Raskin’s bill asks: Is Trump fit to serve?

Mea­sure would cre­ate a panel to judge pres­i­dent’s men­tal, phys­i­cal health

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - MARY­LAND BY JENNA PORT­NOY jenna.port­noy@wash­post.com

In the nearly four months since Don­ald Trump took of­fice, many Democrats have ques­tioned his abil­ity to run the coun­try. But only Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) has au­thored leg­is­la­tion to ad­dress those con­cerns.

Raskin’s bill, called the Over­sight Com­mis­sion on Pres­i­den­tial Ca­pac­ity Act, would in­voke a never-be­fore-used part of the 25th Amend­ment to de­ter­mine whether the pres­i­dent is ca­pa­ble of do­ing his job.

Raskin, a con­sti­tu­tional law pro­fes­sor, said he started think­ing about the bill as soon as he was elected to his first term in Novem­ber. He said the is­sue has be­come in­creas­ingly rel­e­vant as con­stituents in his lib­eral Mont­gomery County district clamor for ac­tion in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bumpy first months.

“This is a pres­i­dent who has in­sisted that Ted Cruz’s fa­ther was in­volved in the as­sas­si­na­tion of John F. Kennedy and that Barack Obama was born in In­done­sia, and he has ut­tered bla­tant lies and never re­tracted them,” Raskin said in an in­ter­view Fri­day. “And that is a sign of a se­ri­ous men­tal dis­tur­bance.”

White House spokesman Michael Short de­clined to com­ment on Raskin’s bill, say­ing in an email that he was “not go­ing to dig­nify this with an of­fi­cial re­sponse.”

Raskin filed the bill in early April but alerted re­porters to it Fri­day, hours af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump, in a tweet, im­plied to fired for­mer FBI direc­tor James B. Comey that he had “tapes” of their pri­vate conversations.

“This is a pres­i­dent who seems in­creas­ingly at odds with ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing around him,” said Raskin, who skipped Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion.

In the GOP-con­trolled House and Se­nate, the bill has lit­tle chance of pass­ing or get­ting a hear­ing, but Raskin said he filed the bill to put a frame­work in place in case Trump’s party turns on him.

The bill has 20 Demo­cratic cospon­sors, in­clud­ing Rep. An­thony G. Brown (Md.) and the District’s non­vot­ing del­e­gate, Eleanor Holmes Nor­ton.

Rep. Andy Har­ris, the only Republican rep­re­sent­ing Mary­land in Congress, called the bill a cheap shot at Trump.

“To prop­erly eval­u­ate some­one’s men­tal and phys­i­cal health re­quires years of school­ing, and it is an in­sult to the en­tire med­i­cal pro­fes­sion to as­sume that un­qual­i­fied, agenda-push­ing, par­ti­san politi­cians would be able to make such a crit­i­cal pro­fes­sional judg­ment,” said Har­ris, an anes­the­si­ol­o­gist who spe­cial­izes in ob­stet­rics. “This leg­is­la­tion is a thinly veiled at­tempt by Democrats to un­der­mine a leg­isla­tive agenda they dis­agree with.”

Parts of the 25th Amend­ment that pro­vide for tem­po­rary trans­fer of power from the pres­i­dent to the vice pres­i­dent have been in­voked when Pres­i­dents Ron­ald Rea­gan and Ge­orge W. Bush un­der­went surg­eries.

But Raskin’s bill would ac­ti­vate Sec­tion 4 of the 25th Amend­ment to cre­ate an in­de­pen­dent, non­par­ti­san com­mis­sion to de­ter­mine whether the pres­i­dent is phys­i­cally or psy­cho­log­i­cally un­fit for of­fice.

Once cre­ated, the 11-mem­ber com­mis­sion would be per­ma­nent. But it would not have rov­ing power to di­ag­nose the pres­i­dent. Congress would have to pass a res­o­lu­tion em­pow­er­ing the com­mis­sion to ex­am­ine the pres­i­dent and his con­duct and re­port its find­ings. If the pres­i­dent were found to be in­ca­pac­i­tated, the vice pres­i­dent would im­me­di­ately be­come act­ing pres­i­dent.

Un­der Raskin’s bill, the speaker of the House, House mi­nor­ity leader, Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader and Se­nate mi­nor­ity leader would each select one physi­cian and one psy­chi­a­trist to serve on the com­mis­sion. The Republican and Demo­cratic par­ties would each select a re­tired states­per­son. And those 10 ap­pointees would choose an 11th mem­ber to lead the com­mis­sion.

“It cer­tainly doesn’t feel like the ship is on an even course right now,” Raskin said. “We are ca­reen­ing all over the place.”

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