President Biden was temporarily unable to carry out his duties Friday when he went under anesthesia for a medical procedure, so Vice President Kamala Harris briefly assumed the duties of president, making her the first woman to formally hold the job in the nation’s history.
Twitter was abuzz Friday when the news broke.
“Vice President Kamala Harris will become the first woman in American history with presidential powers today as President Biden transfers powers to her while he is under anesthesia for a routine colonoscopy,” tweeted author and political commentator Keith Boykin.
Deborah Roberts, ABC News senior national affairs correspondent, also noted the historic, temporary transfer of power Friday.
“VP Kamala Harris will make history for a short time today,” Roberts tweeted. “[H]olding presidential power while President Biden undergoes a colonoscopy. First time a Black woman will be president even for a few minutes.”
VP Kamala Harris will make history for a short time today … holding presidential power while President Biden undergoes a colonoscopy. First time a Black woman will be president even for a few minutes— Deborah Roberts (@DebRobertsABC) November 19, 2021
By late Friday morning, Biden had officially resumed his duties, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Psaki tweeted that Biden had spoken around 11:35 a.m. with Harris and White House chief of staff Ron Klain, and the president was “in good spirits and at that time resumed his duties. He will remain at Walter Reed as he completes the rest of his routine physical.”
Friday’s noteworthy first was made possible by Section 3 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1967.
Section 3 allows the president to notify Congress that they’ve designated the vice president to act as president until they can resume work, the Philadelphia-based National Constitution Center says on its website.
A 2018 report from the Congressional Research Service said the provision’s been implemented three times in the modern era, first on July 13,1985 when President Reagan underwent surgery to “remove a cancerous polyp in his large intestine.”
Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush briefly took the reins, and when Reagan “emerged from anesthesia later that day, his Chief of Staff and counsel met with him in the hospital and asked whether he felt well enough to resume his authority as President,” the report said.
Reagan decided he was ready to return to work, and at 7:22 p.m. that night he sent a letter indicating as much to congressional leadership. Per the report, the note said: “please be advised I am able to resume the discharge of the Constitutional powers and duties of the Office of the President of the United States.”
Section 3 was invoked again twice during the George W. Bush administration, once in 2002 and again in 2007.
The 2002 instance was prompted by Bush’s “routine colonoscopy” at Camp David, elevating Vice President Dick Cheney to the top slot, the report said. Bush resumed his duties about two hours after the procedure.
In 2007, the report said, Bush was once again “anesthetized while undergoing a routine colonoscopy,” so Cheney briefly assumed the presidential portfolio again. According to the report, neither man thought brief presidential tenures of Cheney merited a mention in their memoirs.
The report said the only “apparent reference to Cheney’s performance as Acting President was a press report that during his two hours as Acting President in 2007, he wrote a letter to his grandchildren as ‘a souvenir for them to have down the road someday.’”
While Harris’s moment atop the free the world Friday marked the first time a woman officially held the title of US president, another woman a century ago was regarded in some circles as the “Secret President,” according to the White House.
Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, second wife of 28th President Woodrow Wilson, served as First Lady from 1915 to 1921 and during that time found herself at the center of executive branch operations, the White House site says.
The website notes that Edith Wilson’s been dubbed “Secret President” and “first woman to run the government” by some observers, owing to her key role in the West Wing after the president suffered a stroke in 1919 that left him partially paralyzed.
“Mrs. Wilson took over many routine duties and details of government,” the White House site says. “But she did not initiate programs or make major decisions, and she did not try to control the executive branch.”
Rather, the site says, she “selected matters for her husband’s attention and let everything else go to” department heads. She called the practice “her stewardship” of the office, according to the White House.
“And in My Memoir, published in 1939, she stated emphatically that her husband’s doctors had urged this course upon her,” the site says.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.