Harris is 1st woman to get US presidential powers, briefly

US Vice-President Kamala Harris speaks about the recently signed infrastructure law will benefit Ohioans after touring the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Local 189, Nov 19, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. (JAY LAPRETE / AP)

US President Joe Biden briefly transferred power to Vice-President Kamala Harris Friday while he was under anesthesia for a colonoscopy, marking the first time a woman officially served as acting commander in chief.

Harris was given the title “acting president” for an hour and 25 minutes under Section 3 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in 1967. The clause has only been formally invoked twice before, when then-president George W. Bush had colonoscopies.

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But another woman once took on the role of an acting president: Woodrow Wilson’s wife, Edith, functionally ran the executive branch after her husband suffered a stroke in 1919, but power was never formally transferred to her.

During the brief time Harris held presidential power, Harris worked in her West Wing office where she watched the House pass the Build Back Better bill, an aide said. The measure is a key element of Biden’s economic agenda

Biden underwent the procedure Friday morning, a day before his 79th birthday.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that the president spoke with Harris at 11:35 am and resumed his powers at that time.

During the brief time Harris held presidential power, Harris worked in her West Wing office where she watched the House pass the Build Back Better bill, an aide said. The measure is a key element of Biden’s economic agenda.

Biden also had a physical exam on Friday. While presidential medical appointments always draw attention, Biden was the oldest person ever elected to the office at the age of 77 in 2020, leading to even more scrutiny of his health. His last medical assessment, released by his presidential campaign in December 2019, described him as “a healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency, to include those as Chief Executive, Head of State and Commander in Chief.”

Psaki told reporters that the White House would release a comprehensive written summary of Biden’s physical exam — conducted at Walter Reed National Medical Center near Washington — later on Friday.

“They’re going to release all the detail,” Biden told reporters after returning to the White House. “I feel great. Nothing’s changed.”

Biden’s 2019 report, signed by his longtime physician Kevin O’Connor, who is now the president’s official physician, listed an “irregularly irregular” heartbeat, high levels of fat in the blood, acid reflux and seasonal allergies. At the time, he took three prescriptions — Eliquis and Crestor for his heart and blood issues, and Dymista for allergies — and two over-the-counter drugs, Nexium for acid reflux and Allegra for allergies.

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Since then, officials have reported only one major health issue for Biden, two foot fractures that took place a few weeks after he was elected. Biden has said the injuries happened while he was playing with his dog Major, who slid on a throw rug that Biden then slipped on. He suffered hairline fractures and briefly wore a medical boot on his foot. After an X-ray in early February, O’Connor said the president had “completely healed.”

In addition to providing care for active duty and veteran service members, Walter Reed also regularly serves as a treatment facility for presidents and members of Congress. Biden spent time there in 1988 as he suffered two brain aneurysms and underwent surgery to repair burst blood vessels. Former president Donald Trump spent three days at the hospital in October 2020 when he was battling COVID-19.