There’s a strong, strong stench of manure coming off of this claim.
Almost suffocating, really.
And it’s not just Trumpers who think so. Journalists who are known for being well-sourced in Washington were holding their noses last night as the story circulated. “This is hilarious nonsense that Pence would support invoking the 25th amendment,” sniffed Jonathan Swan of Axios (in a tweet he’s since deleted). “What Mr. Swan said,” added Josh Dawsey, one of the WaPo reporters whom Trump dubbed a “lowlife” this morning for his work on the new Bill Barr story.
In fact, the source of the claim is upfront about having an anti-Trump agenda. It comes from the author of that mysterious anonymous NYT op-ed last year, allegedly a senior official in the Trump administration who considers himself (or herself) part of the so-called Resistance. That op-ed has now been leveraged into a book which the author is reportedly hoping will convince Americans to throw Trump out of office next fall.
So go figure that a too-good-to-check story might emerge about loyal servant Mike Pence’s potential participation in a 25th Amendment coup to remove Trump from office on grounds of incapacity.
According to the exposé, which is written by someone that The New York Times and the publisher of the book say is a current or former senior White House official, using the pen name “Anonymous,” highly placed White House officials did a back-of-the-envelope tally of which Cabinet members would be prepared to sign a letter invoking Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which says that if the president is deemed unfit to discharge the duties of his office, the vice president would assume the role.
That letter would need to be signed by a majority of the Cabinet, delivered to Pence for his signature and then submitted to Congress.
According to Anonymous, there was no doubt in the minds of these senior officials that Pence would support invoking the 25th Amendment if the majority of the Cabinet signed off on it…
The discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment took place, according to the book, soon after FBI Director James Comey was fired by the president.
The author mentioned the 25th Amendment in his/her Times op-ed too (“there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president”) but not with this level of detail. Anyway, you’ve already noticed, I’m sure, that there’s no evidence in the excerpt that Pence said or implied or otherwise signaled that he’d join an effort to oust Trump. His supposed willingness to participate appears to be pure guesswork by enthusiasts of the 25th Amendment within the government. “Do we think Pence would go along with this?” “Uh, sure. Sure he would. I think.”
No doubt “Anonymous” is also well aware that Trump has reportedly had doubts about Pence’s loyalty at times over the past two years. Supposedly he even discussed replacing Pence on the ticket last winter. If you’re an anti-Trumper who’s looking to weaken Trump in order to see him voted out, one obvious avenue to make mischief is to exploit Trump’s anxiety that his closest aides, including his VP, might be willing to sell him out should an opportunity present itself. Voila — a too-perfect 25th Amendment story with Mike Pence supposedly at the heart of it.
Even the timeline doesn’t add up. Trump had been in office for just four months when he fired Comey. He had political cover to make that decision too thanks to the strongly critical memo Rod Rosenstein drafted about Comey’s conduct during the 2016 campaign. Imagine the cabinet plotting to oust Trump just 100 or so days into his term, knowing that they’d need two-thirds of both houses of Congress to force Trump out at a moment when Republicans held the majority in both the House and Senate. It’s comically absurd. If the 25th Amendment was discussed inside the White House, I bet it never went further than a couple of aides stewing over Trump’s latest embarrassing tweet and daydreaming about some way they could rid themselves of him before 2020.
One thing gives me pause, though. Although Pence has been a loyal lackey for Trump, he’s certainly not a Trumpist in spirit. He’s not Seb Gorka or Lou Dobbs. He didn’t even endorse Trump in the 2016 primary. Pence was a rock-ribbed conservative Republican in the pre-Trump era and he’s a Trumpy nationalist conservative in the Trump era. If the post-Trump era brings something else, he’ll be whatever he needs to be then too. He’s a go-along-to-get-along kind of guy, passively adapting to the prevailing political mood, not some MAGA warrior. If a majority of the cabinet came to him with a 25th Amendment letter at a moment when Pence had reason to doubt Trump’s remaining support on the right, then you know what?
I could see him giving that a think.
But in May 2017? Knowing that Trump enjoyed 90 percent approval among Republicans and that a failed 25th Amendment effort to oust him would surely end Pence’s political career? It’s ludicrous. Mike Pence is a lot of things but he’s not stupid. His best chance at the presidency was, is, and will remain staying in the good graces of Trumpers and hoping that he ends up one-on-one with Nikki Haley in the 2024 primary, when populists’ doubts about him will be cast aside in hopes of preventing a pre-Trump Republican restoration.