Panel Outlines Contingency Plan for Presidential Incapacity

Article excerpt

Vice President George Bush should have taken the White House reigns from President Ronald Reagan twice, when Reagan was incapacitated by a bullet and by cancer, said medical and history experts who announced transfer-of-power recommendations Tuesday.

Instead, they contended, essentially no one was in charge while a bullet was removed from the lung of a gravely wounded Reagan after an assassination attempt in 1981. And Reagan only nominally transferred power to Bush for several hours while he underwent colon cancer surgery in 1985.

"This really is unacceptable, which is why we need a contingency plan in the case of when a president isn't able to do his job," said Gen. John Hutton, who was Reagan's presidential physician for five years. The self-appointed panel of 50 experts, which included Hutton and three previous White House doctors, met three times in the last two years to draft proposals for declaring a president impaired and unable to do the job - temporarily or permanently. They sent recommendations to the White House, which encouraged the effort, and panel members met briefly Tuesday with President Bill Clinton. The panel said: A formal transfer-of-power contingency plan should be in place before any president is inaugurated. The president's personal physician should make primary judgments regarding physical and mental health after consulting specialists, if needed. The White House doctor should be given the title of assistant or deputy assistant to the president and should not operate within the White House Military Office, which sometimes interferes with medical plans. Determination of a president's "impairment," whether mental or physical, should be a medical judgment based on evaluation and tests. Determination of a president's "inability" to serve is a political judgment that must be made by constitutional officers. …