After failing to gather any real momentum to impeach President Donald Trump, some Democrats are now floating the idea of using the 25th Amendment to oust him.
This little-known constitutional amendment serves as an escape-hatch measure for removing the president if he is incapacitated. It is quite different from impeachment.
Impeachment is the method that the Founders set up to prosecute cases of presidential criminality. It requires members of Congress to bring specific charges of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
But absent these charges, some of Trump’s detractors are now embracing other methods to overthrow him.
Anti-Trump commentators and the few Democrats now suggesting use of the 25th Amendment have suggested that the president is mentally unstable.
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“The judgment [about the president’s mental state] is not mine to make,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said to reporters after proposing a commission to examine Trump’s mental health, according to Politico.
“The judgment constitutionally is to be made by the vice president and the Cabinet, or the vice president and a new body. We have an institutional responsibility to set that body up.”
Pulling out the 25th Amendment is the logical next step for those who have been looking for a way to depose Trump since he entered office, though it’s a serious departure from the intent of those who passed the amendment.
Democrats have trotted out psychologists on Capitol Hill to prove that Trump is unstable and should be removed from office.
This alone seriously flirts with violating the “ Goldwater Rule ,” which prevents psychologists from offering a “professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”
The American Psychiatric Association created this rule after Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater successfully sued a magazine that had published a survey of psychologists deeming him unfit for office.
The survey was misleading, clearly partisan, and damaged the reputation of psychologists as a profession. Moreover, the idea of removing a president based on the whims of an elite group of supposedly neutral neutral psychologists is an affront to democracy.
This is not to say the 25th Amendment doesn’t serve a valuable purpose. If a president suffers a disability that would make him unable to perform his duties, this tool is an emergency stopgap to solve the problem.
It was never conceived of as a partisan tool to depose a hated president.
‘We Stumbled Along’
Perhaps been the most obvious case where the 25th Amendment was needed occurred a generation before it was actually passed.
On Sept. 25, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson suffered a collapse and a massive stroke while campaigning in Colorado for the U.S. to enter the League of Nations.
The League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations, had been Wilson’s pet project, and despite warnings from doctors he had pushed himself to the limit on its behalf.
After the stroke, Wilson went blind in one eye, was paralyzed on the left side, and lay unconscious. While he eventually awoke from the coma, he was never the same. For the most part, he was a barely-functioning invalid.
Incredibly, Wilson’s wife practically ran the White House for the two remaining years of his term, only leaving the most serious acts of policy and politics to her husband, which by that point he was barely able to perform.
“This is the worst instance of presidential disability we’ve ever had,” saidhistorian John Milton Cooper. “We stumbled along [for eighteen months] … without a fully functioning president.”
Wilson even considered running for what would then be an unprecedented third term, but Democratic Party leaders carefully selected a compromise candidate who would run instead.
While Wilson’s Cabinet and the Washington political establishment were wary about forcing the president out of office, many fretted about what could be done if a president couldn’t perform his duties in an emergency.
The debate went more or less dormant for half a century until the assassination of a president forced the nation to seriously reconsider legal ways of replacing—either temporarily or permanently—a president for health-related reasons.
While health scares for President Dwight Eisenhower led to some informal agreements about transmitting the duties of the president in a time of crisis, nothing was enacted until the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The line of succession had been laid out by the Presidential Succession Act , but some began a push to clearly define these ambiguous rules in the Constitution while also addressing what could be done if the president was alive but experiencing a sudden health crisis.