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If COVID incapacitates Trump, the 25th Amendment kicks in

This constitutional amendment ensures a smooth transfer of power if the president gets very sick from the coronavirus..

The news that President Donald Trump has tested positive for COVID-19 has thrown a monkey wrench into an already fraught election season. It's raised questions about who would lead the country if the president were to become gravely ill, and when that might be determined.

At this point, the White House maintains that Trump isn't experiencing serious effects of the novel coronavirus. But on Friday, the president's spokeswoman notified the press corps that Trump would be hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and remain there for several days so his symptoms can be monitored.

"Out of an abundance of caution, and at the recommendation of his physician and medical experts, the president will be working from the presidential offices at Walter Reed for the next few days," Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said. "President Trump appreciates the outpouring of support for both he and the first lady."

Trump is 74 and overweight, two factors that put him at greater risk of experiencing serious complications from the virus. That has some people wondering what would happen if the president's condition worsened and he became unable to perform his duties.

Earlier this week, the world passed a grim milestone when Johns Hopkins University reported that more than 1 million people had died as a result of the coronavirus. In the US the number of deaths linked to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, has surpassed 200,000.

As the coronavirus has spread across the world, health care professionals have warned that certain groups of people, including older adults and people with underlying medical conditions, are at a higher risk of developing serious complications or dying. The Constitution has a clear answer when it comes to handling a presidential transfer of power: The 25th Amendment. Though the Constitution originally spelled out that the vice president would step in if a president were incapacitated, it was silent on how that moment would be determined. There were, in fact, long stretches when presidents were down and out and a staff member or spouse took over duties. Such was the case after James Garfield was shot and after Woodrow Wilson had a stroke. The issue also arose during the tenure of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who at the time was the oldest person to serve as US president. Eisenhower had suffered both a heart attack and a mild stroke during his first term in office. He and his vice president, Richard Nixon, worked out an arrangement in which, if he were incapacitated, Eisenhower would temporarily hand over power to Nixon. And when Eisenhower determined he was well enough, he'd resume his duties. It wasn't until the 1960s, after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, that Congress passed, and the states ratified, the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which spells out a clear process to ensure a smooth temporary handoff of presidential powers in the event a president can't carry out his duties.