Unpacked: The 25th Amendment
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Unpacked: The 25th Amendment


I’m John Hudak. I’m a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings. I’m an expert on the American presidency and the bureaucracy. The 25th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1967 to create a clearer understanding of what happens in the case of presidential vacancy or a presidential disability. The 25th Amendment applies to impeachment
because it, in a sense, offers an alternative route for institutions of government to deal with a problem presidency, whether that problem is misconduct or, whether that conduct
is a president who for sickness or for some other reason, is no longer able to execute the duties of the office. Section IV of the 25th Amendment offers the Congress and the vice president, and the Cabinet an ability to effectively remove the powers
from the president of the United States. It’s a complicated to process to play out,
but it’s one that’s meant to preserve both the integrity of the office as well as the
continuity of government. Section IV of the 25th Amendment was put into place for really dire circumstances. The Congress has always had the power to impeach and remove a president, but there was this belief that, in the case of presidential incapacity, because of illness or some other reason like that, it would be in poor taste to impeach
a president. Impeachment is supposed to happen because of high crimes and misdemeanors, and it would leave a black mark on a presidency that in theory could be a perfectly functional presidency until illness strikes. The 25th Amendment is a pretty complicated
process: It begins if the vice president and a majority of the members of the Cabinet notify the Congress that the president is no longer capable of performing his duties. At that moment, the power of the presidency is transferred from the president to the vice president who then becomes acting president. From there, the president can convey to Congress that he is capable of performing his duties, and, unless the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet once again notify the Congress that the incapacity remains, the president gets his powers back. If the vice president and the Cabinet communicate subsequently to Congress that that incapacity remains, then Congress makes the decision. The House and the Senate convene and they have to vote by a 2/3 vote to permanently strip the powers of the presidency away from the president and transfer them to the vice president. The 25th Amendment is a multi-part amendment to the Constitution, it has been invoked on multiple occasions. Typically, if a president is enduring a medical procedure, during which he has to be anesthetized or he has to be sedated in some way, that
there’s a question with regard to his ability to perform his duties, he notifies Congress that he is temporarily transferring power to the vice president, who for that period of time serves as acting president. President Clinton did this, President Bush
did this, during medical procedures. However, section IV of the 25th Amendment, where power is being taken from the president by the choice of the vice president and Cabinet, has never happened since the constitutional amendment was ratified in 1967. In the contemporary context there’s a bit
of a misunderstanding about the power of the 25th Amendment and the reality of using it in practice. Yes, the Congress and the vice president, and the Cabinet can use this to take the powers away from a president, but institutionally it is actually
harder to use the 25th Amendment to remove presidential power than it is to impeach
a president. Impeachment requires a simple majority in the House, and a 2/3 majority in the Senate, to impeach and remove a president. Under the 25th Amendment, permanent removal of those powers requires a 2/3 vote from both houses. For that reason, section IV of the 25th Amendment is truly reserved for unique and dire circumstances facing the office of the president of the United
States.

5 Comments

  • Sharon Gallagher

    Our President is fine. You communist snowflakes need to take a que from Hillary and buy a case of chardonay and take long walks in the woods. It is treason to attempt to overthrow the U.S. Government. Thats right , you dont know what is going on behind the scenes. #DRAINTHESWAMP

  • SMP0328

    Two mistakes: Clinton did not invoke the 25th Amendment, Reagan and George W. Bush did; if the Congress sides with the Acting President and the Cabinet, the President is not "permanently stripped" of his powers, but can again attempt to regain his powers.

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