explained.
The diagnosis will mean it is important for the president “to continue to communicate with the American public, especially if he is mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic,” Hudak said. “Seeing the president on camera can restore faith in his wellness, calm nervous Americans, stabilize stock markets and project to the world that the president remains well enough to execute the office.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during her weekly news conference in the Capitol in Washington on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.
Caroline Brehman | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been sharply criticized, although the president frequently hails his own management of the health crisis. At a campaign rally in Ohio late last month, Trump claimed the disease “affects virtually nobody.”
To date, the U.S. has recorded more than 7.27 million cases of the coronavirus, with 207,808 related deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Contingencies for a seriously ill president
In testing positive for the coronavirus, Trump follows in the footsteps of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 56, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, 65.
Johnson, in particular, became seriously unwell after testing positive for the virus. The U.K.’s ruling Conservative Party leader spent three nights in intensive care in April, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab deputizing for the prime minister at the time.
US President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during a diner at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on March 7, 2020.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images
The Brookings Institution’s Hudak said Trump would have access to some of the best and most immediate health care in the world, but “his age and obesity put him into higher risk categories for more serious symptoms” of Covid-19.
“In an unfortunate scenario in which the president were to contract Covid-19 and need therapies such as a ventilator and/or the use of other therapies that would impair his cognitive abilities and/or abilities to communicate, there are a few procedures in place to deal with that situation,” Hudak said.
If Trump were to receive therapies that would impair his ability to perform the duties of office, it is possible the president could invoke Section 3 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.
This would pave the way for the vice president to become “acting president,” until the president notifies the House and Senate that they are able to perform their duties once again.
President Ronald Reagan invoked Section 3 in 1985 and President George W. Bush did so twice in 2002 and 2007.
In the event Trump’s condition was to decline rapidly, thus ruling out the possibility of invoking Section 3, Hudak said Section 4 of the 25th Amendment would provide a solution to such a crisis.
In this case, the vice president and a majority of the cabinet would send notice to the House and Senate “that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Again, this scenario would see the vice president assume the role of acting president until the president recovers.
“While presidential incapacity would be a serious national situation, the government would be able to function in a largely uninterrupted way until the president is recovered,” Hudak said.