This is a hypothetical. Let's say Trump's cabinet has not resigned yet. Joe Biden is sworn in and, overwhelmed by the emotions, he has a stroke and can't move or speak, or he is in a coma, but he is alive.

The cabinet does not want to hand over the power to Harris and so they turn down the vote to trigger the 25th Amendment. Who is in charge? Who makes executive decisions? No one but the President can fire principal officers. So they cannot be fired, but they can be impeached. Let's say the impeachment fails in the Senate because the Senate does not want to give power to Harris, either.

  • 2
    They rig him up like a puppet and lament that the reference would have been funnier if it was Sanders. Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 12:44
  • If we're considering such extreme possibilities, then, if Congress really doesn't want to give power to Harris, one option would be for Congress to impeach and remove Harris first, and then impeach and remove Biden, and then the Speaker of the House would be Acting President.
    – user102008
    Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 18:35
  • @user102008 that's a different legal scenario and in that scenario the law is very clear. My question was about a scenario in which the law was not so clear to me.
    – grovkin
    Commented Nov 24, 2020 at 23:46

1 Answer 1


Most of the implications here are political, not legal. For that, you'd have to ask Politics.SE.

The law, however, is quite clear: If the President is alive, and "a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide" do not invoke the 25th amendment, the President would remain President and just not do their job in this case. Congress could presumably provide for a different set of people to validate the President's disability status, but in your hypothetical, this wouldn't happen due to a lack of consent from the Senate.

The 25th amendment was created to solve this problem: it is the only solution to it. If it is not used, then there is no other means to remove a disabled-but-alive President.

Most (all?) executive agencies can run themselves perfectly well day-to-day without the President's help, so nothing would be likely to fall apart immediately. There wouldn't be anyone to appoint new judges or other presidentially appointed officers, though, which would probably eventually become a problem.

  • I was wondering if I thought it through all the way. The only one that's not considered here is probably any emergency military response. DoD can't authorize a new military action without a POTUS order, or can they?
    – grovkin
    Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 21:57
  • @grovkin: If the US is attacked, the state governors have emergency power to respond. It's an obscure clause still in the constitution from the days when you couldn't move news faster than on horseback, but nobody has seen fit to remove it. So it will serve.
    – Joshua
    Commented Feb 22 at 4:23
  • Inability to pass budget legislation (or for that matter, any legislation) without supermajority support could also be a problem, probably before failure to appoint people did.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 22 at 19:01
  • @grovkin There are statutes which authorize the military to take certain actions without further Congressional or Presidential consent, such as responding to piracy and defending U.S. forces or embassies or citizens that are under attack. Pretty much anything that can be done under the commander-in-chief power without Congressional approval, other than launching nukes, can be done by the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff acting in concert.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 22 at 19:04

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