President Donald Trump did not appear visibly ill Thursday evening when he was last seen returning to the White House by reporters.
Trump is 74 years old, putting him at a higher risk of serious complications from a virus that has infected more than 7 million people nationwide.
The president’s physician said in a memo that Trump and the first lady, who is 50, “are both well at this time” and “plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence.”
While there is currently no evidence that Trump is seriously ill, the positive test raises questions about what would happen if he were to become incapacitated due to illness.
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 continuity of government in the event of a positive COVID-19 test in a research note published in July.
“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.
Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Chuck Grassley (who is president pro tempore, third in line for the presidency), and members of the cabinet would all need to be isolated from the president, said Hudak.
Pence’s aides had no immediate comment on whether the vice president had been tested or in contact with Trump.
If Trump’s treatment were to impair his ability to perform his duties, the president could invoke Section 3 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.
This would allow the vice president to become “acting president” until the president notifies the House and Senate that he is able to perform his duties once again.
President Ronald Reagan invoked Section 3 in 1985 and President George W. Bush did so twice in 2002 and 2007, all for medical procedures.
If Trump were to decline rapidly, 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 that scenario, 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.” This would also 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.