Section 4 of the 25th Amendment provides the relevant text regarding the removal of a president who is deemed unfit for office.
Though President Donald Trump has faced fierce political opposition from the moment he entered office, including being impeached by the House of Representatives, the last weeks of his presidency could prove to be the most combative yet.
Following a riot in the United States Capitol on January 6, Trump has been accused of riling up his supporters to attack Congress and stage a coup. The violent clash between pro-Trump extremists and law enforcement agents resulted in multiple deaths and injuries, including Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick, who died after he suffered injuries in the riot.
The shocking violence has angered government officials, political pundits and business leaders. Trump posted a video on Twitter the day after the riot in which he denounced the actions as a “heinous attack” and said those who broke the law would “pay.” However, critics maintain, the president’s baseless claims that the election was stolen are what led to the riot and deaths.
Some of the strongest denunciations have demanded Trump’s removal, either by a second impeachment trial, or by using the 25th Amendment. In the latter case, it would require a collective revolt from those in his own cabinet, as well as Vice President Mike Pence.
A few members of Trump’s cabinet, including Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, have resigned in the days following the riot, citing Trump’s actions. For those who remain, it would be an extraordinarily apolitical act to remove the man who had appointed them to their positions.
Who has called for using the 25th Amendment?
Among those who have called for using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump are multiple members of the Democratic Party. Those include Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the members of “The Squad,” among them Representatives Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley. Omar has also drafted articles of impeachment.
While the vast majority of those calling for Trump’s removal are Democrats, at least one member of his own party has spoken up to say Trump is no longer fit for office. Representative Adam Kinzinger cited the “fires stoked by the president” for invoking the 25th Amendment to “end this nightmare.”
Multiple former members of Trump’s administration have also come forward with criticisms of Trump, if they haven’t called for his removal outright. Among them is former Attorney General William Barr, who called Trump’s actions in recent days a “betrayal of his office and supporters” and Trump’s one-time, short-lived White House Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci.
Perhaps nothing indicates just how much the tide has turned against the president and former real estate tycoon than the National Association of Manufacturers, which represents 14,000 companies across all 50 states, calling on Pence to “seriously consider working with the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to preserve democracy.”
And while they are unlikely to have any political pull, numerous celebrities and public figures have also gotten in on the calls for using the 25th Amendment. Among them are Grammy and Oscar-winning singer/actress Lady Gaga, multiple-award winning singer-songwriters Stevie Wonder and Bette Midler, and actresses Amber Tamblyn and Alyssa Milano.
Even Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream company, has called for Trump’s removal.
What does the 25th Amendment say?
The 25th Amendment was passed by Congress in 1965 and ratified on February 10, 1967 when Nevada became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, officially crossing the necessary two-thirds threshold.
Though the 25th Amendment has been cited frequently in recent years as grounds for removing the president, that isn’t the entirety of the amendment’s scope. It is broken into four sections and only the fourth section addresses the removal of the president. The first three amendments address the line of succession if a president is no longer able to fulfill their duties.
SECTION 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
SECTION 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.
SECTION 3. Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.
Section 4 of the 25th Amendment provides the relevant text regarding the removal of a president who is deemed unfit for office:
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.
This would be a dramatic step and one that would be difficult to enact, even if Trump’s cabinet (made up of “the principal officers of the executive departments”) did agree to remove him. After such an act was taken, Congress would have to support that action with a two-thirds vote. If that were to occur, Pence would be elevated to serve out the rest of the presidential term.
It all may be a moot point, though, as it has been reported that Pence opposes using the 25th Amendment.
A second impeachment?
For those who want Trump removed from office, the only other route is impeachment. House Democrats have indicated they will officially file articles of impeachment on Monday, January 11, when the chamber is back in session.
Impeachment is not much more likely to work as a means of removing Trump, as the Republican-controlled Senate would have to vote to remove the president. However, it will give Trump the ignominious distinction of being the first US president to be impeached twice.
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