How Does the 25th Amendment Work?

Until very recently, unless you were a political scientist or a fan of “The West Wing,” you might not have heard of the 25th Amendment. Now, it’s everywhere — mostly in the form of campaigns from people on the left who want the United States to use the powers of the 25th to remove President Donald Trump from office.

But what is the 25th Amendment? How does it work? For those concerned about the future of the American presidency and frustrated with Trump’s conduct, is this amendment actually a smart — or practical — option to employ?

Let’s start with the source: The 25th Amendment itself, adopted in 1967 after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy sparked a conversation about the presidential line of succession. The amendment has four sections pertaining to how to handle situations in which the president is unable to perform his or her duties, and it has been invoked only a handful of times.

Several presidents famously used the 25th Amendment to temporarily assign responsibilities to their vice presidents when they knew they would be incapacitated, as for example when President George W. Bush received a colonoscopy.

Basically, what some Trump opponents are proposing is this: Based on the president’s behavior, which has sparked concerns among some that he’s unfit for office, government officials should band together to exercise the power of the 25th and remove him from office. This is separate from impeachment, a process that would take place in Congress.

Section Four is of the most interest to those suddenly bringing up a “25th Amendment solution“:

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.

There’s a lot to unpack there.

In order for Trump to be removed from office with the help of the 25th Amendment, Vice President Mike Pence and a majority of the cabinet would need to submit statements saying he was unfit for duty. That’s a tough call, as Pence has repeatedly backed the president — even in the aftermath of controversial comments and actions — and Trump’s cabinet remains extremely loyal.

But that’s not the end of the road. Once officials gather sufficient documentation, they’d need to take it to Congress, which would have to assemble to discuss the situation — and take a 2/3 vote removing the president from office. Given the strong partisan politics that have been lighting up headlines this year, it seems unlikely that Democrats would find enough Republican defectors to secure a 2/3 majority.

Some Democrats in Congress are trying to use what they think of as a possible backdoor by establishing a “Commission on Presidential Capacity that could determine the president is unable to do his job. For the commission to form, legislation would need to pass the House and Senate — unlikely in the present political climate.

But even if it did, the commission couldn’t bring the issue directly to Congress for consideration and an attempt at a 2/3 vote. Mike Pence could still strike down the attempt, as his testimony to Trump’s incapacity would still be required.

Applying the 25th Amendment to the president, in other words, would require a large number of GOP loyalists to determine that President Trump is physically incapable of performing his job responsibilities — a pretty unlikely turn of events.

However, voters who feel that the Trump presidency is not serving the American people have another option: showing up in the 2018 midterms to reshape Congress — and again in 2020 to vote for a different president.

Photo Credit: Arlington National Cemetery/Flickr

67 comments

Margie F
Margie FOURIE8 days ago

Thank you. Just give him a chance. In three years time you can elect someone perfect.

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Paul B
Paul B8 days ago

Chris B. And neither is this president. You have been brainwashed by all the lies in the media. You do realize that just about everything they have published has been proven misrepresentation, conjecture, distortion and in many cases outright lies. Not sure where you get your facts, but you have fallen prey to the propaganda.
Just because you feel victim to political correctness doesn't make anything Trump did wrong. Sure he could be more "polite" but that is not a crime or even bad. He has america's best interest as evidenced by the many things he has already accomplished. He isn't racist or sexist, he is a common man who has a plan that the people of this country elected him to execute. He responds to the constant barrage of lies and crap like you seem to believe, although not a single peice of evidence exists to support any of the accusations... just speculation and hearsay, conjecture and conspiracy theories.

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chris B
chris B9 days ago

Can't respect a president that doesn't respect the office or the country. He's an embarrassment.

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chris B
chris B9 days ago

It only works if you use it.
Bull pucky Paul B - None of the other Presidents were looney tunes or rude or ignorant or self-centered or worried about crowd size w/EVERYTHING or continuing to make money on our dime or spending taxpayers $ with no regard or have no policies . . . AND they could all find their limousines. Trump sucks as a president and a human being.

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Paul B
Paul B9 days ago

Roberto M. You don't have to "like" the President, as many didn't especially "like" many former Presidents like Obama, Bush, Clinton, Carter, LBJ, Roosevelt, Wilson, even Lincoln and Washington I am sure had many detractors, and many others, but the office and person duly elected to that office should be respected. Argue about policy, disagree with agendas, debate paths forward for the country, that is democracy, but we should keep the petty personal attacks to a minimum.

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Danuta W
Danuta W10 days ago

thank you for sharing

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David F
David F10 days ago

Debbie- is all over every Trump conspiracy, like fly’s on stink.
Yet she never leaves any links.
That would be so much more fun:-)

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Shelley w
Shelley w10 days ago

Trump is crazy like a fox. He just negotiated a cease fire in Syria with Russia. He won the election.
People need to respect the democratic process.

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Roberto M
Roberto M11 days ago

i do not like Donald Trump

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Lisa M
Lisa M11 days ago

Marianne C. is correct! The GOP needs their usefull idiot. He is actually a useLESS idiot, but they are useless idiots so he serves their purposes well.

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