As It Happens

This lawmaker wants to create a panel that could assess the 'mental capacity' of a president

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin has proposed a bill that would allow the U.S. president to be removed from office if found to be mentally incapable.
Rep. Jamie Raskin speaks in the March for Truth Sends a Message, Investigate Trump rally near the Washington Monument. He voted in favor of moving ahead with action to impeach President Donald Trump in December. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for MoveOn.org)
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Story transcript

U.S. President Donald Trump says he's a "very stable genius," but Democrat Jamie Raskin would like to get a second opinion.

In a tweet on Jan. 6, Trump defended himself against Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, a book by Michael Wolff that he says is based on more than 200 interviews with the president and senior staff. It paints a picture of a dysfunctional White House, run by a president who is treated like a child by his staff.

Trump has called the book a work of fiction, and the president's lawyers have sent Wolffe a cease-and-desist letter.

Trump shot back at a Wolff's book about him by tweeting that he is a "stable genuis". (Al Drago/Getty Images)

But the book is not the first time the president's mental capability has been called into question.

In April, Raskin, the Democratic representative for Maryland, proposed a bill that would form a body of psychiatrists, lawmakers and former presidents to assess the mental stability of the president.  

It's called the Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity Act, and it would have the power to remove a president who is found to be incapable in terms of mental stability. 

Raskin leans on the 25th amendment as grounds for the bill, which allows for the vice-president to become president in the event that the current president is unable to perform their duties.  

Raskin spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about the bill, and how it relates to the president's recent behaviour. 

Congressman Raskin, do you think President Trump has the mental capacity to serve as president?

It's not my decision to make. It's not my judgment call and I'm not a mental health professional and I've never met him. So I'm not in a great position to say.

But what I do know is that we have a constitutional responsibility to set up a process by which we can make decisions about the capacity of the president.

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin is proposing a bill to create a body to evaluate a president's capacity to serve. (Jamie Raskin )

Do you questions what he said about himself, that he's a very stable genius?

Well, I've probably only met a few geniuses in my life and they certainly never called themselves a genius.

I don't want to get into the back and forth. Here's the problem, that we're embroiled in this national debate about the neurological, psychological and mental health of the president and I don't know how productive that is for everybody.

You say that you launched the bill months ago, but do you not see people coming onto your side and increasing the urgency of it since the tweet by the president …  about North Korea? That he has a bigger nuclear button that Kim Jong-un?

Well yes, and one of the points that I've been making from the beginning is that the 25th amendment was adopted in the nuclear age. And we have 535 members of congress who are lawmakers, but we only have one president whose job it is to take care that the laws are faithfully executed. And whose job includes being commander in chief, and as President Trump has reminded us, has access to the nuclear button. So we want to make sure that person is acting with complete physical and mental capacity to be able to address the job.

How much of what you're proposing is political? Are you not politically motivated? You are a Democrat, you have in the past suggested you're in favour of impeachment … Is this not politically motivated?

Obviously everybody in congress today is either a Democrat or a Republican. I guess Bernie Sanders is an independent. But everybody obviously belongs to political parties so the easiest thing in the world is to attribute political motives to any piece of legislation. I think I've advanced very coherent and solid constitutional arguments as well as policy arguments for why we need to follow through on the 25th amendment promise.

This oversight commission on presidential capacity that you propose in this legislation, what exactly would it do? How would it evaluate, say, President Trump's capacity or any president's capacity? What powers of investigation would it have? What would it be able to do?

Well it's a bipartisan, bicameral body set up by appointment of both Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate. There would be a mixture of former statesmen and women, former presidents, vice-presidents, as well as physicians and psychiatrists.

It would have the power to actually observe and diagnose the president. If the president choose not to meet with them, he would not have to do so but they could take that into account in making any judgment about capacity that they would develop with the vice-president.

A shop worker arranges copies of Michael Wolff's book 'Fire And Fury' as they go on sale inside a branch of the Waterstones book store in Liverpool, Britain. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

And then … transfer powers to the vice-president. Remove the president from power if this commission determined that the president was not capable?

Exactly, according to the terms of the 25th amendment. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with  Jamie Raskin, listen in the player above.