Colson: As a nation, we could plead the 25th
Hit & Run
As of Monday, Feb. 20, 2017, nominal Republican Donald Trump had finished up his first month at president, and what a month it was.
Between the gaffes of his aides, the unmitigated Democratic resistance to his Cabinet picks (not to mention constant demonstrations and protests among his detractors around the country), and the ongoing turmoil over exactly what his connections have been and are to the despotic Russian President Vladimir Putin, it hasn’t been very pretty to watch or, I suspect, endure from within.
But the plain fact of the matter is that we have a president who did not win the popular vote presiding over an administration that does not have the kind of majority support an administration needs to succeed in our system of government, and whose sanity and competence are now being openly questioned in a broad range of communications media.
A recent poll by the Public Policy Polling group found that 46 percent of U.S. voters favor impeaching Trump, and that the same number oppose the idea.
One Trump detractor, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, recently suggested that one way by which we can rid ourselves of President Trump without either impeaching him (a lengthy process with highly dubious prospects in a government controlled by Republicans) or holding a new election (as I somewhat facetiously proposed in a recent column).
That potential method of de-Trumpification, Kristof wrote last weekend, is the use of Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, our beleaguered national founding document.
The amendment, in its entirety, was proposed in 1965 and ratified by the states within a couple of years, and cleared up some rather vague language in the original Constitution about succession questions involving both the president and the vice president. It included provisions for shoving the president out of office if he or she is found to be incapable of executing the duties of the office, though the precise definition of “incapacity” remains murky.
For those curious about details, I’ve learned that Nebraska was the first state to ratify the amendment July 12, 1965, six days after it was passed by both houses of Congress.
The amendment became law Feb. 10, 1967, after Nevada became the 38th state to ratify (Colorado was number 18 on Feb. 3, 1966). Curiously, only 47 states formally ratified Amendment 25 — Georgia, North Dakota and South Carolina never did, and the District of Columbia wasn’t invited to the ratification party.
Ratification took a year and seven months, which might be seen as about an average length of time for such things, at least according to Wikipedia’s list.
By the way, the 25th is not the last of our list of amendments to the founding document.
In 1971, after a ratification period of only about three months, the 26th Amendment prohibited “the denial of the right of U.S. citizens, eighteen years of age or older, to vote on account of age.”
And in 1992, more than 200 years after it was first proposed (in 1789), the states finally ratified the 27th Amendment, which delays laws affecting Congressional salary from taking effect until after the next election. This means members of Congress can’t vote themselves a pay raise and start picking up the checks right away. I wonder why that one took so long.
Given that amending the Constitution takes approval by two-thirds of the members in both houses of Congress and affirmation by three-quarters of the states — something nigh onto impossible in our current political climate — I doubt if we’ll be seeing many more amendments in the immediate future.
But back to the amendment at hand, I found a few more interesting factoids.
For instance, did you know that Dick Cheney was president of these United States on two different occasions, in 2002 and 2007?
It’s true, and it happened when then-President George W. Bush underwent successive colonoscopy examinations. Evidently the prez was not all that confident in the doctors’ abilities, and he twice invoked the 25th to formally transfer the powers of the office to Cheney, if only for a matter of hours.
The only other times the 25th has been invoked were in 1973, for the appointment of Gerald Ford to replace the disgraced Spiro Agnew as veep; and twice in 1974, during the chaotic time of Richard Nixon’s resignation to avoid impeachment over Watergate, first to elevate Ford to the presidency and second to appoint Nelson Rockefeller to take over the vice presidency.
But Section 4, which pertains to removal of a president for reasons of incapacity, has remained dormant.
Until, perhaps, now.
As President Trump zigzags erratically over the political map, ruling by tantrums and tweets, his sanity and competence have generated increasing comment, such as Kristof’s musings, a panel discussion on CNN, and nervous talk in places of assembly all over the land.
Section 4 provides that the vice president and or Congress, in various combinations of power, can declare a sitting president to be incapacitated and unable to do the job, thereby removing said president from office and putting the veep in as “acting president” until or unless the incapacity ends and the president resumes office.
There are many complications and intricacies to all this, of course, and myriad ways it could play out.
And the alt-right — Trump’s power base and the intellectual underpinning of many of his ideas — naturally has concluded that this particular dump-Trump methodology is doomed to failure.
Then there’s Trump himself, who already has shown his massive contempt for the rule of law, and who just might see any effort to invoke the 25th as justification for martial law and for declaring himself president for life.
In any event, it’s all very interesting, don’t you think?
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