“Air Force One,” a 1997 movie starring Harrison Ford as the President of the U.S. and Glenn Close as his Vice President, is about terrorists taking over Air Force One and holding the president hostage until their demand — release from prison of a real bad-guy terrorist — is met.
During the plot of this movie, the imaginary president’s Cabinet circulates a letter declaring the president unable to perform his duties and, thus, the Glenn Close- character would become Acting President. Even though the letter has the required number of Cabinet signatures, when it comes time for her to sign “Vice President” Close puts the letter in a drawer, presumably to show faith in the president escaping but also, maybe, because in her fictional vice president’s mind, she knew the constitutional crisis that would be created if she signed the letter herself and the political firestorm that would ensue.
The Constitutional amendment under which that fictional Cabinet tried to take action is not fictional. The 25th Amendment lays out ways to replace a president from physical incapacity or death to ability to perform the duties. The Amendment, adopted in the years after President Kennedy’s assassination, mostly deals with the more likely scenarios of a President dying in office or, less likely, being in a coma or, in President George W. Bush’s case, while he was sedated and undergoing a colonoscopy.
Article 4 of the 25th Amendment, never used, lays out how, if the President is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” the Vice President becomes Acting President after a majority of the Cabinet and the Vice President sign a letter saying he is unable to perform his duties and they notify the Congress.
Congress then has a short period of time, during which the Vice President becomes Acting President, to debate and vote on the situation, which also gives the President time to appeal.
With a Republican House and Senate and Cabinet members appointed by Trump, the likelihood of this scenario is minimal. Taking action to impeach the President is not to accuse him of a crime — in this case the measure is “high crimes and misdemeanors” which the framers considered an abuse of power.
Clearly there are huge political undertones if this ever were to occur and the process is rightfully wrought with them so coups are not so easily undertaken in our form of government.
Folks, I presume, are looking at that amendment with the short tenure of President Trump including such things that are within his authority but questionable in his actions:
- Firing the FBI chief who is overseeing an investigation of the president’s campaign for collusion with Russia
- His silly lies
- Alleged violations of the emolument clause
- Providing highly classified information to our adversary (the Russians)
- Saying he’d be “honored” to meet with North Korea’s dictatorial and murderous head of state
- Praising dictators while snubbing our closest allies
- Charging President Obama wiretapped him
- Establishing a commission to investigate voter fraud that doesn’t exist
- Implying he is taping Oval Office meetings and blackmailing, in a tweet, the former FBI director with making those alleged tapes public
Well, you get the idea, and I’m trying to keep this brief.
No one will talk in public about their reviews of this amendment, I’m sure, because the consequences of even a discussion of the issue would have on the country and our international standing, not to mention that it would mobilize Trump’s still-strong base of voters who still believe he will keep his promises to provide good jobs.
The likelihood of a majority of Trump’s Cabinet signing a letter saying the President is mentally disturbed and should be replaced is next to nil. To think Vice President Pence, the ultimate loyalist who has been sent out to, knowingly or unknowingly, lie for the President is not one to act hastily either.
As we all try to absorb the reality of most of his actions, comments and tweets, the only conclusion we can hold on to is that he must have mental health issues because no sane person would have our government in such chaos. For us to stay sane we must think he is insane.
The likelihood of impeachment with a GOP-controlled House and Senate is nearly impossible. But that’s another reason the 2018 mid-term elections are very important. If the Democrats were to win a majority in the House, they would have the power to begin impeachment proceedings, which would need 51 percent of members supporting it. The House charges, or indicts, the President but the Senate finds him guilty or not. In the Senate, it takes a 2/3’s majority to find him guilty thus Republicans would have to join Democrats in finding him guilty.
It’s another reason Trump has to maintain strong support among Republicans in Congress — they would control the findings in the Senate whether they are in the majority or not.
But the option is out there. We are in month five of Trump’s tenure and some have questioned his mental health long before this.