Could the 25th Amendment Apply to Donald Trump?
Author: Greg Valliere
August 22, 2019
WHEN WE WROTE ON TUESDAY about the policy dysfunction in Washington, we pulled our punches; it’s worse than the repeated reversals and incoherence by Donald Trump on guns, taxes, trade, etc.
THERE’S A GROWING SENSE that Trump is spinning out of control — calling himself “the chosen one,” insulting Denmark, infuriating Jews everywhere, retweeting a claim that he’s “the second coming of God.” This is not normal behavior, especially for someone who holds the nuclear codes.
THE FINAL STRAW for some of his supporters was Trump’s “joke” yesterday to a veterans’ organization about awarding himself the Medal of Honor, which is given for exceptional valor in combat. You don’t joke about the Medal of Honor; Trump, of course, had five military deferments, including one for heel spurs.
TRUMP’S ALLIES AND OPPONENTS are now preparing for more embarrassments in his upcoming trip to Europe, where he probably will rant against the G-7, continue his bizarre demands to buy Greenland, and renew his threats to impose tariffs on European goods, especially autos.
THIS IS NOT SIMPLY A CASE OF TRUMP FATIGUE: There’s a growing focus in Washington on Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, which provides for the removal of a president or vice president who is incapacitated and unable to fulfill his duties. The amendment was enacted in 1967, largely a response to John Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
THERE WAS A FLURRY OF SPECULATION a year ago when an anonymous author wrote a New York Times column alleging that some Trump Administration officials were considering the 25th Amendment, but that furor died down — until this week. A charitable explanation of Trump’s recent behavior is that he needed to fill a vacuum during the August dog days. An uncharitable explanation is that Trump, 73, is well beyond erratic.
HOW WOULD THE AMENDMENT WORK? The first step would be for Vice President Pence and a majority of the cabinet to provide a written declaration to the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House that Trump “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” That would immediately strip Trump of his office and make Pence the acting president.
BUT THE 25TH AMENDMENT would allow Trump to send a written declaration asserting that he is able to perform his duties. That would immediately allow him to resume his duties, unless Pence and the cabinet send another declaration to the congressional leaders within four days, restating their concerns. Pence would take over again as acting president.
THAT DECLARATION would require Congress to assemble within 48 hours and vote within 21 days. If two-thirds of members of both the House and the Senate agreed that Trump was unable to continue as president, he would be stripped permanently of the position, and Pence would become president. If the vote in Congress fell short, Trump would resume his duties.
THIS SUMMARY, reported in the Sept. 6, 2018 New York Times, persuades us that imposing the 25th Amendment would be even more difficult than impeachment, which still faces a very steep uphill climb in Congress. But impeachment involves specific acts; the 25th Amendment would focus on Trump’s mental state.
THE KEY OBVIOUSLY IS PENCE, who has been loyal to Trump in public, but reportedly has reservations about him in private. Pence and his wife are devoutly religious and are disgusted by Trump’s profanity and personal conduct, numerous sources have reported. Beyond the Pence obstacle, we don’t see two-thirds of Congress voting to remove Trump.
THE BOTTOM LINE: If you want to drive Trump out of office, you have to vote him out. That prospect looked dim earlier this summer as the Democrats veered sharply to the left in their initial debates — but the likelihood of Trump losing in 2020 has increased significantly during this memorable month of August.
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