Trump says he’s feeling great. Critics raise the 25th Amendment.

Why We Wrote This

Focus shifted this week from the president’s physical health to a torrent of tweets and videos, along with White House plans that left even some allies wide-eyed. How serious are some of the concerns?

Alex Brandon/AP
President Donald Trump removes his mask as he stands on the Blue Room Balcony upon returning to the White House in Washington, after leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md. on Oct. 5, 2020.

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President Donald Trump appears eager to return to the campaign trail, following his COVID-19 diagnosis Oct. 1. On Friday, he called in to the Rush Limbaugh radio show for a two-hour “virtual MAGA rally,” and was scheduled to do an on-camera interview with a physician on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” 

The day before, White House physician Sean Conley announced that the president should be able to safely “return to public engagements” on Saturday, though medical experts who have not been treating the president question whether this is wise. The president’s spokespeople still won’t say when he last tested negative for the virus. 

The most delicate question is whether Mr. Trump’s medical treatment – some of it experimental – has affected him in ways beyond his physical condition. Mr. Trump’s freewheeling speaking style has long included incomplete and contradictory thoughts, and supporters love him for the authenticity they say it represents. 

But among opponents, the president’s behavior and statements this week have been cause for alarm, sparking renewed discussion about the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which provides for a temporary transfer of power when a president becomes incapacitated. On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled legislation to create a bipartisan commission of medical experts to evaluate presidents for removal. 

The election is 25 days away, and President Donald Trump’s political prognosis is not good. He’s losing altitude in major national polls – and more crucially, is sinking in key battleground states that will decide the winner in the Electoral College.

It would be a tough time for any incumbent running for reelection. But for President Trump, whose brand is all about winning, the pressure seems especially intense. Mr. Trump says he’s eager to return to the campaign trail, following his COVID-19 diagnosis Oct. 1. On Friday, he called in to the Rush Limbaugh radio show for a two-hour “virtual MAGA rally,” and was scheduled to do an on-camera interview with a physician on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”  

On Saturday, he plans to host hundreds of people on the White House lawn, addressing a group of “peaceful protesters for law and order” from the balcony, according to multiple media outlets. Monday, he is scheduled to travel to Florida for a campaign rally.

White House physician Sean Conley announced Thursday that Mr. Trump had completed his therapy and should be able to safely “return to public engagements” on Saturday. Medical experts who have not been treating the president question whether clearing him for public events this soon is wise. The president’s spokespeople still won’t say when he last tested negative for the virus. 

The political universe is not taking the news frenzy quietly. 

“The past week was bizarre, berserk, almost biblical,” writes former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan in a Wall Street Journal column

The most delicate question is whether Mr. Trump’s medical treatment – some of it experimental – has affected him in ways beyond his physical condition. His abrupt announcement Monday that he was calling off talks with congressional Democrats over a new stimulus package until after Election Day raised eyebrows among members of his own party, even as Republicans blamed Democrats for holding up a deal. 

The president soon reversed himself, tweeting on Friday: “Covid Relief Negotiations are moving along. Go Big!” But the damage caused by Mr. Trump’s statement Monday seems to be lingering. 

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas warned on CNBC that the election “could be a bloodbath of Watergate proportions” for the GOP if things don’t turn around. 

Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a most loyal soldier for Mr. Trump on Capitol Hill, said pointedly that he has not been to the White House since Aug. 6, citing its lax approach to virus safety measures. 

The remaining two presidential debates remain in limbo, as the co-chair of the nonpartisan debate commission, Frank Fahrenkopf, has refused to clear Mr. Trump to participate in the town-hall style debate scheduled for Oct. 15. The commission announced Thursday that the debate would be virtual, given Mr. Trump’s health. The president responded by saying he would not attend.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has been tweeting out videos that seem to show a president increasingly anxious about the approaching election. 

“You’re not vulnerable, but they like to say the vulnerable, but you’re the least vulnerable – but for this one thing you are vulnerable,” Mr. Trump said in a video that he labeled in all-caps: “TO MY FAVORITE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD!” 

He was speaking to voters over age 65, a group he won four years ago but is currently losing to Democratic nominee Joe Biden, according to polls. Older Americans have been especially hard hit by the virus. 

A major caveat is in order: Mr. Trump’s free-wheeling speaking style has long included incomplete thoughts and ambiguities, not to mention contradictions. His supporters love him for the authenticity they say it represents, as well as his enthusiasm and energy. 

But among opponents, the president’s behavior and statements since his COVID-19 diagnosis are cause for alarm, and have sparked renewed discussion about the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment provides for a temporary transfer of power when a president becomes incapacitated, and can be invoked either by the president himself, or by the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet. 

Congress does not have a formal role in implementing the 25th Amendment. But on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled legislation to create a bipartisan commission of medical experts to evaluate presidents for removal. 

“This legislation applies to future presidents, but we are reminded of the necessity of action by the health of the current president,” Speaker Pelosi said.

In a response, Senator McConnell’s communications director, David Popp, pushed back by calling attention to the fact that former Vice President Biden is several years older than Mr. Trump. 

“Only Speaker Pelosi could find a way to offend both President Trump and candidate Biden with this political stunt,” Mr. Popp tweeted. 

Many American voters are already deciding, through early voting, whether they want another four years of Mr. Trump. By Nov. 3, we may well have the answer. 

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