The 25th amendment is a fantasy

Rick Perry is not the one you’ve been waiting for.

President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting, Monday, June 12, 2017, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting, Monday, June 12, 2017, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Trump’s unhinged tweet on Sunday morning — a video of Trump beating up a man with a CNN logo superimposed over his face — spurred calls to remove Trump by invoking the 25th amendment.

The 25th amendment was passed after the assassination of President Kennedy to clarify the line of succession if the president is killed or incapacitated. Section Four allows for the removal of the president in the event “the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

The calls for a 25th amendment “solution” spanned the political spectrum. From the left, an impassioned plea from former MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann.

From the right, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who has been floating the idea since May.

The concept took hold on Sunday, with the hashtag #25thAmendmentNow trending nationally on Twitter.

Spoiler: This is never going to happen.

One thing that is seldom discussed is the actual procedure, outlined in the constitution, to remove the president via the 25th amendment. It is much more difficult than impeachment.


First, you need both the Vice President and a majority of Trump’s cabinet to submit a written declaration that Trump is unable to carry out his duties. To give you an idea about how unlikely this is, watch this cabinet meeting from last month where each cabinet member takes turns lavishing Trump with praise.

This is perhaps the group of people least likely to turn on Trump. At the time of this meeting, Trump had already made many ill-advised tweets — from attacking the media to suggesting he taped his conversations in the White House.

But that’s not all. Even if the cabinet decided to invoke the 25th amendment with a written declaration, a two-thirds majority of the House and Senate is required to actually remove Trump from office.

The process for removal via impeachment is much simpler. It only requires a majority vote in the House and a two-thirds majority in the Senate. This is also almost unfathomable in the current political environment — almost every Republican in Congress continues to support Trump — but there is an election in 2018 that could change the calculation.


There is an effort in Congress to invoke the 25th amendment without support from Trump’s cabinet. The 25th amendment allows for a declaration of incapacity by “such other body as Congress may by law provide.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) has introduced a bill to create an “Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity.” The bill commission “would be a nonpartisan panel appointed by congressional leaders composed of four physicians, four psychiatrists and three others — such as former presidents, vice presidents or other former senior U.S. government officials.” He’s attracted a couple of dozen Democratic co-sponsors.

But even if Raskin’s bill somehow became law and the new commission found Trump was incapacitated, Vice President Pence could still effectively veto the commission’s recommendations. Even if Pence went along, it would still require a two-thirds majority of the House and the Senate to actually remove Trump.

Attention is a precious resource. The focus on the 25th amendment, which is little more than a fantasy, has the potential to distract from less sexy but more pressing matters. The Senate, for example, is still trying to cobble together votes from their health care bill, which could cost 22 million people their health insurance. Focused engagement on a few key Senators could make a huge difference. The 25th amendment will not.