Nearly two weeks before President-Elect Joe Biden is to be inaugurated, calls to strip Donald Trump of his presidential powers under the 25th Amendment are growing louder in Congress after he incited an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday afternoon.
The 25th Amendment, which was ratified in 1967, deals with the presidential order of succession in case of a president’s inability to serve, whether by death, illness, or any other reason they may be incapacitated.
Below, we explain how the 25th Amendment works and how it could be applied to Trump.
What does the 25th Amendment say?
Congress passed the 25th Amendment in 1965 in order to resolve and codify the usually observed presidential line of succession following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It is composed of four sections: presidential succession, vice presidential vacancy, presidential declaration of a president’s inability to “discharge the powers and duties of his office,” and a vice presidential and cabinet declaration of a president’s inability to serve in office.
The last section, which has never been exercised before, provides a process to immediately transfer presidential powers and duties to the vice president in the case of a president who is unable or unwilling to fulfill his constitutional role and step down. In order for a president to be stripped of his powers under this section, the vice president and either a majority of the cabinet or an appointed body within Congress must declare the president unfit to serve. This transfer of power also requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress.
Though the 25th Amendment was created in order to explicate the presidential line of succession in various cases of incapacitation, it does not formally define “inability” of the president.
How can this be applied to Trump?
In order for Trump to be removed from office, Vice President Mike Pence and either a majority of Trump’s cabinet officials or a congressional body must first provide a written declaration to the president pro tempore of the Senate (Senator Chuck Grassley) and the speaker of the House (Representative Nancy Pelosi), according to The New York Times. This move would immediately make Pence the acting president.
Trump would be able to contest this decision by also sending his own written declaration of ability to Grassley and Pelosi, which would in turn trigger a four-day decision-making period for a super-majority in both houses of Congress to vote for Pence to remain as acting president. If the super-majority is reached, Trump will be permanently removed from office.
Who supports invoking the 25th Amendment?
Most Democratic lawmakers in Congress—including Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and more—have publicly expressed support for removing Trump from the presidency through the 25th Amendment. So far, one Republican–Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois–has also called to invoke the amendment.
CNN has published the full list of lawmakers backing this move here.
Does it even matter now that Trump has conceded the election?
It’s likely that, even if the 25th Amendment were invoked, Trump would not be permanently removed from office since the process was intentionally designed to be difficult.
As the New York Times notes, “To put it in context, it is even more difficult to strip a president of power under the 25th Amendment than it is under the impeachment process. A president can be impeached by a simple majority in the House and removed from office by a two-thirds vote in the Senate. Stripping a president of power under the 25th Amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers.”
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