Here we go again! In the aftermath of the mismanaged U.S. military pullout in Afghanistan, calls to impeach the president, or demands for him to resign, are being heard daily.
Our republic cannot stand if lawmakers resort to undoing elections via impeachment every few years. If we, the electorate, are voting for undeserving or incompetent candidates then that is on us, and we need to reexamine how we chose whom to vote for.
Realize that in our nation’s history only three presidents have been formally impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. The first was Andrew Johnson in 1868. It took another 130 years before that drastic step was taken again. Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998. Then, just 21 years later, Donald Trump was impeached in 2019, and impeached again in 2021, just one week before his term ended.
The bottom line, however, is that never has a U.S. president actually been removed from office via impeachment. Two-thirds of the Senate must agree with removal and that has never happened. Johnson’s term survived by one vote.
The Founding Fathers intentionally made it difficult to oust a sitting president, and with the makeup of this 117th Congress it is highly unlikely President Biden will be impeached. It is doubtful he will resign. But there is another path that could be employed.
The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is little discussed, but it also provides a route to remove a president. This amendment, ratified in 1967, allows the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet – or another entity chosen by Congress – to take away the president’s power if he or she is determined to be “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Once a written declaration is presented to the House and Senate leadership, “the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.” The deposed chief executive can present a counter declaration saying he or she is fit for office. But if the vice president and the deciding group repeats their finding within four days, then Congress must decide on removal by a two-thirds vote in both houses.
How likely do you think it is that the handpicked Cabinet of President Biden will flip on him and conspire to oust him from office? Do you see Vice President Kamala Harris agreeing to join the effort to topple her benefactor? Is it even remotely possible Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi would sit still and allow her majority membership, however slim it may be, to vote against a sitting Democratic president?
At this point in time, the answer to these questions is “no.” It is improbable to think the Biden Cabinet, his second in command and the Democratic-controlled Congress would agree to such a move.
However, if a president were to display clear-cut signs of serious mental or physical impairment, or if that president’s decision-making ability and public performance were to become demonstrably flawed, we should all hope the officials in these positions would be brave enough to insist the 25th Amendment come into play. They must then forget about party politics and act in the best interest of the country.
You’re likely thinking this is a different type of column than the usual crime and justice fare I offer. But we live in a time where TV and newspaper pundits, social media and partisan lawmakers make pronouncements that often cloud reality, confuse the public conversation and further divide us. Justice is impossible under those circumstances. As the word “impeachment” flies through the air again, I figured this was a good time to remind readers that our system of government was devised by very wise men. They laid out an amazingly prescient structure to ensure the nation endured. It cannot be ignored.
None of this should be construed as a personal defense or rejection of our current president. This is a defense, an explanation, of our U.S. Constitution and the clearly written rule of law.
Just like each of us bear responsibility for our own vote, we also have a duty to understand the process. It is not easy to remove a president. And it shouldn’t be.