IF DONALD Trump and Mike Pence are both struck down by coronavirus there's no clear succession plan to lead the country through the Covid-19 crisis, the White House has confirmed.
Questions have been raised over who would take power as America's acting president – and whether Trump's sworn enemy Nancy Pelosi could effectively be "number three".
"That's not even something that we're addressing," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Thursday when asked about a succession plan.
However, Brian Kalt, professor of law at Michigan State University, warned in The Atlantic that if the president and the vice president become incapacitated simultaneously, "the country could face a constitutional crisis".
Reuters reports that, if Republicans Trump and Pence were both struck down by Covid-19, Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi "would assume presidential duties under US law".
Kalt added that when both Trump's valet and Pence's spokesperson tested positive for the bug last week, "it was unnerving on many levels.
"One is legal: if Trump and Pence were incapacitated by Covid-19 simultaneously, the result could be a full-scale constitutional meltdown."
The expert said that the "good news is that passing a new statute could eliminate this risk.
"The bad news is that Congress – not known for being proactive – would have to act now, before there is a problem."
Congress must act now…. to stop a constitutional catastrophe."
Kalt said that if just Trump got sick, the 25th Amendment would kick in, and Section 3 would allow a transition of temporary power to Pence.
But, he adds, should both men became incapacitated, "there is no way to use Sections 3 or 4".
Kalt explains that currently, "Congress can pass line-of-succession statutes", which would "put the speaker of the House next in line, followed by the president pro tempore of the Senate, followed by member of the Cabinet."
However, he warned, "Congress moves slower than viruses do.
"A crisis like the one I have described here could erupt in a matter of days.
"Unless Congress decides to be proactive, we just have to grit our teeth and hope for the best – in this case, that White House staffers become more diligent about their mask wearing and hand-washing.
"That may be all that separates this country from a constitutional catastrophe."
There's no chance that Trump would willingly clear the way to allow presidential power to flow to Pelosi – who he has slammed on Twitter as a "crazy, incompetent, third-rate politician".
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked on Thursday about what Trump's plan was, should both he and his vice president unexpectedly become incapacitated by the bug.
She fobbed off the question, replying: "That's not something that we're addressing.
"We're keeping the president healthy. We're keeping the vice-president healthy and you know they're healthy at this moment, and they'll continue to be."
However, both men have been photographed without masks during official visits to hospitals and factories.
McEnany confirmed the pair were both healthy at present before advising, "that's something all reporters should be celebrating and the American people as well."
Two coronavirus cases in the White House last week spurred fears of contagion for the president and vice president, who are leading the US response to the pandemic.
Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, the wife of Trump’s senior adviser, Stephen Miller, tested positive for the coronavirus a day after confirmation that Trump’s personal valet had been diagnosed with the disease.
Anthony Fauci, of the White House coronavirus response team, and the bosses of the country's disease and drug administration centres were all in self-quarantine last Saturday after coming into contact with someone who had tested positive for the disease.
Last month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to an intensive care unit after becoming the first leader of a major power to announce he had tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory virus.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab deputized for Johnson during his convalescence.
And in the US, West Wing staffers around Trump and Pence have failed to wear masks regularly.
Last week, Trump was asked in a Fox News interview whether those who serve him food would now cover their faces.
"They've already started," he replied.
The White House has also instituted daily, as opposed to weekly, coronavirus tests of the President and Pence.
Both men have tested negative for the virus.
Trump told Fox News he has not yet been tested for antibodies to the coronavirus but probably would be soon.
Such a test could confirm previous exposure.
Trump and Pence continue to maintain busy public schedules, but are keeping in contact by phone.
At a press conference on May 12, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that "the vice president has made the choice to keep his distance for a few days.
"And I would just note that that’s his personal decision to make that.
"As to how many days he does it, again, that’s a decision for the vice president."
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