The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution addresses what happens if a president of the United States of America is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” It was ratified in 1967 following the assassination of President Kennedy. It seems our original Constitution was somewhat vague, confusing and contradictory concerning how a president should be replaced when necessary. The amendment was passed to provide certainty and clarity.
It has come up recently because some pundits have speculated that President Trump, due to his unconventional behavior, could be removed from office without the necessity of impeachment. A Vanity Fair article explained…
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has privately confided that he believes President Donald Trump only has a 30% chance of completing his full term a source told Vanity Fair
The only problems are, the 25th Amendment is itself vague and in any event makes it especially difficult such that the removal of a president against his wishes is extraordinarily difficult and unlikely.
The death of a president is straightforward enough; the vice president succeeds him or her with a line of further succession should the veep be unable to serve, such as in the aftermath of a nuclear attack or some other deadly mass disaster. And most of us know how impeachment works: the House and Senate must authorize and conduct a trial finding the prez guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It is not simply a recall process due to the president’s unpopularity.
But what if the president is, say, in a coma, or has advanced Alzheimer’s? He would be unable to act as Commander in Chief, unable to be trusted with the nuclear button. That’s where the 25th Amendment kicks in. And as we said in the opening statement, it’s complicated!
In all cases, if the president cannot serve, the VP takes over or the next in the long line of legal succession. If the president willingly declares in writing he is unable (perhaps dying of cancer, God forbid), he notifies Congress in writing and the vice president steps in. But if the president is unwilling to go, it gets interesting.
In that case, a majority of the president’s own cabinet plus the sitting vice president must notify both chambers of Congress in writing of the chief executive’s unfitness to serve (bearing in mind a president has the right to fire a cabinet member at will). The vice president then takes over. But the president can at any time notify Congress he IS able to serve and it’s all reversed. The president is in charge again (including his ability to fire people). His notification can only be overruled by a 2/3 vote of BOTH houses of Congress, an unimaginably difficult thing to achieve in today’s political environment.
Did I mention—it’s complicated? Even then, there could and would be court challenges all the way up to the Supreme Court, disputing the meaning and validity of the accusation “unable to discharge.” Remember, it’s not designed as a recall process for unpopularity.
In short, for President Donald Trump to be removed unwillingly due to his eccentricity or unpopularity, a majority of his own cabinet plus the vice president plus two-thirds of both houses of Congress plus the courts would have to agree. Unlikely to the point of impossibility in our view.
Love him or loathe him, it looks like we’re stuck with the Tweeter-in-Chief for the duration, barring some physical calamity. Keep America Great Again, baby; full steam ahead!