Former Trump consiglieri Steve Bannon believes that the president has less than a one in three chance of making it through his full term, according to a report last week in Vanity Fair. The story is that Bannon told Trump that “the risk to his presidency wasn’t impeachment, but the 25th Amendment” — to which Trump allegedly replied, “What’s that?”
They say there’s no such thing as a stupid question, so: the 25th Amendment, drafted in the wake of the Kennedy assassination and ratified in 1967, allows the vice president to take over when the president is deemed “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Section 3 allows the president to make the call himself, and several presidents have used it to stand aside temporarily while undergoing surgical procedures. Section 4 provides for the president’s involuntary removal when vice president and a majority of Cabinet heads or “such other body as Congress may by law provide” declare him incapacitated.
The 25th Amendment wasn’t designed for ejecting “merely” erratic or untrustworthy presidents. It aimed at situations of total, or near-total disability.
In the five decades since the amendment’s ratification, section 4 has featured in multiple TV thriller plots, but never been used in real life. Lately, though, growing numbers of public intellectuals and elected officials have decided it’s the best way to repeal and replace the Trump presidency. Sorry: It’s not going to happen.
Leave aside Steve Bannon, it’s mystifying that smart people — like The New York Times’ Ross Douthat, the University of Chicago’s Eric Posner, and former law professor U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) — have convinced themselves that the “25th Amendment Solution” is viable. In a Washington Post column this week, The American Prospect’s Paul Waldman argues that while Trump’s impeachment is “only a remote possibility,” his removal is “far more likely to happen via the 25th Amendment.”
It’s hard to see how. For one thing, unless Vice President Mike Pence is much less servile and more Machiavellian than he seems, the “25th Amendment Solution” never gets off the ground. Perhaps Pence is trying to lull “45” into a false sense of security before pulling the section 4 trigger, but right now he sure doesn’t look like a guy plotting to overthrow his boss.
Even if Pence proves a willing co-conspirator, for the switch to last, you’d need two-thirds of both houses of Congress to ratify it. If you have that, you already have more than enough votes for Trump’s impeachment and removal. The 25th Amendment’s framers deliberately set the bar higher for removal via section 4 because, as one of its principal architects, U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh (D.-Ind.) explained: “We were concerned about the politics of the palace coup.”
If you don’t have a supermajority in both Houses, then within three weeks, Trump would return to the Oval Office hell-bent for vengeance. And, short of the president actually standing in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shooting someone, it’s hard to imagine nearly 100 GOP congressmen crossing the aisle to declare him mentally unfit for office.
The 25th Amendment wasn’t designed for ejecting “merely” erratic or untrustworthy presidents. It aimed at situations of total, or near-total disability. Fordham University law professor John Feerick, who helped draft the amendment, summarizes the congressional debates on section 4: “It was made clear that unpopularity, incompetence, impeachable conduct, poor judgment, and laziness do not constitute an inability within the meaning of the Amendment.”
The only real advantage the disability amendment has over the old-fashioned method is speed: the president can be displaced — temporarily, at least — as soon as the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet send notification to Congress. There’s one scenario where that speed would be absolutely necessary and the “25th Amendment Solution” might work: If the president were to order an unprovoked nuclear first strike, it’s possible that the secretary of defense could, instead of transmitting the launch order, get on the phone with the veep instead. They could then decide to trigger section 4, putting the president into a “time-out” until Congress votes. And Congress, presumably, would go into that vote knowing that, unless they ratify the switch, they’re voting for nuclear war.
That scenario is, I hope, unlikely. But if it happens, you won’t hear me complain about the constitutional impropriety of invoking section 4. It’s crazy that it’s not entirely crazy to think about this kind of thing.Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of “The Cult of the Presidency.”
**Written by Doug Powers
With the mainstream media being what it is, the Trump era means that even good news is bad news. Below is one such example featuring the two top economic stories from a Google search. How’s this for a shot & chaser?
