The 25th Amendment, two months before the election

The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution begins with …

Section 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Section 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Section 3. Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

This does not apply before the election, of course, but the subject comes up because of …

The Washington Post reports:

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton fell ill during a memorial service marking the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, leaving abruptly and inserting new speculation about her health into a presidential campaign in which Republican Donald Trump has called her weak and unfit.

Video of Clinton’s hurried departure from the Ground Zero memorial showed her buckling and stumbling as she got into her van. Clinton’s campaign issued a statement from her doctor later Sunday revealing that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia two days earlier.

The video, circulated on Twitter, appeared to show Clinton, 68, flanked by several Secret Service agents, leaning against a security bollard while agents prepare to assist her into a black van. As she steps forward, Clinton can be seen falling as agents help lift her into the van.

“Secretary Clinton has been experiencing a cough related to allergies,” Lisa R. Bardack, Clinton’s physician, said Sunday in the statement. “On Friday, during follow up evaluation of her prolonged cough, she was diagnosed with pneumonia. She was put on antibiotics, and advised to rest and modify her schedule. While at this morning’s event, she became overheated and dehydrated. I have just examined her and she is now re-hydrated and recovering nicely.”

A planned trip to California on Monday and Tuesday has been canceled, campaign officials said late Sunday. Clinton had been scheduled to attend several fundraising events across the state, in addition to a major economic speech in Southern California and a taped appearance on the talk show “Ellen.” It remained uncertain whether Clinton would continue with her planned travel to Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Campaign spokesman Nick Merrill said Clinton left the ceremony early and retreated to her daughter Chelsea’s apartment in the Gramercy neighborhood of Lower Manhattan.

Clinton was not seen for more than two hours, after which she emerged from Chelsea Clinton’s apartment building, walking normally, smiling and waving.

The incident quickly renewed attention to Clinton’s health. Trump has repeatedly questioned her well-being, saying that she doesn’t have the “strength” or “stamina” for the presidency and accusing her of being “exhausted” and sleeping too much.

A coughing episode on Labor Day had prompted a fresh round of questions about Clinton’s health. During a speech at a festival in Cleveland, Clinton started coughing repeatedly at the outset of her remarks, took several sips of water and a lozenge and continued to sound hoarse as she spoke. Later that day, Clinton told reporters her condition was caused by “seasonal allergies.”

An initial campaign statement about Sunday’s illness did not mention the pneumonia diagnosis from two days prior, adding to public speculation that the campaign was hiding something. Clinton has followed an intensely busy schedule in recent days, and she had appeared healthy when she convened a meeting of national security experts Friday afternoon in New York and then spoke at a fundraising party that night. It was at that fundraiser where Clinton ignited a controversy by claiming that “half” of Trump’s supporters are in a “basket of deplorables.” …

A former Secret Service agent said that the security detail’s movements showed that the agents had not planned for her to leave that early and had to make some rushed security plans on the fly. Clinton’s van was not in place when she arrived at the curb, and her detail leader, who normally sticks by her side at all times, had to leave her momentarily to open the door of her van. …

If he wins in November, Trump, 70, would become the oldest president ever elected. In December, Trumpreleased a four-paragraph letter signed by physician Harold N. Bornstein of Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan that contained few specifics but declared that Trump would “be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

The letter pales in comparison to the more than 1,000 pages of medical records released in May 2008 by Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who was then 71 and went on to become the Republican presidential nominee. The records detailed eight years of care that McCain received while fighting cancer. …

Clinton’s 2012 episode led to a brief hospitalization for a blood clot in her head. Details on Clinton’s condition were initially hard to come by, but her State Department office eventually provided extensive medical information.

Clinton wore special corrective glasses for months, and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, told an audience in 2014 that it had taken about six months for his wife to recover fully. Clinton has said she was surprised by the illness because she had not experienced anything like it before.

Clinton’s campaign released a memo from her personal physician, Bardack, in July 2015, pronouncing the candidate healthy and suffering no lasting effects from the concussion.

The 2012 concussion caused concern among Clinton friends and supporters who hoped that she would make a second run for the presidency, some of whom predicted correctly that the episode would fuel speculation that Clinton was too frail to be commander in chief.

