White House

Trump and the 25th Amendment - Constitution or coup?

Steve Kurtz

In ancient Greece, the sons of great playwright Sophocles tried to have him declared incompetent because he spent so much time working on his tragedies and not enough taking care of his estate. 

Something similar is happening today, where Donald Trump’s opponents want him declared incompetent because they say he concentrates so much on his tweets and doesn’t properly take care of his presidential duties.

The mechanism through which they hope to declare him unfit for office is the 25th Amendment. Adopted fifty years ago, the Amendment is a patch for the Constitution, dealing with matters of presidential succession.

In particular, Section 4 allows the Vice President to become Acting President if it’s determined the President is incapable of discharging his duties. This section is meant to handle situations where the President is injured, or has a stroke, or develops dementia. But some people see it as an escape clause.

It’s one thing to oppose Trump, it’s another to play politics through psychiatry. There’s a difference between being crazy and driving your opponents crazy.

Keith Olbermann has tweeted it should be invoked, and Trump removed. New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat wrote a whole column arguing for it.

Most notably, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD)—who has attacked Trump for his “pattern of behavior” and “seemingly deranged tweets”--is promoting legislation that would make it easier to look into the president’s mental state under the 25th Amendment.  The bill already has 23 co-sponsors, all Democrats.

Section 4 of the 25th Amendment has never been invoked.  As a practical matter, it won’t be happening any time soon--it would require the consent of Vice President Pence and over half the cabinet, and it’s hard to imagine any of them would go along with it.

But that it’s seriously being considered by a not insignificant number of citizens is frightening.

It’s one thing to oppose Trump, it’s another to play politics through psychiatry.

The truth is, Trump as president is pretty much the same Trump we saw on the campaign trail.  He announced his candidacy with a speech many thought outrageous.  All during the campaign, he tweeted up a storm. Even after he got his party’s nomination, he didn’t pivot, as some expected, and stayed the unconventional course.

The public saw this, liked him (or at least his populist message), and voted him in.

At present, plenty of Americans don’t like the job he’s doing, or how he’s doing it--including the tweeting--but the remedies for that are voting him out in 2020 (assuming he runs) and, before that, speaking out against him and voting for politicians who oppose him. 

The wrong solution is to force him out by misusing the Constitution.  Even if somehow the President’s enemies could get Mike Pence to go along, and bypass other requirements, kicking President Trump out of office for being unfit, while Trump himself is loudly disagreeing, would create a crisis so great it could imaginably lead to civil war.

There’s no denying Trump is unorthodox, but he’s also gotten a fair amount done, appointing judges, signing laws and changing presidential policies.  Most likely this is the real reason so many want him removed.  But there’s a difference between being crazy and driving your opponents crazy.

By the way, Sophocles won his case.  In court, he read from his latest play, "Oedipus At Colonus," and the jury declared him competent.

When it comes to President Trump, he’s already been tried in the court of public opinion.  They got a good look at him and decided he should be President.  To remove him now on sham charges would not be politicians upholding their constitutional duty, it would be a coup.

Steve Kurtz is a producer for the Fox News Channel, and author of "Steve’s America (the perfect gift for people named Steve)".