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US: No Presidential Power Changes For Clinton Surgery

Washington, 14 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - The White House says President Bill Clinton will not transfer presidential power to Vice President Al Gore later today when Clinton undergoes surgery to repair an injured right knee.

White House spokeswoman Maryellen Glynn says Clinton will be conscious during the entire operation. She says there will be no need to invoke the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which sets out the rules for succession to the presidency when a serving president is unable to carry out his duties.

Clinton and Gore also have their own, classified, arrangement for a transfer of authority in the event of an emergency, but the White House says that will not be used either.

The President injured his knee earlier today during a private portion of his visit to the southern state of Florida. Clinton is an avid golfer and was to have played a match with professional golfer Greg Norman. However, the president stumbled and fell down steps at Norman's home. Doctors and the White House described the damage to Clinton's knee as substantial. He will be operated on at the U.S. Naval Hospital in a Washington suburb.

While no surgical procedure is ever considered routine, the operation on Clinton's knee is common and no problems are anticipated. He will be on crutches for some time during his recuperation.

Spokeswoman Glynn, however, said there are no plans to delay Clinton's scheduled summit conference with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. The two are to meet in Helsinki on Wednesday and Thursday.

The transfer of presidential power has been rarely invoked in Washington. The amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1967, four years after President John Kennedy was assassinated.

The amendment provides for the temporary or permanent transfer of presidential power. It also allows the vice president and Congress to strip the president of power if he is unable to do the job.

Until it was added, the Constitution did not provide for what to do if a president were alive but unable to serve.

Former President George Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle also had their own private contingency plan. Bush was Ronald Reagan's vice president when Reagan was shot and critically wounded in March 1981. Medical and history experts contended that essentially no one was in charge of the country while a bullet was removed from Reagan's lung.

In 1985, Reagan nominally transferred power to Bush for several hours while Reagan underwent colon cancer surgery.

Bush was hospitalized in May 1991 for treatment of a thyroid problem but never transferred power to Quayle.