“We are in uncharted territory.” UA Associate Professor weighs in on effects of Trump’s COVID diagnosis

Trump in Hospital

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -With President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, it’s easy to start thinking of what happens after the Commander and Chief falls ill.

“There are potential outcomes here that we just haven’t contemplated with one or both candidates that might be facing severe health crises. We just don’t have an example," said Chad Westerland, Associate Professor School of Government and Public Policy.

Westerland said the only real procedure comes in the form of the 25th Amendment. This was created after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

There are two main sections to the amendment: Section 3 states the president can declare themselves incapacitated temporarily and hand power over to the vice president until they notify Congress they are fit to return. Something presidents have done in the past for brief medical procedures. Section 4, that’s never been used, is when the Vice President steps in.

“The vice president and majority of the cabinet can declare the president unfit in which case the vice president becomes president," said Westerland.

Trump has made no inclination that he will hand over the reins to Pence as he stays at Walter Reed Military Medical Center.

But with the unpredictability of the virus and the quick arrival of the election, you have to think worse case scenario. Westerland said that means a vote for Trump would likely turn into a vote for Pence.

“Of course the electoral college could always do something else, if we’re contemplating a world where President Trump wins, and it goes to the electoral college but President Trump cannot serve, the electoral college could make a different decision but it’s very unlikely. Very unlikely, it would almost certainly be Mike Pence,” said Westerland. “Who vice president is becomes a different thing and the 25th amendment has a process for replacing the vice president, but the fact becomes that Mike Pence is really who we’re voting for president if you’re voting for the republican ticket."

But things get messy when it comes to those who’ve already voted for Trump. Westerland said it’s something we haven’t contemplated as a part of our electoral process.

“Voting has already started to happen in some states. So what does it mean to potentially vote for President Trump under these circumstances isn’t something we just haven’t talked about, we haven’t contemplated as a part of our electoral process. And the reality is we’re still just electing people to go to the electoral college to select the president anyway. Does that has any implications for this, the not helpful answer is maybe we just dont' know.” said Westerland.

"This is such a new set of circumstances this close to an election, with this much uncertainty around the process on how does the ballot get processed given we’ve already started voting? But one of the lessons of American history is we don’t solve problems that could arise until they do arise and that’s how we got the 25th amendment in the first place.”

As of right now Trump’s symptoms are said to be mild, but he is in a high-risk category for complications. Which means what could happen over the next few weeks is up in the air.

With Trump off the campaign trail and in quarantine, Westerland doesn’t think it will impact voters. He says data shows American is deeply polarized and there are few left undecided.

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