Why is Nancy Pelosi talking about Trump and the 25th Amendment?
OPINION: The 25th Amendment is another tool in the Constitution to attempt to restore democracy and the rule of law to the American system of government run amok.
In light of the erratic and unstable behavior of President Donald Trump — who, since contracting the coronavirus has been over the top, even by his own standards — there is more discussion in Washington about the 25th amendment.
But what is the amendment, and what is its purpose?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put it all on the table when she announced legislation to create a bipartisan commission that would judge whether a sitting president is competent to remain in office. Although the commission provided in the bill would apply to any president, it is clear Pelosi had Trump in mind.
“This is not about President Trump. He will face the judgment of the voters, but he shows the need for us to create a process for future presidents,” Pelosi said at a press conference with Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who wrote the bill.
“This legislation applies to future presidents, but we are reminded of the necessity of action by the health of the current president.”
“This is really only for the most extreme situations where you have a president who cannot fulfill the functions of the office,” Raskin said.
The legislation would create a 17-member commission — eight appointed by Democrats, eight by Republicans, and a chair selected by all members — consisting of former executive branch officials and doctors. This body would monitor the fitness of the commander-in-chief and request a health exam from him or her.
If the president refused, the commission could vote to remove the president from office, with the vote of the vice president.
With a Republican Senate and White House, the chances of this bill’s passage seem unlikely. However, the legislation, which invokes the 25th amendment, provides a potent political tool to keep Trump in check and put him on notice.
Passed by Congress in 1965 after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and enacted in 1967, the 25th Amendment outlines the process for replacing a president or vice president who dies or is incapacitated, resigns or is removed from office.
Under section 1 of the amendment, “In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President” rather than merely acting president. In Section 2, the president fills a vice presidential vacancy by nominating someone who is subject to confirmation by both houses of Congress.
Section 3 allows the president to voluntarily discharge his or her duties to the vice president in writing, when the president is temporarily unable to fulfill the responsibilities of the office, as in the case of a surgery. The vice president becomes acting president until the president is able to return to power through a written declaration.
Most important for the purposes of the proposed legislation is section 4, which says that if the vice president and a majority of the cabinet “or such other body as Congress may by law provide” declare in writing to the Speaker and the to the President pro tempore of the Senate that the president is unable to carry out the duties and powers of the office, the vice president becomes the acting president.
If the president declares in writing that he or she is able, the vice president and a majority of the cabinet or other body have four days to declare in writing that the president is incapacitated. If they do not, the president resumes power. If they do, the Congress has 21 days to consider the matter, and with a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate would allow the vice president to continue as acting president.
Notwithstanding Trump’s record of offensive behavior, toxic racism and hazardous policies over the past four years, his more recent actions and statements have raised serious concerns about his fitness for office and the threat he poses to national security. Since testing positive for the coronavirus, Trump has received a treatment of a variety of drugs, including steroids which, along with the virus itself, could impair his judgment and lead to behavior changes.
Although Trump claimed he “feels great” in the middle of a coughing spell and vowed to hit the campaign trail soon, his physicians are sending mixed signals and dodging questions about his health. Recently, he called off negotiations on a new coronavirus stimulus package before reversing course, and bailed out of the next presidential town hall debate with Democrat rival Joe Biden.
Facing dismal poll numbers, $421 million owed to bill collectors and possibly prison bars if he loses the election, a COVID-19 infected White House and his own diagnosis, Trump appears desperate and in meltdown mode.
In a tumultuous year where an impeachment process was unable to keep a president in check, this unstable president still has much time to inflict damage before the election and inauguration day. The 25th Amendment is another tool in the Constitution to attempt to restore democracy and the rule of law to the American system of government-run amok.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.
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