The Dow hit another record high this week and there are other signs of economic turnaround, but don’t get too excited about any of it. According to an article in the NY Times, an improved economy could kill you:
But a surging economy does more than generate greater income. An industrial economy also pumps out more air pollution as more goods are produced. Polluted air, it turns out, is a major contributor to the mortality-increasing effect of an economic boom. In their analysis of how economic growth increases mortality, David Cutler and Wei Huang, of Harvard University, and Adriana Lleras-Muney, of U.C.L.A., found that two-thirds of the effect can be attributed to air pollution alone.
Other factors contribute to rising mortality during expansions. Occupational hazards and stress can directly harm health through work. Some studies find that alcohol and tobacco consumption increases during booms, too. Both are associated with higher death rates. Also, employed people drive more, increasing mortality from auto accidents.
During recessions, people without jobs may have more time to sleep and exercise and may eat more healthfully. One study found that higher unemployment is associated with lower rates of obesity, increased physical activity and a better diet.
We’d better have a good old fashioned economic depression fast or we’re all gonna die of heart & lung disease along with a lack of sleep.
**Written by Doug Powers
Michael D. Tanner
Raul Ryan has threatened to keep Congress in session until Christmas if that’s what it takes to get a tax-reform bill passed. But it’s still an open question whether Republicans will be getting presents or coal in their stockings.
There is an assumption that Republicans will ultimately pass some type of tax-reform or tax-cut bill, if for no other reason than that they’re desperate. This Congress has few if any legislative accomplishments to its name, and after the Obamacare repeal-and-replace debacle, the party can’t afford another failure.
Yet the divisions on display in the Obamacare debate have not gone away, and the failure of repeal and replace cost Republicans hundreds of billions in savings that they had been counting on to offset tax cuts. With that money off the table, the arithmetic of tax reform got a lot more complicated, which is why the GOP tax plan still remains little more than a vague outline.
The divisions on display in the Obamacare debate have not gone away, and the failure of repeal and replace cost Republicans hundreds of billions in savings that they had been counting on to offset tax cuts.
Republicans continue to disagree sharply over just what tax reform should accomplish — or even whether the priority should be cutting taxes or reforming the tax system. The usual formula for tax reform is to trade fewer deductions and loopholes, which often distort economic activity and benefit special interests, for lower rates. But that can create losers as well as winners. And therein lies the rub.
Senator Rand Paul, for instance, questions whether doing away with some tax breaks means that too many middle-class taxpayers will lose out. “This is a GOP tax plan? Possibly 30% of the middle class gets a tax hike? I hope the final details are better than this,” Paul tweeted a few weeks ago, citing a study from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. That study has been widely and justifiably criticized for the assumptions it made. But it does highlight the troublesome trade-offs that a reform package could entail.
Meanwhile, Senator Bob Corker, fresh off his latest Twitter fight with President Trump, expressed his concern that a tax cut would explode the national debt. Some estimates suggest that, even after accounting for economic growth, the tax bill could add $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the next ten years. Corker said that he is unlikely to support any bill that does that.
Some Republicans want to focus on cutting tax rates for business, which are an increasing burden on American competitiveness. Others from the pro-family wing of the party want a tax plan that benefits the middle class with a rate cut and/or an increase in the child tax credit, which would likely have less impact on economic growth. And President Trump continues to hint that he might support a rate increase for top earners, which might please Republican populists and win a couple of Democratic converts but would almost certainly cost the support of conservatives.
Republicans still have just a two-vote margin in the Senate, meaning that they will have to find some way to keep all these competing factions — along with such habitual iconoclasts as McCain, Collins, Murkowski, Lee, and Cruz — happy.
And even if they can settle on a package that satisfies everyone, it won’t be ideal. Because their majority is so slim, they are planning to resort to the budget-reconciliation process to pass a tax bill, and reconciliation legislation cannot, by rule, increase deficits beyond ten years. That almost certainly means that at least some tax cuts in any bill will have to be crafted to expire in a decade, which is troublesome for businesses that need to plan for the future.
None of this means that we don’t need tax reform. Our current tax system is uncompetitive and a burden to both business and individuals, slowing economic growth. But as we saw with efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, needing to do something and doing it are two entirely different things.Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.