We knew this would get dusted off eventually. Kathleen Parker at The Washington Post trotted out Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, which deals with presidential incapacity.
With luck, and Cabinet-level courage that is not much in evidence, there’s a chance we won’t have to wait two long years, during which, let’s face it, anything could happen. In anticipation of circumstances warranting a speedier presidential replacement, wiser minds added Section 4 to the 25th Amendment, which removes the president if a majority of the Cabinet and the vice president think it necessary, i.e., if the president is injured or falls too ill to serve. Or, by extension, by being so incompetent — or not-quite-right — that he or she poses a threat to the nation and must be removed immediately and replaced by the vice president.
So how does that really work? Nobody knows for sure, because it’s never really been done (not for more than a few hours–or days–at least). But in theory at least, our government has the ultimate kill-switch for a president off the rails.
The 25th Amendment deals with presidential succession. It’s a fairly new (as amendments go) addition to our Constitution, having been ratified in 1967, with Nevada being the 38th state. (Interestingly enough, Georgia, South Carolina and North Dakota have never ratified it.) Section 4 of the amendment allows the Vice President and a majority of the cabinet to, in writing, declare the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” making the Vice President the Acting President.
If it were really that easy to engineer an American coup d’etat, we’d have seen several since 1967.
Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.
The President can simply tell Congress “I’m okay,” which starts a 4-day clock for the Vice President and cabinet to respond with “No, you’re not okay.” That in turn starts a 48-hour to 21-day (depending on whether Congress is in session) clock for Congress to vote up-or-down on presidential incapacity, with a 2/3 vote in both houses required to declare the president incapable of discharging his duties.
This implies that the Vice President and cabinet can, for a 48-hour window, assume control of the executive branch. In the case of Trump, let’s assume 193 Democrats in the House and 46 in the Senate would vote for incapacity. That means it would take 99 GOP Representatives and 14 Senators to throw Trump out.
It would take an enormous amount of evidence to sway that many legislators. Something like “Trump just tried to launch nukes at Paris and here’s video.” Just because Trump is the ultimate bull in a china shop isn’t going to cut it. And 48 hours isn’t enough time for a palace coup, because when the king returns he’s going to be pissed. Not to mention the fact that it would shake our nation to its foundations.
All this talk about impeachment, 2-year terms, and presidential incapacity seems to ignore one really important thing. (By the way, this isn’t the first time in the last five weeks that a Washington Post writer speculated about the 25th Amendment). The really important thing is that the last time a president resigned, it took us nearly 10 years to get over it, and in some ways we still haven’t gotten over it.
Attempting to remove President Trump from office, or even speculating about it from the lofty quarters of national newspapers, is unhealthy for America. The United States doesn’t have coups. Suggesting a political coup (impeachment or incapacity) is only one step removed from suggesting an assassination. Both things result in a change of government. One is an act of murder, but the other is an act of extra-electoral political decapitation.
Granted, if Trump really does something worth claiming that he’s not simply unfit for office, but completely incapable of discharging the duties of POTUS, then by all means, let’s look at the facts and do what we must do. It’s the same with impeachment. Bill Clinton was impeached, with good reason and sound legal basis, but it didn’t meet the Senate’s bar for removal from office.
Trump hasn’t done anything that comes within fifty miles of an impeachable offense. That’s not to say he won’t get a whole lot closer as time goes on, especially with his mouth and Twitter account directly connected to his spleen with no filter. But making removal in that manner a political goal is a terrible and unpatriotic act.
If Democrats and their media lickspittles are hoping with glee to construct a political coup in 2018 by narrowing the gap of GOP legislators required to remove Trump from office, they are flirting with destruction of the Republic. That’s not how it’s done in America, and unless they want it done back to them, the press needs to do what Nancy Pelosi did to Maxine Waters: tell their people to shut up about it.