Congress Considers Panel To Evaluate Removing Trump For Psychological Incompetence
Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution provides a legal means for the removal of a President of the United States who is unable to perform the duties of the presidency. The section reads: “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. Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days 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. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.”
Yesterday, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, a member of Congress suggested the formation of a panel (“such other body as Congress may by law provide”) to consider whether Donald Trump is capable of fulfilling his duties as President. Representative Earl Blumenauer explained, “Like many people, I have noticed renewed interest in the 25th Amendment, as we have seen erratic behavior out of the White House, an inability of Donald Trump to even tell whether it rained on him during his inaugural speech, and repeating false statements that are demonstrably wrong.
Last Friday, the mechanism to deal with Presidential incapacity, the 25th Amendment, celebrated its 50th anniversary. I became intrigued with its history and application because it is clear, whether with Donald Trump or a future President, this mechanism is very important. Accidents can happen: President Reagan suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s that concerned his staff. President Wilson was incapacitated by a stroke, and his wife, Edith, effectively governed the United States for months.
It is only a matter of time before we face these challenges again. As I examined the amendment, it became clear that, in the case of mental or emotional incapacity, there is a glaring flaw. For a mentally unstable, paranoid, or delusional President, the 25th Amendment has no guarantee of its application. In fact, it is likely that it would fail.
As written, the 25th Amendment requires the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet to concur that the President is no longer capable of exercising authority. There are other safeguards. It would take time to process. Ultimately, two-thirds of both Houses of Congress must agree.
But look at the current Cabinet. Even if one thinks that a group with no meaningful government experience, all approved in a heightened partisan context, most of whom don’t even know the President personally, could objectively exercise the power should the President become mentally incapacitated, the larger question is whether they would ever be allowed to do so.
A President who is paranoid or delusional is very unlikely to tolerate dissent within the ranks. He or she could simply fire any Cabinet member who would stand up to them.
That is why we need to exercise the other part of the 25th Amendment that allows Congress to designate another body, instead of the Cabinet. Who could exercise that authority with the confidence of the American public and with the knowledge of what it takes to understand the personal and political stresses of the Presidency?
I submit that the best failsafe to a President who is emotionally unstable would be to impanel our previous Presidents and Vice Presidents to make that determination.
Think about how it would work. Currently, there are 10 bipartisan former distinguished Americans who, in most cases, enjoy even greater public support than when they left office. Most importantly, there is no group of people better suited to evaluate the evidence and the dynamics at work for the good of the country and the President who needs help.
Now, we have made real progress with mental illness. We have made it easier to get care. We are taking away the stigma for the one in five Americans who suffer from mental health issues. We find people to be more open and candid and accepting of themselves and others. We are making real strides in terms of treatment and acceptance.
But all of this requires access to help; and this drama should not play out with somebody whose fingers are on the nuclear buttons and whose every pronouncement can unsettle diplomatic conditions, affect war and peace, and the global economy.
Having Congress establish this panel of former Presidents and Vice Presidents from both parties as a guardian and failsafe mechanism is important, and it needs to happen as soon as possible.
We never know when catastrophe might strike. There is no good time to fix this problem. In today’s world of alternative facts and fake news, in a sea of bitter partisan controversy, we need to have a mechanism that can be reliable, command public confidence, and be above politics.
It is hard to think of a group that would collectively have more support and credibility than the distinguished Americans who have been in that position and, regardless of partisan differences, whose allegiance to America is unquestioned.
We need to start now to protect the integrity of the most powerful position on the planet.”