25th Amendment: The Political Apocalypse
By: Lisa M. Hayes – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
A recent anonymously penned New York Times Op-ed titled, I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration, landed on newsfeeds around the world like a political atomic bomb. The timing was not lost on anyone who’s been hearing the teasers from Bob Woodward’s upcoming book which will release next week. In that book, Bob Woodward paints a portrait of Donald Trump being unhinged with growing levels of concern or fear growing in his inner circle and cabinet.
Both the op-ed and the book are raising the questions again about what it would take to invoke the 25th Amendment if our sitting President is mentally unfit to lead. The amendment was ratified in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and debilitating illnesses of Dwight D. Eisenhower — and it requires a crisis on that level to be enacted.
In order to remove Trump using the 25th Amendment, a majority of the Cabinet he personally selected, working with his own vice president, would have to agree he was no longer able to be President and publicly make that declaration, in writing, and send it up to Congress. That’s the first thing. Congress could appoint some other body to assess the President’s fitness, but we’re so far in uncharted territory. The path is shockingly murky in reality.
The 25th Amendment was never intended to address mental fitness. The possibility – or now reality – that we could end up with a madman in the Oval Office wasn’t on the agenda when the authors of the 25th amendment were drafting it. It was intended to be a safety lever for the republic in the event of physical impairment or infirmity.
However, on a historical note, it has been floated for mental impairment before. The only time the amendment was briefly considered by a President’s staffers was for Ronald Reagan, who staffers thought for a time was “inept and inattentive,” according to a memo at the time. They ultimately dropped the idea and publicly denied it.
The 25th Amendment itself is somewhat ambiguous and potentially legally unclear. For instance, it doesn’t use the term “Cabinet officials,” but rather “principal officers of the executive department,” so you can imagine the courts getting involved in a contentious process. The Supreme Court would probably get rolled in the fray. If it was effective it would be the equivalent of a non-military cue.
Steve Bannon floated the notion in his recent book that Trump would be removed from office via the 25th Amendment. He suggested it was a real possibility and also suggested might be a necessity. Steve Bannon, a self-proclaimed white nationalist, with a media background, might not be the best source of wisdom on an incredibly tangled legal matter. However, it was eyebrow-raising coming from a former Trump ally who had unrestricted access to the madness of Trump’s inner circles.
Although TV shows and movies like to play with 25th Amendment storylines, in reality, it’s not a sexy proposition. It would require an unprecedented amount of consensus on the part of Trump’s inner circle. It would send a divided nation into something that would look like a death spiral of confrontation and chaos between Trump’s supporters and the rest of us.
Additionally, the 25th Amendment is not a sure success, even if it’s invoked. Trump would then have the ability to publicly disagree, in writing. If his Cabinet reasserted, within four days, “their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” Congress would have to assemble within two days and two-thirds of both the House and Senate would have to vote to remove the President within 21 days. They’re not known for moving quickly.
Do I think Donald J. Trump is mentally fit to lead this nation?
Have I laid awake at night, staring at the ceiling hoping someone would have the guts to invoke the 25th Amendment?
Do I really believe it’s the right choice for our nation?
I hope not because the wreckage that would make of an already flailing democracy may not be repairable.
As the New York Times Op-ed author implied, only those closest to the President know how bad it is in the White House. Politics aside, it seems clear Trump is erratic and unhinged a lot of the time and that is the kind of behavior we want from a President exactly none of the time. His Twitter feed alone is the stuff nightmares are made of.
By historical standards, our democracy is still very young, young enough to be experimental. We currently have quite possibly history’s most dangerous experiment on our hands because our young democracy also happens to be a super-power. The President of the United States is still the most powerful man on the planet. If he’s a madman no one is safe from the destruction he is capable of.
Both the 25th amendment and impeachment have deeply painful ramifications for our nation. Our republican led congress seems to lack the will to take on the duty of protecting our nation from a madman. This is why the midterms are so critical. However, the NYT op-ed gives me both hope and a shudder of terror at the prospect that impeachment is not our only way out. “Adults in the room” are doing what they have to do. If it turns out the executing the 25th is what must be done, Trump may be gone but chances are high no one will like it when the dust settles.
More by Lisa:
Lisa M. Hayes, Senior Editor of Confluence Daily.
Confluence Daily is the one place where everything comes together. The one-stop for daily news for women.