DC Abuzz About the 25th Amendment

A public debate was ignited last week on the topic following the publication of the controversial book “Fire and Fury,” by New York media journalist Michael Wolff. Below is a recent article explaining the 25th Amendment of the U.S. constitution. (Photo: Wikimedia)


25th Amendment unlikely to be invoked over Trump’s mental health

Donald Trump’s description of himself as a “very stable genius” sparked new debate this weekend about the 25th Amendment, but invoking the provision to remove a president from office is so difficult that it’s highly unlikely to come into play over concerns about Trump’s mental health, a half-dozen lawyers with expertise on the measure said.

The amendment’s language on what could lead a president to be involuntarily removed from office is spare, saying simply that the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet could take such a step when “the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

“I think it’s both its strength and its weakness,” said Jay Berman, a former chief of staff to Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), who helped craft the amendment in the 1960s. “The answer is not provided in the 25th Amendment…It just does not provide that certainty or specificity. That might be easier in the context of physical incapacity, but it would be a lot harder in the case of mental incapacity.”

The galvanizing event behind the 25th Amendment has always been clear: President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the ensuing realization that the nation had no obvious recourse if Kennedy had survived but been unable to fully function. The amendment has drawn attention only occasionally in the intervening years, and no one has ever made a serious attempt to use it to remove a president.

But the 25th Amendment became a subject of intensified speculation in Washington after author Michael Wolff reported in his new book that White House aides had expressed concerns about Trump’s mental health. POLITICO also reported that more than a dozen lawmakers — all Democrats but one — spoke on Capitol Hill last month with a Yale psychiatrist who has delivered grave warnings that the president was unraveling.

Lawyers and scholars of the amendment say the bar for invoking it is meant to be high. While impeachment requires only a majority of the House to set in motion, followed by a two-thirds Senate vote to convict, the 25th Amendment says two-thirds of both houses must agree to remove a president against his or her will. Any involuntary attempt to oust the president through the 25th Amendment also needs the vice president’s assent.

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