Tuesday 25 April 2017

There's a way to get rid of President Trump without impeaching him, and it's called the 25th Amendment

In real life, the 25th has been invoked only twice, each time for a matter of hours while a President underwent a colonoscopy. But it almost removed Reagan from power, and it could be the death knell for Donald Trump's presidential career

Donald Trump Photo: Evan Vucci
Donald Trump Photo: Evan Vucci

Matthew Norman

In a thoughtful bid to divert the mind from the potential horrors of a “clean” Brexit, I ask you to consider a clean Trexit. How might the US free itself and the rest of us from the ultimate menace posed by Donald Trump?

Dystopia doesn’t formally open for business until Friday’s inauguration, when the entertainment will feature a rendition of the popular Slavic ballad “Golden Showers In Moscow” by the Russian State Singers. Yet even before Trump takes the oath to protect the Constitution, attention turns to how the Constitution might protect us from him.

All we know of Trump, including the fact that he repeatedly asked national security advisers why it’s poor form to use nukes as first strike weapons, gives genuine cause to regard him as an existential threat. Or as Kate McKinnon’s Hillary pithily put it in a Love Actually skit on Saturday Night Live: “He cray… He will kill us all.”

Currently, the assumption is that if ever Trump appeared to be on the verge of summoning the “football” (the briefcase with the codes), the secret service would intervene to remove him from the planet while there is still a viable planet from which to remove him.

But that assumption is too nebulous to give comfort. Although there are precedents of a palpably insane ruler’s personal protection squad taking him out (Caligula’s murder by his Praetorian Guard, and so on), it would be complacent to rely on that.

Assassinating the elected leader of a major democracy is such a giant step that one can easily foresee a catastrophic failure of nerve during the frantic approach of the doomsday scenario. And no such order can be countermanded. Four minutes later, as Hillary Clinton revealed in a debate, the missile departs its sub or silo.

So (and forgive me if this sounds fey) it would be nice if there was a quicker formal method than impeachment – which takes months while a President remains in office – to prevent Trump from bringing about an extinction level event.

Thankfully, there is. Ladies and gentlemen, say a rousing hi and “Good day, y’all” to the 25th Amendment. Adopted in 1967, until now this has been among the more obscure additions to the US Constitution. It lacks the grandeur of the First (freedom of speech, and so on), the gruesome results of the Second (right to bear arms), the courtroom drama of pleading the Fifth (right not to self-incriminate), or the historic import of the 13th (abolition of slavery).

Many will know it – and specifically Section 3 – solely from The West Wing episode where it wasn’t activated, as required, to transfer power to the Vice President while surgeons operated on Jed Bartlet’s gunshot wound.

That plot line referenced the actual confusion when Ronald Reagan was shot. His VP, George Bush the Elder, was out of contact, and the unstable Al Haig mistakenly told a press conference, “I’m in charge”.

In real life, the 25th has been invoked only twice, each time for a matter of hours while a president underwent a colonoscopy. Reagan had one in 1985, and chose to have a pre-cancerous polyp instantly removed. In 2007, George Bush the Younger elected to leave a menacing foreign body discovered in his colon (Mr Tony Blair?) in situ.

But also in the 25th is Section 4, which reads as follows: “Whenever the Vice President and a majority [of the US cabinet] 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.”

Under this mutiny clause, the VP and a majority of the 15 cabinet officers can stand down a president whose mental capacity they doubt. Late in Reagan’s second term, when his attention span had become negligible (remind you of anyone?), his inner circle came close to doing so.

Should it be used, and should the President challenge it, the VP and the cabinet send the ultimate decision to Congress. If two thirds of each House votes that the President is unfit to govern, the VP continues as Acting President.

Comfortingly, Mike Pence’s lack of charisma and grossly anti-abortion and homophobic stances make the 25th his likeliest path to the Oval Office. Pence seems relatively sane, however poisonous his views, and his ambition gives him a huge incentive to act if Trump’s tiny fingers are twitching over the nuclear trigger; or solid proof about his Muscovite connections destroys what might be called his presidential integrity; or any myriad of potential disqualifications come to light.

Also comfortingly, several of Trump’s cabinet appointees have already showed enough disdain for his tweet-happy policymaking to suggest they take the McKinnon-Hillary point.

These are violent and uncharted waters. But what other waters are there with President Donald J Trump? It’s lovely to know that there is a constitutional mechanism to remove him if required.

Trump may be cray. But so long as Mike Pence and eight of the 15 cabinet members are willing to use the 25th, and enough Republicans in Congress regard the threat of a primary challenge as a price worth paying for survival, he may not kill us all.

Independent News Service

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