Her campaign dismisses any suggestion that the candidate is not up to the job, while suggesting that the speculation is an example of a sexist double standard that is not applied to male candidates.

Well, of course there is a “double standard.” It applies to Republicans, not Democrats. Before McCain, there was George W. Bush and his alcoholism and rumored other drug use (which was never inquired of Bill Clinton other than his claim that he “didn’t inhale” marijuana, nor was it asked of Al Gore), Bob Dole’s World War II injuries, Ronald Reagan’s age and Gerald Ford’s clumsiness. The media never asked questions about John F. Kennedy’s Addison’s disease or what else he might have had from his own “bimbo eruptions,” and those questions weren’t asked about Slick Willie either. (Clinton may have set a record for chronic medical conditions while president.)

Only once in recent history has something close to this happened to a candidate. U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-Missouri) was briefly the 1972 Democratic vice presidential candidate before revelations he had been given electroshock treatments and had been hospitalized for depression forced his withdrawal as George McGovern’s running mate.

Why does this matter? For one thing, it demonstrates Clinton’s tenuous connection to truth. Hillary didn’t just get sick Sunday morning; she was diagnosed with pneumonia Friday, and you don’t get diagnosed with pneumonia (and I write from experience) a day after you feel a little unwell. To no one’s surprise, the Clinton campaign declined to disclose her illness — which can be contagious (see previous parenthetical phrase) and can be fatal for someone already in poor health — all weekend until the video cameras made secrecy impossible.

And as Jonathan Tobin points out …

A president’s illness is no small matter. With so much power residing in one individual, the necessity of having a possible successor ready to take control in the event of the commander in chief becoming incapacitated is vital. It’s equally important that the public not be kept in the dark about the health of a potential president, especially in light of a number of instances during the 20th century. Presidents such as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and John Kennedy kept grave medical problems secret from the public with the connivance of the press. That’s why the announcement that Hillary Clinton has been diagnosed with pneumonia must not only be treated with the greatest seriousness but also prompt both major-party campaigns to come clean about the medical records of the nominees.

The political implications of Clinton’s medical incident during the ceremony commemorating the 9/11 anniversary in New York are obvious. While most serious people dismissed the rumors about Clinton’s health that were being circulated by Donald Trump’s supporters, what happened Sunday morning will deepen suspicions both about her health and whether her campaign has been telling the truth about it. As I noted last month, when the issue first came to prominence, a dubious pickle-jar test on a late night comedy show isn’t enough to prove that Clinton is not suffering from some unknown problem.

Having said that, a diagnosis of pneumonia isn’t a death sentence. Nor, given treatment, must it be anything more than a temporary setback (unless there are other complications we don’t know about). There are few jobs more physically demanding than running for president in a general election. For almost two years, candidates must sprint from event to event, flying all over the country on a daily basis. It’s a killing pace and it’s a wonder that Clinton and Trump, who are respectively 68 and 70, have held up so well under the strain.

But Clinton’s problem is particularly ill timed. Trump is attempting to portray himself as a big tough guy running against a frail woman. On hot days, people can get dehydrated standing around under the sun. But for Clinton to falter in this manner undermines her campaign’s preferred narrative, which characterizes all questions about her health as smears. And if people are prepared to believe the worst about Clinton’s health, it’s due in part to her consistently lying about matters such as her email scandal and the conflicts of interest involving the Clinton Foundation.

Up until now Clinton has actually been far more forthcoming about her health than Trump. But even her more detailed statement has fallen far short of what previous presidential candidates have released. It is no longer possible for her to refuse to give us more until Trump is equally forthcoming. Clinton must now come completely clean with detailed medical reports and allow her doctors to be questioned by reporters with medical expertise. Given his age, Trump should do the same. As is the case with his tax returns, it’s doubtful that the billionaire will release a single document. But he’s not the one whose health is currently in question.

The Clinton campaign must understand that the discussion is no longer about conspiracy theories but about how she’s seemed to wear down amid the stress of the campaign. She may well be fine after some rest and medication, and be ready to serve as president. But unless we are given a complete dossier about her health — including more about her 2012 concussion — voters are now entitled to be cynical about reassurances from her supporters. After weeks of other setbacks related to her credibility, Hillary’s very bad 9/11 was the last thing her camp needed.


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