Kamala Harris becomes first woman to serve as acting president – for 85 minutes

President Joe Biden gestures while speaking to Vice President Kamala Harris. Photo: Whitehouse.gov

WASHINGTON – Kamala Harris on Friday became the first woman to serve as acting president of the United States, as President Joe Biden was briefly placed under anesthesia for a routine colonoscopy.

Biden underwent the procedure at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Friday morning. Harris was acting president for about an hour and twenty-five minutes, according to the White House.

“In view of present circumstances, I have determined to transfer temporarily the powers and duties of the office of President of the United States to the Vice President during the brief period of the procedure and recovery,” Biden said in letters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.. ahead of the procedure.

As House speaker, Pelosi is second in line to the presidency after the vice president. Leahy, as Senate president pro tempore, is third.

Section 3 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution allows the president to temporarily transfer power if the president is unable to fulfill his or her duties.

Biden arrived at the hospital shortly before 9 a.m. and sent the letters to Pelosi and Leahy at 10:10 a.m., according to the White House; he spoke with Harris when he resumed his duties at around 11:35 a.m.

Harris worked “from her office in the West Wing during this time,” the White House said.

“I had a great physical and a great House of Representatives vote,” Biden told reporters upon leaving Walter Reed at 2:05 p.m., referring to Friday morning’s House vote on his $2 trillion “Build Back Better” spending plan.

At a Friday press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that in selecting a vice president, Biden was “selecting someone who could serve by your side as your partner, but also step in if there was a reason to.”

“We also know we make history every time they’re working together, every time she’s out there speaking on behalf of the government as the vice president of the United States,” Psaki added. “But certainly, today was another chapter in that history, I think, that will be noted for many women [and] young girls across the country.”

Harris is only the third vice president in U.S. history to serve as acting president.

In July 1985, President Ronald Reagan transferred power to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush for nearly eight hours while he underwent intestinal surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

According to the White House, as Reagan was signing the letters transferring power to Bush, he told his wife, Nancy: “I’m signing these letters, but you’re still my first lady.”

Then, in 2002 and again in 2007, President George W. Bush briefly transferred power to then-Vice President Dick Cheney while undergoing a colonoscopy. Cheney was acting president for a little over two hours during each procedure.

While the 25th Amendment allows a president to transfer power during periods of incapacitation, the choice of whether to do so ultimately rests with the president.

President Donald Trump, for instance, underwent a “very common procedure” requiring sedation in 2019, according to his press secretary, Stephanie Grisham. The White House did not acknowledge the procedure at the time. But according to CNN, Grisham suggests in a new book that Trump underwent a colonoscopy and did not reveal it because he did not want then-Vice President Mike Pence to serve as acting president while he was sedated.

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