What is the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution and can it be invoked to remove Donald Trump from office?

Members of Donald Trump’s cabinet on Wednesday discussed the possibility of removing the US president from office after his supporters stormed the Capitol, three US news channels reported.

The discussions focused on the 25th amendment to the US Constitution, which allows for a president’s removal by the vice president and cabinet if he is judged "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."

CNN quoted unnamed Republican leaders saying the 25th amendment had been discussed, saying they had described Trump as "out of control."

It is not the first time during his presidency that the amendment has been mentioned in relation to Mr Trump. 

Two years ago, an explosive account from a senior official of Mr Trump’s administration  claimed the cabinet were so worried by the president’s erratic, impulsive behaviour they discussed using the 25th amendment to remove him from power. 

Published in the New York Times, the anonymous op-ed revealed that senior figures considered deploying the extreme measure to oust the president.

In pictures: Donald Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol Building

What is the 25th Amendment of the US constitution?

It was instituted after the death of John F Kennedy, providing a formal mechanism by which the Vice-President could take power if the president dies, resigns, or is removed from office.

It also allows for the Vice-President to take over temporarily if the president cannot fulfill his or her duties, such as when President George W Bush went under general anaesthetic for two colonoscopies. Dick Cheney took over on each of those occasions.

How can a president be removed from office?

This comes in section four, which states: "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.”

In practice what that means is Mike Pence plus 13 of Mr Trump’s 24 cabinet members would have to agree.

On what grounds might a president be removed?

The amendment is vague about the specifics. However, John D Feerick, former dean of Fordham Law School who served as one of its architects, said Senators who signed the amendment into law were clear it must be based on "reliable facts regarding the president’s physical or mental faculties," not personal prejudice.

"If you read the debates, it’s also clear that policy and political differences are not included, unpopularity is not included, poor judgment, incompetence, laziness, or impeachable conduct — none of that, you’ll find in the debates in the congressional record, is intended to be covered by Section IV," he told Business Insider.

What if the president refuses?

The mechanism was designed for a president who was incapacitated, not for one willing to fight back.

He or she is protected by a safeguard. Within 21 days of being triggered, the amendment requires two-thirds of both houses to uphold the decision. If they don’t then power reverts to the president.

Will the 25th amendment be invoked, and can Trump be removed from office now?

Very unlikely. It requires both Mr Pence and a majority of the cabinet to agree to oust the president. If he were not physically or mentally incapacitated – through ill health, a stroke or some such – it would effectively amount to a palace coup.

In other words, Mr Trump’s very closest allies are the ones to make the decision.

Any number of Democrats, TV pundits and armchair psychiatrists can label Mr Trump as unfit for office but it makes not one scrap of difference.

Just like impeachment, the tables are tilted to make it very difficult to remove a sitting president from power.

Read more: Who was the woman who died after being shot during the riots?

 

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