- November 20, 2021
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Joe Biden hands over power to Kamala Harris as he undergoes treatment
Kamala Harris became the first woman to be given presidential powers on Friday as Joe Biden briefly transferred authority while he underwent a colonoscopy.
The White House said Ms Harris served as acting president for an hour and 25 minutes while Mr Biden was placed under anaesthesia for the routine procedure.
It was yet another first for Ms Harris, the first female and black and Asian vice president, who broke a historic barrier in temporarily taking command of the US military and the nation’s nuclear weapons launch codes.
The annual medical examination at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center was Mr Biden’s first as president and came on the eve of his 79th birthday.
Presidents routinely invoke the 25th Amendment, which temporarily transfers power to the vice president, while under anaesthesia.
President George W Bush did so twice, transferring power to Dick Cheney when he underwent colonoscopies in 2002 and 2007.
Donald Trump’s former press secretary heavily implied the former president underwent an undeclared colonoscopy in 2019 but skipped anesthesia to avoid transferring power to his then-vice president Mike Pence.
In a book released earlier this year, Stephanie Grisham said Mr Trump’s mysterious visit to Walter Reed hospital was for “a very common procedure” which Mr Bush also had while in office.
According to Ms Grisham, Mr Trump underwent the procedure without anesthesia to avoid transferring his presidential powers, adding he did not want to be “the butt of a joke” for TV presenters.
Mr Trump did not address the specific claims at the time, but called Ms Grisham’s book “very boring garbage”.
Mr Biden had his last full medical assessment in December 2019, when he was declared “healthy, vigorous” and “fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency”.
The president has had episodes of atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat that is potentially serious but treatable.
Mr Biden’s most serious health scare was in 1988, when he required surgery to repair two brain aneurysms.
Regular checks have not revealed any issues. The White House was expected to release a summary of Mr Biden’s medical examination late on Friday.
The health of Mr Biden, the oldest president to take office, has been a topic of intense scrutiny, particularly among Republicans who have claimed his regular verbal slip-ups are the consequence of his age and declining mental fitness.
A recent poll suggested Americans have increasing doubts about the president’s physical health and mental fitness.
In a Politico/Morning Consult poll this week, 50 per cent of voters said they did not believe Mr Biden was in good health, while 40 per cent said they did.
The figure was a 29-point shift from when the poll was last conducted in October 2020 – a month before Mr Biden won the election.
Meanwhile, just 46 per cent of voters said they thought Mr Biden was mentally fit for the role, while 48 per cent disagreed.
The president’s latest health check came on the day that the House of Representatives passed the $1.9tn (£1.4tn) Build Back Better Act, a centrepiece of his domestic agenda.
The massive package includes provisions for parental leave, health care and funding to tackle climate change.