We're quite good at closing the barn door after the horse has bolted - for example, heightening airport security after 9/11, repairing New Orleans’ levees after Katrina, and now, likely banning gun bump stocks after the Las Vegas massacre. But let's not wait until after a nuclear war with North Korea before impeaching the president, or exercising Article 25, Section 4 of the Constitution.
They did not publish it, needless to say.
Here is Article 25, Section 4:
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, 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.
Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days 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. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
It occurred to me that Article 25, Section 4, would be a relatively painless way – from the point of view of the Republican Party – to remove Donald Trump from office.
The more I thought about it, the more it became clear that exercising Article 25, Section 4, would not only be relatively painless for the Republicans, it could rejuvenate the party and greatly improve its chances for retaining its Congressional majorities in 2018.
This is not an absurd scenario.
The first step is a big one – unprecedented, controversial, historic. After that, though, it would be politics as usual, with the Republicans calling the shots:
1) Mike Pence sends a letter, co-signed by eight cabinet members, to Orrin Hatch and Paul Ryan, declaring that Donald Trump is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. The Vice-President immediately, automatically, becomes Acting President.
How might that work? Can you imagine the temper tantrum that would trigger? Would guards have to escort Trump out of the Oval Orifice? Would devoted Trump staffers protest to the point where they were arrested by the secret service?
Trump has declared bankruptcy three times. He is comfortable with a strategy in which he appears to be a loser if, in reality, he wins by it.
Trump has expressed his dismay about how much harder it is to be President than he thought it would be. He has no concept of the honor, one of the greatest in the world, of being the President of the United States. He does not understand the historical significance of the office. He feels none of the awe that any politician and most Americans would feel in his place. The White House has no special aura for him – “a dump,” he called it – and he spends as much time away from it as he can, in some enclave of Trumpland.
Under Article 25, Section 4, the President’s self-esteem might be somewhat soothed by the fact that Mike Pence would not replace him as President. Pence would remain Vice-President. Pence's official role would be Acting President.
A key point of Section 4 is that, unlike a successful impeachment, it’s not forever. According to Article 25, Section 4, Trump could resume the Presidency in three weeks (a few days more, if Congress is not in session). All he would need is the support of 1/3 of Congress. At that point – at Pence’s assumption of the Acting Presidency – that 1/3 would look easy-peasy, especially to a congenital optimist. The prospect of a battle royal, with daily headlines, and a victorious return might appeal to Trump.
Following Trump’s removal, opportunities in his world – as opposed to the alien world of Washington – might arise which he would regard as preferable – more profitable, less stressful, in the sort of endeavors he has mastered. He might host a new late night talk show on Fox. He might restart the Dubai Trump Tower project. He might not be interested in resuming an office which would prohibit his taking advantage of such opportunities.
2) If, immediately after Pence’s invocation of Article 25, Section 4, Trump’s lawyers were to file a letter declaring that "no inability exists," Pence still would be guaranteed at least 25 days as Acting President (four days for him to reply, then 21 days before a deciding vote).
(Assuming that a few ducks had been lined up in a row before Pence and the Cabinet made their move, the pro-Trump forces in Congress would face enough procedural motions and legal wrangles – the ambiguities in Article 25, Section 4, are glaringly obvious – to stretch out deliberations for the maximum 21 days, and perhaps even longer.)
Twenty-one days is a long time. Within those three weeks, the ultra-Conservative Pence could demonstrate that he is the President that Trump voters wanted.
Acting President Pence could double-down on Trump’s rescission of DACA – no deals with the Democrats.
Now that the Supreme Court seems amenable to the Trump Travel Ban, Acting President Pence could expand its scope, add more countries, add more visa restrictions.
Acting President Pence could begin building that stupid wall.
Acting President Pence could renew attacks on Planned Parenthood.
Acting President Pence could withdraw our troops from Syria.
Acting President Pence could invite Putin to the White House for high level talks.
As for the North Korean problem, Acting President Pence could urge recognition of North Korea as a nuclear power (Steve Bannon’s position) and pressure other nuclear powers for a nuclear summit meeting to which North Korea would be invited. That (not the summit meeting, just our advocacy of it) would bring to an end the threat of nuclear war with North Korea.
3) The Breitbart wing of the party would find itself wrong-footed by a consistently ultra-conservative, yet competently sane and rational Administration. The Republicans would face fewer ultra-right challenges in the 2018 primaries than they would have with the embattled and ineffective Trump in office. In the 2018 Congressional elections, Trump-traumatized moderates, having breathed a sigh of relief, would extend a vote (a literal vote) of gratitude to the party that got rid of him.
4) If, at some time, Trump’s physicians were to come up with the right cocktail for whatever it is that ails him, and the Republican Party were to feel that political expediency called for reinstating Trump, it could be done without any fuss. If Trump were to reassume the Presidency, it would be as a figurehead - an entertaining one - with Pence and his coterie continuing to call the shots.
If there is anything unreasonable about the above analysis of Article 25, Section 4, and how the Republican Party could use it to their advantage, let me know. I don’t see it.
Sssshhhh. Tell no one.