Vague 25th amendment unlikely to be used to oust the president

The 25th amendment was instituted after the death of JFK
The 25th amendment was instituted after the death of JFK

The explosive account from a senior official of Donald Trump’s administration has claimed the cabinet were so worried by the president’s erratic, impulsive behaviour they discussed using the 25th amendment to remove him from power.

Published in the ‘New York Times’, the anonymous op-ed reveals that senior figures considered deploying the extreme measure to oust the president.

The 25th amendment is designed to be used in the case of an incapacitated commander-in-chief.

It is not the first time during his presidency that the amendment has been mentioned in relation to Mr Trump.

In August last year, the US president’s freewheeling campaign speech in Phoenix – during which he rounded on the media, attacked critics on his own side and threatened to shut down the government – also provoked alarm among viewers of all political hues.

What is the 25th Amendment?

It was instituted after the death of John F Kennedy, providing a formal mechanism by which the vice-president could take power if the president dies, resigns, or is removed from office.

It also allows for the vice-president to take over temporarily if the president cannot fulfil his or her duties, such as when President George W Bush went under general anaesthetic for two colonoscopies. Dick Cheney took over on each of those occasions.

How can a president be removed from office?

This comes in section four, which 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.”

In practice what that means is Mike Pence plus 13 of Mr Trump’s 24 cabinet members would have to agree.

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On what grounds might a president be removed?

The amendment is vague about the specifics. However, John D Feerick, former dean of Fordham Law School who served as one of its architects, said senators who signed the amendment into law were clear it must be based on “reliable facts regarding the president’s physical or mental faculties”, not personal prejudice.

“If you read the debates, it’s also clear that policy and political differences are not included, unpopularity is not included, poor judgment, incompetence, laziness, or impeachable conduct – none of that, you’ll find in the debates in the congressional record, is intended to be covered by Section IV,” he told ‘Business Insider’.

What if the president refuses?

The mechanism was designed for a president who was incapacitated, not for one willing to fight back.

He or she is protected by a safeguard. Within 21 days of being triggered, the amendment requires two-thirds of both houses to uphold the decision.

If they don’t then power reverts to the president.

How likely is it that the 25th amendment could be used to remove Donald Trump?

Very unlikely. It requires both Mr Pence and a majority of the cabinet to agree to oust the president.

If he were not physically or mentally incapacitated – through ill health, a stroke or some such – it would effectively amount to a palace coup.

In other words, Mr Trump’s very closest allies are the ones to make the decision.

Any number of Democrats, TV pundits and armchair psychiatrists can label Mr Trump as unfit for office, but it makes not one scrap of difference.

Just like impeachment, the tables are tilted to make it very difficult to remove a sitting president from power.

Irish Independent

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