The Trump presidency officially ends on January 20, when President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn in on the steps of the Capitol – the same building which this week was the scene of violent protests and tragic loss of life.
If Democrats could have their way, however, President Trump would be gone before then, either through resignation, removal via the 25th Amendment, or impeachment. But is that likely?
Democrat Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, called for Trump’s immediate resignation, and promised quick impeachment proceedings if he doesn’t. It has been reported that Pelosi, along with Democrat Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, attempted to place a phone call to Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday to urge him to initiate a removal of the president under the 25th Amendment. According to the same reports, Pence would not take the call, hasn’t commented publicly on the subject and doesn’t support such action.
The 25th Amendment, ratified in 1967, covers several succession issues that the Constitution doesn’t address. One of those issues, covered in Section 4 of the amendment, involves the inability of a president to perform his or her duties. This section has not been used or tested in the courts since its ratification, but it sets forth a complicated process whereby the vice president and a majority of the “principals of the executive departments” – presumably meaning the president’s cabinet secretaries –send a letter to Congress declaring the president unfit.
The president can contest the letter, which then sets off further processes. All of which takes time.
Even if such a process could be accomplished in the next 12 days, a highly dubious proposition, the amendment isn’t applicable to Trump’s situation, say legal experts.
Professor Jonathan Turley, a Georgetown law professor who vocally opposed the attempt by the House of Representatives to impeach Trump a year ago, is adamant that the potential invocation of the 25th Amendment is misplaced here.
In an op-ed for USA Today, Turley observed, “The 25th Amendment was primarily designed for physical disabilities of a president.”
While finding the remarks of the president last Wednesday offensive, Turley said, “Trump’s speech alone is not evidence of incapacity or insanity. Being obnoxious and narcissistic is not grounds for removal. Indeed, such a standard would leave much of Washington vacant.”
As for impeachment, there is already a movement started by Representative Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., to obtain support for articles of impeachment she is drafting against the president. Even with support, however, the impeachment process, as evidenced by last year’s attempt to oust Trump, is itself time-consuming.
Republicans have been mostly quiet in response to the Democrats’ plans, although one or two have expressed possible support in the House. One notable Senate Republican who might be on board with impeachment is Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who said he would, “definitely consider whatever articles they might move, because I believe the president has disregarded his oath of office.”
Meanwhile, several Trump administration officials have tendered their resignations over the president’s actions, including Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao (who also happens to be the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell). Mick Mulvaney, former White House Chief of Staff for Trump, and current envoy to Northern Ireland, has also resigned, as has Matt Pottinger, deputy national security adviser to the president. Nine officials have tendered their resignations so far.
UPDATE: House Democrats plan to introduce articles of impeachment as soon as Monday, January 11.
Photo from JIM BOURG/REUTERS