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Background

Sections 3 and 4 of the 25th amendment talks about the role of Acting President.

Section 3. Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

Throughout the entire text of the amendment, the only difference I can see between an Acting President, and that of the actual President are the circumstances of their terms. That is, the role of Acting President can only be assigned to the Vice President via written declaration and can only be terminated by written declaration (or a by a lack of a supermajority in both houses if conflicting declarations exist). Beyond that I see no difference in the powers of Acting President and the actual Presdient. This has lead me to ask....

Question

Other than by the circumstances of how their terms begin and end, are there any material differences in the powers of an Acting President versus the actual President?

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By the plain meaning of "acting," an acting president acts with the authority of the president. The constitution could place limitations on acting presidents, but it does not, so the answer to the question is indeed no from a legal perspective.

However, an acting president would probably be limited by political considerations, especially if the acting presidency arose through presidential incapacity that was likely to be of limited duration.

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The Constitution is the final authority. Amendments to the Constitution have the same powers as the Constitution. It's the document in which we all agree to live by in the United States. So legally, the answer is no. A president is a president.

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Legally, the Acting President has the same powers and authorities as The President under the constitution but only for a period of time where the President knows he will be unable to perform the duties.

Though there are a bunch of events that could be given as reason for invoking this clause, the historical use has been in situations where the President is going to be the patient in routine surgery that requires him to be anesthetized while under the knife. Typically this is a sick day leave for any ordinary person, so the President's schedule won't have much to place on it... however, that world doesn't stop spinning and sometimes there could be emergencies that require the President to act right now (such as launching the nukes if the Soviets/Russians declare war, as a dramatic example).

So the Acting President will be the person who can deal with all the issues the President has to but can't cause someone is currently poking at his insides... or for other reasons. Typically, this doesn't extend to signing any laws unless the President is expected to have a long recovery (even when recovering from his bullet wound, President Reagan did some work when he was released from the hospital... just not a lot of it) but if need be, the APOTUS is just as good as the POTUS. In practice, when invoked, it means the VEEP will keep the big chair warm for the President.

  • You forget that a person can also become an Acting President as the result of an impeachment of the President (and/or Vice President). – Reinstate Monica - M. Schröder Oct 5 at 15:37
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    @MartinSchröder: No I didn't because that's not how it works. If the President is impeached, the Vice President ascends to President and a new Vice President is nominated. If any part of the line of succession for any reason ascends to President beyond the Vice President, that person is Acting President. Elsewhere on stack exchange, I have jokingly referred to President Ford as "Acting President" but this is only capturing the historical nature of his presidency, as he was mostly the guy to fill the seat until the election and didn't have major legislative policy. – hszmv Oct 7 at 12:22
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    @MartinSchröder: As "Acting President" has only occurred three times under the same circumstances, (i.e. VEEP holds down the fort until President comes out of surgery), it's speculative to even suggest a third in line and above ascension to Presidency will be Acting President. It is also not codified U.S. Law that the VEEP becomes President, but tradition as William Harrison's (first to die in office) Veep ascended and while the question was asked, settled the matter by only answering when addresssed as the President. Thus it is tradition of the nature of the rise. – hszmv Oct 7 at 12:28

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