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June 29, 2002

On two occasions, President George Walker Bush (left) would temporarily transfer executive authority to his Vice President, Richard Bruce Cheney (right).

Bush invokes Section 3

While the presidency of George Walker Bush will go down in history for a variety of reasons, one that's lesser remembered is that he was the first President to transfer executive authority to his Vice President on multiple occasions.

The first of these occurred on June 29, 2002, when Bush underwent a colonscopy procedure.  While fairly common, colonoscopies require a level of sedation, and Bush was intent on ensuring that there were no questions about the status of Vice President Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney.  Should some sort of emergency occur while Bush were sedated, he wanted there to be no questions about Cheney's authority.

The transfer was announced the day before by the White House communications staff.  When asked about the intended invocation, the President stated "We looked at the (Reagan) precedent.  I'm the first President to have done so under this type of procedure and/or physical examination.  I did so because we're at war and I just want to be super -- you know, super cautious."

By all contemporary accounts, the President decided to invoke Section 3 of the 25th Amendment on his own, with little or no consultation with Attorney General John Ashcroft, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez, or members of his Cabinet or staff.  At 7:09 a.m. on June 29th, Bush signed a letter transferring executive authority, giving it to Gonzalez for transmission by facsimile to Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Byrd and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.  A copy was also sent to Vice President Cheney himself, after which Gonzalez called the offices of each of them to confirm their receipt:

Letter Transmitted at 7:09 a.m.:

June 29, 2002

Dear Mr. Speaker (Dear Mr. President):

As my staff has previously communicated to you, I will undergo this morning a routine medical procedure requiring sedation.  In view of the present circumstances, I have determined to transfer temporarily my Constitutional powers and duties to the Vice President during the brief period of the procedure and recovery.

Accordingly, in accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, this letter shall constitute my written declaration that I am unable to discharge the Constitutional powers and duties of the office of President of the United States.  Pursuant to Section 3, the Vice President shall discharge those powers and duties as Acting President until I transmit to you a written declaration that I am able to resume the discharge of those powers and duties.

Sincerely,

George W. Bush

Letter Transmitted at 9:24 a.m.:

June 29, 2002

Dear Mr. Speaker (Dear Mr. President):

In accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, this letter shall constitute my written declaration that I am presently able to resume the discharge of the Constitutional powers and duties of the office of President of the United States.  With the transmittal of this letter, I am resuming those powers and duties effective immediately.

Sincerely,

George W. Bush

Aftermath

Unlike Ronald Reagan's 1985 invocation, this was a textbook case of how the 25th Amendment should be implemented from a procedural standpoint.

Bush's first letter cited the law and specifying that Cheney would become Acting President.  The second again cited the law, and save what could be perceived as an authoritarian tone ("I am resuming those powers and duties") it was again a textbook invocation.

At the time of the transfer, some speculated as to whether or not the situation warranted a transfer of executive authority under the 25th Amendment.  At first glance, it seemed as though Reagan's 1985 invocation was obviously necessary while Bush's 2002 invocation perhaps was invoked with undue caution.  However, looking at the world situation at the time, the necessity of having a chief executive available at all times made it a logical, rational move on the part of the Bush administration.

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