Sean Patterson is not worried that Donald Trump has been hospitalized with coronavirus because he believes what the president tells him.
“It’s a hoax. There’s no pandemic. As Trump said, how many millions die of flu?” said the 56-year-old truck driver outside the early voting station in St Joseph, Missouri – a stronghold for the president.
But then Patterson pauses and contemplates the possibility that Trump really does have Covid-19.
“If he’s sick, then they planted it when they tested him. It’s what they did to me when I went to hospital for my heart beating too fast. Two weeks later I got a cold,” he said. “It’s political. I don’t trust the US government at all. Who are they to mandate personal safety? I listen to Trump.”
At the end of a tumultuous week even by the standards of one of the most turbulent presidencies of modern times, the disturbing if not entirely unpredictable news that the president has contracted coronavirus prompted alarm, confusion and schadenfreude in the heart of Trumpland.
St Joseph, a former frontier city where the outlaw Jesse James met his bloody end, voted overwhelmingly for the president four years ago. The polls say Missouri will go his way again next month. But with Trump struggling in key swing states, the news he has fallen sick to Covid-19 jolted an election already battered days earlier by the most undignified presidential election debate in history.
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What happens if Trump is incapacitated?
Under the 25th amendment to the US constitution the president himself – or the vice-president with the agreement of eight cabinet officers, supported by Congress – can ask the vice-president, in this instance Republican Mike Pence, to take over as acting president.
Adopted by the US Congress in 1967 after John F Kennedy’s assassination, the 25th cleared up a vagueness in the constitution over succession in event of resignation, death or conviction in impeachment.
The least tricky part of the amendment is section 4, which stipulates what would happen should Donald Trump be indisputably physically debilitated either from an injury or ailment, so much so that he couldn’t communicate but remained alive.
Then the vice-president is in charge unless and until the president recovers.
If Pence is also unable to assume control, then under the constitution powers are delegated to the speaker of the House of Representatives, in this case, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic California congresswoman. In the US Congress, the Democrats currently control the House, while the Republicans are in a majority in the Senate.