In a Washington Post op-ed, George Conway argues that Vice President Pence and the Cabinet could have ended Donald Trump's presidency immediately after January 6, using the 25th Amendment:
That’s because Section 4 [of the amendment] provides for the immediate disempowerment of the president once the vice president and a majority of principal executive officers declare the president unable to serve. Even if the president objects, he doesn’t get his job back right away. The matter goes to Congress. And while Congress must assemble within 48 hours to consider the issue, Section 4 gives it three weeks to debate who’s right. On Jan. 7, 2021, Trump had less than two weeks left in his term. Congress could have run out the clock. With a single sheet of paper, the vice president and Cabinet could have sidelined Trump for good.
I don't think it would have been that simple.
Section 4 of the amendment says:
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.
So far, so good. In this scenario, it's January 7 and a fed-up Pence and Cabinet make their declaration of Trump's unfitness. Pence is now the 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....
Sure, Trump had only two weeks left in his term, but he wouldn't have simply allowed Pence and the Cabinet to drive him from office prematurely. That would make him a loser. That would make him weak. So he would have denied that he was unfit and declared himself president again.
Yes, the amendment says that the president doesn't have the last word:
... 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.
So Trump would have proclaimed that he was still fit to be president and he would have declared that the entire Cabinet was fired, effective immediately. (A president can fire Cabinet members at will.) Thus, he would have prevented the Cabinet from telling Congress that their original declaration was correct and he was unfit to serve, or, if they'd already sent this message to Congress, it would no longer be clear whether they did so as "the principal officers of the executive departments." (Congress, according to the amendment, steps in only after the Cabinet and vice president dispute a president's claim of fitness to serve.)
Do you doubt that our Narcissist in Chief would have compounded the pain of January 6 by plunging us into this constitutional crisis in its aftermath, just so he could avoid the shame of being told to leave office two weeks early? Of course he would have done that.
The 25th Amendment wouldn't have rid us of Trump.
Ed. Note: Is the 25th amendment worth the paper it's written on, then? Discuss.
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