What if he had signed the letter?
Episode 2x01: In the Shadow of Two Gunmen
"I need to speak to Leo McGarry before you give me the anesthesia." Jed Bartlet finished.
Ron Butterfield leaned over. "He's on his way as well."
The nurse next the President said, "I need to ask you a few questions. Do you …"
Before the nurse could complete her comment the President interrupted her. "Damn!"
Ron, concerned, leaned in. "What is it, Sir?"
"Does anyone around here have a pen and paper?" the President asked urgently.
Everyone in the room was confused for a moment. "Does ANYONE HAVE PEN AND PAPER?"
One of the medical personnel pulled a sheet from his clipboard and said, "Right here, Sir."
"Okay. Write this down exactly and get it ready for me to sign: Due to the necessity of my upcoming incapacity, I, Josiah Bartlet, President of the United States, hereby cede full Executive Authority of the United States of America to the Vice President of the United States until such time as I am able to once again perform my duties. This is done in accordance with the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution."
There was a new solemnity as the medical personnel worked to get the President ready for surgery. Finally the man finished the statement and said, "Done!" and handed the paper over to the President who was reaching for it, as well as the pen. The President rapidly signed this and said, "Give this to Leo when he gets here."
"Good Evening, Mr. Vice President."
"Good Evening, everyone." John Hoynes said quietly as he moved to the head of the table.
Even as he was standing, Leo quietly commented to one of the Joint Chiefs. "Jack?"
The General got the meaning immediately and called, "Atten-HUT!"
Everyone stood up. Before the Vice-President could order them back down, Leo said, "Mr. Vice President. This letter was dictated and signed by President Bartlett before he went under anesthetic twenty minutes ago. As of that moment, you are now operating with full Executive Authority."
John Hoynes was solemn as he took the letter and read it. He saw the blood-stains on the paper where the President's hand had rested as he signed. He bowed his head and said quietly, "Thank you, Leo." With a much more strident voice, his confidence rising with each word, "Sit down everyone. What have we got?"
John Hoynes listened as the people at the table argued about different scenarios. When Nancy suggested he place the Armed Forces at Defcon 4 and Leo disagreed, he had one question. "Leo?"
"Yes, Mr. Vice President?"
"There was a third man, right?"
"What were their descriptions?"
"What did they look like? Were they Middle Eastern? White? Black? What did the Secret Service say they looked like?"
Leo took a breath, "If I were to sum it up it would be 'Neo-Nazis'."
"Okay. Nancy, we're going with Leo right now. Until and unless we see significant provocative action, we're going to assume it's something other than the Middle East." Everyone at the table nodded. "Leo. How long before the President is likely to be ready to take it back?"
"Then let's get this third guy and have him wrapped up in a bow as a welcome back present by then."
Leo had a thought. "Mr. Vice President?"
John Hoynes looked interested. Leo turned to the table and asked, "What's the fastest way to get a message to Iraq?"
One of the aides said, "King of Jordan." After a pause the same aide asked, "What should the message say?"
Leo looked solemn as he said, "Don't mess with us tonight."
Everyone looked at the Vice- President, who nodded in sure agreement.
It was a cacophony in the press room as CJ tried to concentrate. One of the reporters asked, "When can we talk to the medical team?"
CJ muddled through the answer. "Benjamin Keller, the Chief Surgeon, and Admiral Jarvis, the President's personal physician, will be made available for a debriefing in a few hours." CJ took a breath and looked out to the rest of yelling reporters. Finally she pointed at Danny.
Danny asked with an almost harsh tone, "Has there been any discussion of the 25th Amendment?"
CJ nodded. "The President dictated and signed a letter before he went under anesthesia ceding full Executive Authority to the Vice President under the 25th until the President is once again able to perform his duties. As I already said: His wounds were fairly superficial, he is expected to be out of surgery by morning, he's expected to make a full recovery. So he is likely to be ready sometime tomorrow to take back Executive Authority."
"When can we see a copy of the letter?" he asked with less aggressiveness and a bit of surprise. He had honestly expected everyone to have forgotten in the chaos.
"I don't know. A number of other things are more pressing at the moment, but I will find out for you sometime tomorrow."
The Reporters were rabid in their questions, not allow the medical team to answer any before another was asked. Finally CJ called out, "Hold on!" The noise level dropped. "Okay. One at a time. Katie."
"What can you tell us about the President's condition?"
The President's personal physician replied, "His prognosis is excellent and there will likely be no permanent damage. He should be back on his feet later today."
"Followup: Can you describe the wounds?"
The head of the surgical team said, "No." And then nothing else.
Katie was irritated as she said, "Why not?"
Benjamin Keller laughed a bit as he said, "Because the President hasn't given the authorization yet! It takes more time than we've had for the anesthesia to work itself fully out and he is not in the medical position to give that authorization." The Doctor paused as he said, "The only reason we can tell you what we can is because his medical proxy said we could. Her words, exactly, were: 'Tell them how the surgery went, his prognosis, and how long before he's up. Then go get some sleep – you look like you need it. Jed can authorize details later when he's awake.' I'd like to point out that as medical professionals, the Admiral and myself have to follow the laws and practices of our profession. And without authorization from the patient or his medical proxy, medical information is still confidential. Even if the patient is the President of the United States."