Since assuming the office of the president, Donald Trump’s psychology has fast become a bipartisan issue. Recently, Senator Al Franken said that he and several of his GOP colleagues were of the opinion that President Trump is “not right mentally.” Furthermore, 35 Health professionals: psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers shortly thereafter have taken to the pages of the New York Times to register their own concerns that the President was demonstrating “grave emotional instability.”
This begs the question; can Congress remove President Trump from office without impeaching him? Well, a lot has been said about the provision Section 4 of the 25th Amendment that allows the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet to send a letter to Congress detailing the fact that the President is “unable to discharge the duties and powers of his office.” Such a letter would then immediately be the onset of a transfer of power from the President to the Vice President, subject to additional Congressional review.
The 25th Amendment that traditionally is viewed as a backdoor to removing a malevolent or incapacitated president from office was adopted in 1967: before then it was not possible, the architects of our Constitution had made it quite difficult to remove the chief executive through impeachment. Although the notion of impeaching the President seems possible theoretically, it is very unlikely for the Vice president and the entire Cabinet to unite with the sole purpose of removing the president with a clear absence of incapacitation similar to that which President Woodrow Wilson experienced after a stroke. And as if this is not enough, should there be a bipartisan consensus that President Trump is deemed unfit to serve, he still has the power to remove his Cabinet even before it takes any action against him.
However, within the 25th Amendment is another provision that surprisingly has received much less attention from many people. This provision allows the congress to be the main players in the process of removing a sitting President from office. This is not impeachment. In its place, the less popular provision in Section 4 gives the Congress the power to formulate a body to evaluate the President’s fitness for office. This effectively eliminates the need for the involvement of Cabinet Secretaries in the process of removing the president from office. There are two ways in which this section of the 25th Amendment can be interpreted.
One way is by the appointment of an independent panel of medical practitioners to be the judges of the President’s health. Former president Jimmy Carter was a great advocate of this method. He cited the fact that most US presidents were of an advanced age and could be casualties of the ill health mostly associated with age. However, since the 1990s, Carter expressed specific concern on the conflict of interest faced by the personal doctors to the President who might then be given the task to determine the president’s health.
Carter expressed concern that the doctors were often very close to their President. In many cases, the medics would be willing to down play the health issues faced by the president in a bid to help their friends: his own physician was also his tennis partner during his administration. The other way in which the provision in Section of the 25th amendment can be implemented is for the Congress to formulate an independent body with no Medical expertise to judge the fitness of the President for office. If it is decided that the president is ‘Unfit,” the Vice President and the majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of other body like the Congress may by law issue the president pro tempore the Speaker of the House of Representatives and of the Senate their signed declaration that the President is not able to perform the duties and powers of his office.
Once this is done, the Vice President would immediately assume duties and powers of the office as the Acting President. But what are the constitutional constraints put on this power? Remarkably, there are no constitutional constraints on this power. The architects of the Amendment left the provision vague on purpose to allow the congress to be flexible to decide on what criteria to use for the interpretation of the President being “unfit to serve”.
Well, President Trump’s erratic behavior in past few weeks has caused many to start doubting his fitness as the president in the discharge the duties of his office in line with the interpretation of the 25th Amendment. Although considering the removal of the President from office at the moment might be a bit too premature, it is important to understand the mechanisms set in place by our constitution that would allow removal of a president should a bipartisan consensus emerge that he is not able to be our country’s leader.
Would you support any move to remove President Trump from office?
What happens if Donald Trump is removed from office?