WASHINGTON ― A Democratic congressman is introducing legislation as soon as next week that would require a psychiatrist at the White House, something he says is overdue but also urgent given his and other people’s concerns about President Donald Trump’s mental health.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that the president, any president, should have access to a mental health professional given the pressures of the job. Congress passed a law in 1928 requiring a physician at the White House, but stopped short of requiring a psychiatrist because of the stigma associated with mental illness.
“I’m looking at it from the perspective of, if there are questions about the mental health of the president of the United States, what may be the best way to get the president treatment?” Lieu said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “We’re now in the 21st century. Mental health is just as important as physical health.”
But he isn’t just thinking about future presidents. Lieu said he’s been increasingly alarmed by Trump’s erratic behavior and penchant for lying about things, big and small, that are easy to disprove.
“It is not normal for the president of the United States, within 24 hours, to write about death and destruction and fake news and evil,” he said. “The most troubling aspect of this is it is very clear he has a disconnection from the truth. … The very first press conference he had in this administration, they could have talked about jobs or health care. They talked about crowd size. And then lied about it. It’s one of the most bizarre events I’ve witnessed in politics.”
Since being sworn in as president, Trump has lied about matters more serious than the size of his crowds. He falsely claimed 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally in the election. He falsely suggested other countries besides Russia may have been behind the cyberattacks during the election. He falsely accused the media of not reporting on widely covered terrorist attacks.
Lieu said he’s not a doctor, but many people like him are worried about the president’s pattern of behavior.
“His disconnection from the truth is incredibly disturbing,” he said. “When you add on top of that his stifling of dissent, his attacks on the free press and his attacks on the legitimacy of judiciary, that then takes us down the road toward authoritarianism. That’s why I’ve concluded he is a danger to the republic.”
A White House spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Some of Trump’s critics were citing his mental health as cause for concern before he became president and have said it’s grounds for removing him from office. The 25th Amendment to the Constitution states that a president may be removed by a two-thirds vote of Congress if members of the executive branch deem him unable to discharge his duties.
That provision has never been used to depose a president, though when Howard Baker Jr. became President Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff, he was warned that he may need to invoke it, given Reagan’s deteriorating health. Baker ultimately determined it was unnecessary.
“I’ve concluded he is a danger to the republic.”
A handful of other lawmakers besides Lieu have hinted that Trump should get a mental health evaluation. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told The Washington Post in January that he was considering introducing legislation to require presidents to undergo an independent medical exam, including for mental health. He emphasized he wasn’t suggesting Trump was unwell, but said, “If you’re going to have your hands on the nuclear codes, you should probably know what kind of mental state you’re in.”
An aide to Chaffetz told HuffPost last week the bill would apply to presidential candidates in the future. (Trump has already filed for re-election.)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last week that she would support legislation requiring Trump to take a mental health exam. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) took it a step further at a Monday press conference, suggesting Trump is on track to getting himself impeached. “We cannot continue to have a President who’s acting in this manner. It’s dangerous to the United States of America,” she said.
Pelosi, who was also at the press event, had to walk that back a bit. Impeachment will only be an issue for Trump “when and if” he breaks the law, she said.
Lieu said he’ll reach out to colleagues to co-sponsor his bill as soon as it’s out and has his eye on at least one Republican who may be on board. He’s already the sponsor of another bill, along with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), that would restrict the president from launching a first nuclear strike without Congress first voting to declare war. He previously introduced that bill last fall.
“Right now, the president, with one order, can launch 4,000 nuclear weapons. The nuclear winter would destroy the United States,” he said. “We cannot imagine the framers would have allowed this situation to be in place.”