A growing bipartisan Congressional coalition is demanding for the president to be removed from office immediately even though there are less than two weeks remaining in his term. Conveniently, the U.S. Constitution allows for that to happen through one of three ways: resignation, impeachment or via the invocation of the 25th Amendment.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, on Thursday sounded the loudest alarm about the threat posed by Donald Trump following a mob of domestic terrorists heeding the president’s call for treasonous violence and illegally breaking into the U.S. Capitol, trashing the hallowed building and its grounds. At least four people died from the violence inspired by Trump, including one woman who was shot to death.
In other words, the entire episode masked as a protest against nonexistent election fraud was “an insurrection against the United States, incited by the president,” Schumer declared.
Trump — whose social media presence has been paused over his reckless rhetoric responsible for Wednesday’s rioting — vowed for a “peaceful transition,” but that already questionable pledge has a serious credibility problem.
The president has already survived an impeachment that took many months to coordinate and carry out, leaving people who want Trump gone with only one realistic option: the 25th Amendment.
“It can be done today,” Schumer said. But he left out what invoking the 25th Amendment actually entails.
Addressing presidential disability and succession, the 25th Amendment provides Congress with a legal roadmap to removing the president. Passed in 1965 and ratified in 1967, it’s broken up into four sections with careful attention to detail.
Despite renewed calls for Trump to be impeached again, and in light of the low odds he would voluntarily resign, the most realistic route for the president’s removal is detailed in the fourth section of the 25th Amendment. It’s complicated, but it can be done if the bipartisan efforts continue.
First and foremost, removing Trump from office via the 25th Amendment will rely squarely upon the shoulders of Vice President Mike Pence and the president’s cabinet. Without their participation, all bets are likely off. But since Pence fulfilled his Constitutional duty by confirming Joe Biden‘s presidential election with Congress early Thursday morning, there is a chance that he could move forward. Convincing Trump’s cabinet may be a little trickier, though.
The 25th Amendment is written in some serious legalese, but the gist of it is that Pence and “a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments” — the cabinet — or “such other body as Congress” must provide written notification to the President pro tempore of the Senate (Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa) and the Speaker of the House (Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California) indicating that Trump is officially unfit to serve as president. That act in itself would immediately make Pence acting president of the United States.
However, as with everything, there is an asterisk. If that move was made against Trump, he would still have the opportunity to basically appeal that decision by sending Grassley and Pelosi a note saying he is perfectly fit to serve, even if evidence exists to the contrary. And it does. That note from Trump would then make him president again.
So why do it at all, you ask?
Well, in that hypothetical scenario, Pence, Congress and the cabinet members would be able to counter that claim by Trump by again declaring to Grassley and Pelosi that he “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
That puts the ball back in Congress’ court, leaving it up to them to have the final say within 48 hours. If at least two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate vote to remove Trump, then he’s gone immediately and Pence assumes the presidency for the remainder of the term, which, at that point, would probably be only about a week or so.
But since we know how much weight Trump’s words carry with his supporters, time is clearly of the essence.
The good news is that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been considering invoking the 25th Amendment for Trump since at least 2017. The bad news is that Pence and Trump’s cabinet have not been among those voices.
To read the full Constitutional language of the 25th Amendment, click here.