Politics

Congressional Democrats Look for the Presidential Ejector Button

Coup-shaken legislators agree Trump must go, but they aren’t sure how to try to make him.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer walk down a hall on Capitol Hill.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Capitol Hill on Dec. 20. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

House and Senate Democrats on Thursday arrived at a consensus that President Donald Trump needs to be removed from office as soon as possible. The 13 days remaining in his term afford him too many more opportunities to incite violent mobs into assaulting members of Congress at their workplace than is preferable. Or worse.

Where they lack some consensus, though, is on which emergency removal option to deploy first.

Many members of the House, including leadership member and potential next speaker Hakeem Jeffries, want to get rolling on impeachment as soon as House members are able to reconvene. Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar spent her time in secure lockdown Wednesday organizing impeachment articles along with Reps. Jamie Raskin, David Cicilline, and Ted Lieu. They’ve been circulating them throughout the caucus. Note that any member of Congress can introduce impeachment as a privileged resolution, to force a vote. But the House does need to be in session for that to happen, and as of now, both chambers have left town until inauguration.

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But other members and senators are calling for Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment and strip the president of his executive powers, on the grounds that he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Most importantly, the leaders of each Democratic caucus, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, want to first give “the 25th Amendment option” a crack. Schumer tweeted Thursday that “the quickest and most effective way—it can be done today—to remove this president from office would be for the Vice President to immediately invoke the 25th amendment,” but that if Pence and company won’t do it, “Congress must reconvene to impeach President Trump.” Pelosi, similarly, said that if they don’t get an indication from Pence soon, “Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment. That is the overwhelming sentiment of my caucus and the American people.”

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The leaders, as Schumer revealed Thursday afternoon, had already tried giving Pence a buzz to ask whether he’d take over as president, but after they’d waited on hold for a while, Pence declined to take the call. They hope to hear from him sometime soon.

Congressional Republicans, so far, have not been pushing back against these options as forcefully as you’d expect them to. Most have been silent, preferring to not speak publicly about the president at all Thursday. A couple of elected Republicans, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger and Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers (a recent NRCC chair!), were even in favor of, or OK with, invoking the 25th. But that’s about as far as it goes publicly.

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South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, during a separate Thursday press conference, said he wasn’t in favor of either impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment—but he didn’t treat the idea of getting rid of Trump ASAP as a ludicrous one, either. The 25th Amendment remedy was “not appropriate at this point,” he said. (Emphasis ours.) But, he added, “if something else happens, all options would be on the table.”

Without substantial Republican buy-in, it’s hard for either option to get the president out of office until his term expires. (As it should be; removing an elected president ought to be hard.) The House could quickly impeach the president if it reconvened, but the (for now) Republican Senate could drag its feet on returning or take too long to stand up and conclude a trial. And the 25th Amendment, as scholar Brian C. Kalt tells my colleague Mark Joseph Stern, isn’t really designed to be used on presidents who aren’t physically incapacitated. While a successful invocation would transfer power to Pence immediately, there would be a few days of jostling between Trump and Pence until the question is put before Congress, where a mostly united Republican Party would have the ability to get Trump his power back. The way it could work for the remainder of Trump’s term, though, is if neither chamber bothered returning to take a vote.

Pence and the Cabinet seem unlikely to move against Trump until he locks himself in the toilet with the nuclear football. (Saturday?) And while it’s not a bad idea to impeach Trump immediately, even for the historical record, it’s unlikely there would be either the votes or the time for the Senate to convict. Our best bet for surviving these final 13 days of Trump’s term may be, as John Bolton suggested, to fly the president to Florida and get him on the golf course.

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