Just in case you were wondering whether the owners of the Washington Post learned anything from the last election and their failure to stop America from voting for Donald Trump, fear not. They haven’t. If there was any sort of change coming to the editorial board, they probably wouldn’t have given a green light to Richard Cohen’s column this week which carries the not very ambiguous title of, “How to remove Trump from office.”
Let’s leave aside for a moment the somewhat inconvenient fact that Donald Trump isn’t even in the office yet. What was the thinking going on inside the hallowed halls of the WaPo when they approved an editorial like this? And just to be clear, this isn’t some provocative guest piece submitted by a troublemaker to spur a national conversation. Cohen has been writing for the Post literally since Richard Nixon’s first term in office. He was doing regular opinion pieces for them in the Metro section since Jimmy Carter was elected and has been a permanent fixture in the op-eds since Reagan’s first term. To claim that he’s not representative of the voice and vision of the newspaper is nonsense. And what is his opinion of the incoming President of the United States? The first paragraph says it all. (Emphasis added)
Donald Trump is a one-man basket of deplorables. He is a braggart and a liar. He is a bully and a demagogue. He is an ignoramus and a deadbeat, a chiseler and either a sincere racist or an insincere one, and his love for himself is matched only by my loathing of him. He is about to be president of the United States. A constitutional coup may be in the offing.
I suppose all of that blathering about respecting the office even if you don’t respect the man only counts if the man is a Democrat, huh? But enough about Cohen’s history and built in biases. Since he’s taken time out of his busy day to suggest that Trump needs to be evicted from the Oval Office, how does he propose to go about doing it? Getting him on any High Crimes and Misdemeanors is a tall order, as Cohen himself concedes. So is there another path? According to the author there is indeed, and it’s found in the 25th Amendment.
Under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, the vice president, together with a “majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide” can remove the president for being “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” No doubt the mere mention of incapacitation would summon a horde of lawyers to Washington to contest it or the meaning of every term.
But it is plain that the 25th Amendment does give a role to Cabinet members that is not generally considered when they are up for confirmation. This time, however, they should all be asked whether they are aware of the 25th Amendment and, if need be, whether they would be willing to implement it.
If you want an example of early onset Trump Derangement Syndrome, this is one case which almost demands that medical authorities be rushed to Cohen’s home immediately to save him from himself. There’s something seriously disturbing going on inside this man’s mind. How else to explain a person who has been covering government affairs longer than many readers today have been alive going so far off the beam on one of the more fundamental premises in the Constitution and its amendments?
The 25th is in place for a very clear reason, covering a small number of specific scenarios, and it has almost nothing to do with forcibly ejecting a president you don’t care for and who hasn’t done anything illegal which might merit impeachment. (We’ll get to the one exception to that in a moment.) The first two clauses of the 25th Amendment deal with a President who either dies or is removed from office via impeachment or resignation and they are well documented. The third clause covers when a President voluntarily transfers the powers of his office to the Vice President temporarily. This has happened three times in American history, once by Reagan and twice by George W. Bush.
The fourth and final clause is the one Cohen is talking about. Its primary purpose was obviously intended to cover a case where the President suddenly experiences some problem – most likely a severe medical emergency – rendering him unable to serve. The Vice President, along with a majority of cabinet members, can meet and vote to declare him unable to serve. They then send a letter to the President pro tempore of the Senate declaring their decision and the Veep takes over the duties. But as soon as the President feels he is ready to resume his service, he can transmit a corresponding letter and take the office back without asking anyone’s permission.
The sole exception provided in the fourth clause is the hypothetical case where the Vice President disagrees that the President is capable of dispatching his duties and – again, along with a majority of the cabinet – sends a contradicting letter stating his objection. Congress then has to vote on the matter to decide.
What Cohen doesn’t take into account is the fact that the cabinet can’t do it on their own even if they wanted to. The action has to be initiated by the Vice President. Does he really think Mike Pence would go along with this sort of intentionally inflicted constitutional crisis even under the worst imaginable circumstances? And as a final note, Cohen fails to point out that none of this actually “removes the president from office.” Trump would still be the President of the United States under such a scenario, with Pence only serving as the Acting President of the United States.
But now that we’ve covered all of that nonsense, let’s close with a callback to the original question I posed. Exactly how unhinged are the senior members of the Washington Post staff in terms of Trump Derangement Syndrome? I’m guessing that this will be widely reflected in their newsroom coverage over the next four years. I’d be thrilled to be proven wrong, but you probably shouldn’t bet too heavily against me.