It’s equally difficult to imagine Pence plotting with Cabinet members to remove the man to whom, after all, he’s loyal enough to echo his physical movements. “It’s really best designed for the comatose or missing president,” law professor Brian Kalt says. “If you think about the incentives that vice presidents have for not stepping in and saying, ‘The president needs to go,’ the 25th Amendment doesn’t take away the big one: the problem that the action would look like a coup, with a disloyal vice president in the role of usurper.” Nothing in Pence’s personality or behavior to date suggests he’s on the edge of his seat waiting to sabotage the commander in chief.
If the vice president sees something in the president’s actions that moves beyond merely questionable decision-making to an inability to function, he’s duty bound to invoke the 25th Amendment. Short of that, other ways of removing the president—like impeaching him, not giving him the nomination for 2020, or voting him out at the ballot box—must take precedence.
During the Senate’s deliberations over the 25th Amendment, minority leader Everett Dirksen, who anticipated thorny problems would arise in any application of it, declared, “We must assume that, when confronted with a monumental national crisis, when subjected to the white heat of political scrutiny, those charged with responsibility will do what is in the public interest.” Let’s hope he’s right.