Congress Could Stop Trump Right Now, But Only If They Act Fast
Something interesting happened after the assassination of President Kennedy in the 1960s. In a world that moved faster than the entirety of Congress could respond, people got more concerned about an oversight in the Constitution that was noticed early on.
To be precise, the Constitution was not clear on whether the President could be removed from office due to mental incapacity, whether the Vice President could be replaced, and whether there could be an Acting President in situations of temporary Presidential incapacity.
To correct this, the country ratified the 25th Amendment. This Amendment has four sections, but I am most interested in sharing the beginning of Section 4:
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
In a world with nuclear weapons, this was absolutely necessary. If the President became disabled or disconnected from reality in some way, it was vital that there be an entity that could overrule his right to remain, at least until the end of his incapacity, in office.
I find it pretty unlikely that the officers that Trump has appointed for his cabinet will be willing to engage in this sort of no confidence vote. I also find it unlikely that such a vote will be sustained for very long. The rest of the article makes it clear that eventually, to keep the President out of office, a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress must vote that he is still not mentally competent to lead.
Of course, this mechanism is also very strange! To force this Congressional vote, the President must first send a letter to Congress saying that he is ready to come back to work. If this message goes unopposed, he then becomes President again. If the body that removed him from office argues with his self-assessment and tells Congress about that within four days, then Congress has to convene within 48 hours and has 3 weeks to decide whether or not the President is OK to return to office.
However, there is nothing stopping the Presidential competency overseers from saying “Sure, he’s fine,” and then turning around and suspending him again, bypassing Congress completely. There is also no reason that the President should be the person who is assessing his own ability to return to work! Even in the case of physical injury this is not something that the patient themselves can easily assess. In the case of mental incapacity it is even more of a problem.
The 25th amendment is pretty terribly written, and open to wild loopholes.
But there is one thing that it spells out explicitly. Congress is allowed to create a body that can decide on the competency of the President. They are allowed to create this body in the same way that they would create any law, and it can be composed of whomever they want. It could be the Governors of all 50 states. It could be the Supreme Court. It could be the heads of the American Psychiatric Association. They are allowed to decide, and our current President may sign this into law, or veto it, as he chooses.
This means that the current Congress has the power to create oversight that can stop President-elect Trump from destroying our Constitution and our country. The current Congress can, and I believe should, pass a law which requires that the President’s mental capacity for the office be determined by a panel of qualified professionals. This panel would have the authority to remove the President from office whether or not he submits to them for evaluation, so that he cannot simply refuse to do so and never face the consequences — precisely the sort of thing that a dangerously insane President might do.
And while this would almost certainly put the law before the Supreme Court, I think that the panel should be given the power to review any request that the President be reinstated before it goes to Congress, and decide whether or not it was written by the President themselves, and whether or not that President was of sound mind at the time of writing.
Otherwise, we are left relying on the sanity of President-elect Trump being decided by a group of people who he has painstakingly selected for their loyalty to him and only him above all other concerns. They are not mental health professionals and we should not trust them and only them with this important responsibility as we face a serious threat to our national security.
It is indeed very possible that President-elect Trump is mentally ill in a way that will be dangerous to his execution of the office, and I intend to demonstrate this possibility.
There is some possibility that Mr. Trump is mentally incompetent to be the President of the United States. Recently, he claimed that he has no memory of events that occurred in front of him eight weeks ago. Specifically, he was briefed on Russian involvement in the hacks on the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary for President campaigns. That is particularly interesting considering that he called for Russia to do so. Publicly.
But that is a very politically charged situation. Instead, let me establish that Mr. Trump has forgotten other things that he has said and done during his campaign, and with clear evidence that he did not conveniently forget these things, but rather forgot them by accident.
The clear example is Mr. Trump’s own admission that he did not remember pledging to save the jobs of employees of Carrier in Indiana. Mr. Trump did indeed say that he would save their jobs, beginning in April 2016 at a campaign rally. But he did not say that just once. The Washington Post reported that he repeated this promise “over and over again” and that it became “a rallying cry for Trump and his supporters.”
And yet, he forgot that he said it, until he saw a man on television repeating that he had made this promise. At first, Trump wanted to deny it because he did not remember. Then the show he was watching showed a clip of him making the promise, and he realized that he did indeed make it. Here’s what he said:
And then they played my statement. And I said, “Carrier will never leave.”
Trump then explains this statement as “a euphenism [sic],” but it is evident from his retelling of the story that he did not remember making this statement at all — many times — until he saw himself saying it on TV. Specifically, Trump says that he only realized what statement the man was talking about after he saw it played. Here is what he said:
I actually said I didn’t make [the promise]. When they played it, I said, “I did make it, but I didn’t quite mean it that way…”
It is clear that Donald Trump has no memory of this campaign promise at all, and had to re-interpret his own words upon seeing them, and he decided that he must have meant this as an exaggeration, after initially not even thinking he said it at all. That’s what his statement means, if you break it down:
I actually said I didn’t make [the promise].
This means, “At first, I really didn’t think I said this.”
When they played it, I said, “I did make it, but I didn’t quite mean it that way…”
This means, “When I was confronted with undeniable evidence that I made this promise, I had to admit that I did but since I can’t remember saying it, I must have meant something else.”
Donald Trump probably thinks that he said this only once. He said it many times. And he forgot. A lot of other Trump actions make a lot more sense if he has forgotten the real narrative of events. The Daily Mail even suggested that he might have “unethical amnesia,” a condition wherein unethical behavior is forgotten to protect the mind from evidence of bad behavior.
I think that might be a stretch, but I will go so far as to say this: the President-elect having no memory of an often-repeated campaign promise, and of details of major security briefings that he attended in the last 8 weeks, is not a sign of mental competence to fulfill his upcoming duties, and is a credible threat that requires investigation. I do not certify that he is insane, and I do not believe that I can accurately diagnose any disease. What I do believe is that the evidence I have just presented is justification enough to require a mechanism of mental health oversight for the President.
In other words, while it doesn’t prove any diagnosis, what I am telling you supports the idea that we should be checking the mental health of the President in a way that allows us to protect our country from a dangerously mentally ill President.
Right now, Congress could pass this law secure in the knowledge that they would not be endangering their Republican majority nor the existence of a Republican President. Acting President Pence would be available at hand. Their agenda would be preserved, but it would be preserved by a politician who is not likely to offend other nations and forget he did it, or to agree to collude with Vladimir Putin and conveniently let that event slip his mind.
President Obama, well aware of the responsibilities that a President has and also aware that there is a level of insanity in a President that would pose danger, is likely to sign such a bill. President Trump would not sign this bill, and thus the window is closing to place mental health oversight on the most unstable President that we will have ever had.
If the evaluation of this is done before any formal submission of Mr. Trump’s nominees is made while he is in office, Acting President Pence would be able to assemble a real executive branch. This would not disrupt the will of the people. It would instead insure the ability of the people to rest easy in the safe knowledge that the President will not suddenly forget that nuking China would kill us all.