Kamala Harris becomes the first woman to hold presidential power

Vice President Kamala Harris in March 2021
Vice President Kamala Harris in March 2021 Photo: Lawrence Jackson/White House

Vice President and longtime LGBTQ ally Kamala Harris becomes the first woman in the history of the U.S. to hold presidential power today as President Joe Biden is put under anesthesia.

Biden, 78, was taken to Walter Reed Medical Center for a physical this morning at 8:30 a.m. and will undergo a routine colonoscopy later today. Before the procedure, he will temporarily transfer power to the vice president.

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“As was the case when President George W. Bush had the same procedure in 2002 and 2007, and following the process set out in the Constitution, President Biden will transfer power to the Vice President for the brief period of time when he is under anesthesia,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

A summary of the results of the physical and procedure will be released publicly this afternoon, she added.

This year, Harris became the first woman to be vice president, as well as the first Indian American and the first Black person to hold that position.

Now she will, temporarily, be the first woman to be the acting president of the United States, as specified in the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, which was ratified in 1967.

George H.W. Bush was the first vice president to be acting president when President Ronald Reagan underwent surgery for eight hours in 1985. Reagan’s original letter to Congress transferring power to his vice president didn’t mention the Twenty-Fifth Amendment because he didn’t think it was concerned with “such brief and temporary periods of incapacity.” He later sent a revised letter and established the formal procedure for presidents being put under general anesthesia.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney temporarily took over twice when George W. Bush underwent colonoscopies.

Donald Trump, though, allegedly refused anesthesia for his 2019 colonoscopy so that he wouldn’t have to temporarily transfer power to former Vice President Mike Pence. According to former White House aide Stephanie Grisham, Trump didn’t want people to know that he was undergoing the procedure, and if he transferred power to Pence he would have had to write a letter to Congress about it.

Psaki said that Harris will be in her White House office during the time that she has presidential power, working.

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