All it would take to remove the president of the United States; the most prominent elected official in the world, from office is an email to congressional leaders declaring him unfit.
The 25th Amendment to the Constitution gives the vice-president and the cabinet the ability to send the Speaker of the House and the President Tempore a written message stating the president was unable to discharge his office. Once those leaders receive the message the vice president would assume the president’s powers.
To make matters worse the Amendment does not define “unable to discharge” or outline any process for making that determination. Here is what section four of the 25th Amendment states:
“Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit 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 Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”
Under this deliberately vague language any group in government including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the US Supreme Court has the power to send such an email. It might even possible for an FBI or CIA agent or a general in the field to send the email.
Why Trump Supporters Should Be Frightened of the 25th Amendment
This clause should scare Trump supporters because of the vast ideological differences between Donald and some of his presumptive cabinet members.
Trump is a very pragmatic former Democrat who rejects a great deal of orthodox conservative dogma. The incoming cabinet is so right-wing that Politco even labeled it a “conservative dream team.”
Most of its members are movement conservatives that support free trade and oppose Keynesian economics. Trump is a prominent critic of free trade who seems to believe in Keynesian economics (the use of government spending to stimulate economic growth). His proposed infrastructure program is pure Keynes.
The differences between Trump and some cabinet members are stark. U.S. Representative Tom Price (R-Georgia), the nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary wants to privatize Medicare and cut Medicaid. Trump has publicly stated he wants to keep Medicare as it is and leave the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare in place.
To make things more interesting there has been some talk of appointing prominent Trump critics; like Mitt Romney and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, to the cabinet. Romney called Trump a phony and Perry labeled him a “cancer on conservatism” during the primaries. It is not hard to imagine them; and Vice President Pence who is also a movement conservative, voting to remove Trump.
Quick and Dirty Impeachment is Constitutional
My guess is that Trump’s current popularity with the party base will keep most Republicans from voting for such “quick and dirty impeachment.”
No Republican wants to be the one to tell Trump voters that he or she stabbed their idol in the back. If Trump’s poll numbers collapse there will be no such restraint.
Since all it would take is a lack of economic recovery in the Rust Belt for Donald’s popularity to evaporate. We might soon face a situation where Trump is a political liability to be eliminated rather than a popular hero. Note: I see no signs that such a recovery is developing and some indications that the economy might soon get worse.
The 25th Amendment allows the president to appeal the removal to Congress. Congress would have to vote on it in a public hearing – that sounds like a recipe for a media circus and Constitutional chaos to me.
Another problem here is Trump’s age; he’s 70 and we know little about his health. Recently I’ve noticed that Donald looks exhausted and strained in his public appearances. Were Trump’s health to give out that would be another pretext to remove him.
Such a situation might precipitate the greatest Constitutional Crisis since Watergate. Here’s how GQ writer and left-wing Trump hater Keith Olbermann described it in a YouTube rant:
“No hearings, no doctors, no conferences, no impeachment, the vice president and merely most of the cabinet write to the Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Minnesota) and the Senate president pro tempore Orin Hatch (R-Utah) and they say the president’s unable to do the job and the vice president becomes president.”
What if Trump decided not to go or his supporters refused to accept the determination. Think passions are high right now that might lead to violence, perhaps rioting among the Trumpistias.
An even greater problem might arise in 2019 if the cabinet and Pence sent the email to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) or Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), and President Pro Tempore Chuck Schumer (D-New York). Would they accept the message, or leave Trumpo the Clown in office to keep damaging the Republican brand and help Democrats win elections?
The Danger from the 25th Amendment
Things might get real messy because “inability” is not defined by the 25th Amendment. The original intent of the Amendment was to give the cabinet the ability to remove a president who was physically incapacitated.
What about such scenarios as mental health, infirmity due to old age, addiction, erratic behavior or ethics? Who would define inability in those circumstances Congress, the cabinet (so far only one member of it Price is a medical doctor) or the Supreme Court?
How would the cabinet or Congress react if Donald agreed to full diplomatic relations and a trade agreement with Cuba, then unveiled plans for Trump Havana? There is precedent for this, a Republican Congress tried to impeach Bill Clinton because of alleged ethical violations.
Such scenarios need to be considered because Donald Trump is such an unpopular and controversial figure. His disruptive behavior and larger than life persona might throw our entire political system into chaos.