Acting President of the United States is a temporary office in the government of the United States created by the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1967. The position is also implied by the phrasing of Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution:
- "In case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by law provide for the case of removal, death, resignation or inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what officer shall then act as President, and such officer shall act accordingly, until the disability be removed, or a President shall be elected."
According to Section 3 of the 25th Amendment, during a period in which the president believes he will be temporarily unable to discharge his powers, he may declare himself "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office," at which point the Vice President discharges the duties of the office as Acting President.
Section 4 of the amendment also permits the Vice President, together with a majority of the members of the President's cabinet, to declare the President incapacitated.
The second scenario, where the Vice President and the President's cabinet in effect oust the President from office, has yet to occur. This is in part due to a fear that such action would be seen by the American public as a "legal coup d'état." In certain rare cases however (such as the assassination attempt on President Reagan on March 30, 1981, for example) use of this method of installing an Acting President would have been easily justified.
The Acting President has the authority to execute all the constitutional powers of the presidency until his congressionally approved mandate expires. At that point, the real president resumes his office.
During his period in power, the Acting President is treated with the same protocol as any other president, even being addressed as "Mr./Madam President" by White House staff.
Only twice thus far in American history has there been an "Acting President." In both cases, power was transferred voluntarily by the President as provided for under Section 3 of the amendment:
- George H. W. Bush - Prior to undergoing colon surgery on July 13, 1985, President Ronald Reagan transmitted a letter to the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, declaring that he was incapacitated. Bush acted as President from 11:28 a.m. that day until Reagan transmitted a second letter (at 7:22 p.m.) advising that he was resuming the powers and duties of the office.
- Dick Cheney - Prior to undergoing a colonoscopy procedure on the morning of June 29, 2002, President George W. Bush transmitted a letter to the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, declaring his incapacity. Cheney acted as President from 7:09 a.m. that day until Bush transmitted a second letter (at 9:24 a.m.) advising that he was resuming the powers and duties of the office.