House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is applying a new pretext to reach a pre-desired outcome of using the 25th Amendment to oust President Donald Trump from office in nearly the same fashion House Democrats did with the last impeachment.
Readers of “Abuse of Power: The Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump” will find that just as Democrats began talking about impeachment in 2017 before settling on a reason in 2019, Democrats began talking about using the 25th Amendment in 2017 before coming up with a reason to do so today.
Pelosi and Rep. James Raskin, D-Md., are introducing legislation to establish a 25th Amendment commission to assess Trump’s mental and physical capacity to hold office, in light of the president’s bout with COVID-19.
The 25th Amendment allows for the vice president and the majority of the Cabinet secretaries to determine if a president is physically or mentally unfit to do the job. The vice president, in this case Mike Pence, would become the acting president on a temporary basis. Congress could remove him from office permanently with two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. This would actually be an even higher bar than impeachment.
So, this is essentially political theater. It is, nevertheless, similar to the impeachment drama that played out a year ago, which is an attempt to do political damage.
Many Democrats began talking about impeachment before Trump was even inaugurated. When special counsel Robert Mueller came up empty on the Russia collusion probe, Democrats wanted to impeach Trump for something—anything—and had to settle for the Ukraine phone call.
Similarly, the left began talking about the 25th Amendment just a few months into the Trump presidency. They can now point to COVID-19 as a justification.
For Raskin, this is a return to legislation he pushed in 2017 when he similarly proposed a commission to examine Trump’s mental health. That bill gained 56 Democratic co-sponsors. But the 25th Amendment was on the fringes.
As “Abuse of Power” notes, another link between the two means of booting a president without an election came on Aug. 17, 2017 when Andrew Bakaj tweeted: “The 25th Amendment concerns @POTUS’ inability to discharge the powers and duties of office. Says nothing about mental health. We’re there.” In 2019, Bakaj was one of the two lawyers representing the anonymous whistleblower who prompted the impeachment probe.
Fomenting a 25th Amendment obsession prompted several partisan psychologists to violate the “Goldwater Rule,” which was meant to stop psychologists from offering a “professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”
USA Today published a column by psychologist John Gartner in May 2017 asserting of the president, “you have no choice but to conclude that he is psychotic.”
The “Duty to Warn” movement launched a cottage industry of sorts. Psychiatry professor Dr. Bandy X. Lee, who edited the book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” even provided a Capitol Hill briefing for anti-Trumpers in Congress.
Then and now, the 25th Amendment chatter is more about promoting a narrative in the media than about actually pushing such legislation through. Why bring this up weeks before an election? It makes about as much sense as a politicized impeachment less than a year before an election.
Fred Lucas is a veteran White House correspondent and the author of “Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump” (Bombardier Books, 2020).