There has been quite a bit of talk and Facebook-sharing since the election about the 25th Amendment, which offers a way to remove presidents deemed unable to carry out their duties. Earlier this week, Foreign Policy excitedly explained “why you need to read the 25th Amendment now,” and the week prior, Salon flagged the amendment as the route to toss out Trump in lieu of impeachment. Never Trumper David Frum began tweeting about the 25th Amendment right after the election:
And he hasn’t stopped:
Keith Olbermann presented this “crazy man clause” as a feasible way of dumping Trump in a video for GQ in November:
For my money, he’s nuts—couldn’t pass a sanity test, open book. But of course, Section Four of the 25th Amendment here does not say “nuts,” or impaired, or erratic or unbalanced or unhealthy or bipolar or narcissist or sociopath or psychopath. It only says “that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”
So what does the 25th Amendment actually say? The relevant portion, as Olbermann notes, is Section 4, which outlines procedures for the removal of a president deemed “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Once the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet decide that a president is no longer fit, and once the House and Senate have been notified, the vice president can simply take office as acting president. If the president protests to the House and Senate, he is reinstated absent another vote declaring him unfit by the vice president and the Cabinet. If another vote finding the president unfit is taken, Congress is responsible for determining whether to remove the president permanently—throwing one out for good requires a two-thirds majority in the House and the Senate.
As Olbermann correctly notes, the 25th Amendment offers no specifics on exactly what kind of inability would warrant removal. Although the amendment is typically referred to as a way to replace deeply infirm or perhaps insane presidents, a president could presumably be removed for any reason relevant to their ability to perform the job advanced by the vice president and Cabinet.
Which brings us to Donald Trump. A man who offers many reasons. He’s wildly unpredictable if not outright unstable. He’s got potential, extensively documented conflicts of interest out the wazoo. He shows no understanding of policy and lord only knows about the Russia stuff. The list of possible justifications is long and will only grow over the course of his presidency.
But everything wrong with Trump the president was also wrong with Trump the candidate. Mike Pence, the Cabinet Trump has nominated, and the Republican Party, which would need to overwhelmingly back Trump’s removal should he contest it, have all been willing to ignore Trump’s issues thus far. Or they’ve signed up for them. Nothing short of unambiguous, raving madness or unmistakable scandal (of a much higher order than the raving madness and scandal we’ve already seen) would move the party to admit it erred in bringing a dangerous, corrupt lunatic into the White House and trigger the political catastrophe that ditching Trump would ultimately result in. The 25th Amendment provision relies on a governing party willing to shoot itself in the foot for the good of the country. Having faith in the Republican Party’s capacity to do this is itself unambiguous, raving madness.