Over the past four years, there has been talk about Donald Trump’s mental health and stability, but little political will to make use of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which allows Congress to consider a President “incapable of fulfilling the powers and duties of his position ”and remove him from power. The discussion resurfaced more seriously this month, however, in light of Trump’s hospitalization for covid-19 and the White House’s lack of transparency around his treatment. The news that he was medicated with the steroid dexamethasone, used for seriously ill patients covid-19, also alarmed many because his known side effects include aggression, agitation and “grandiose delusions” – behaviors that, judging by the president’s Twitter account at least, he already seemed to exhibit.
On October 9, Mayor Nancy Pelosi unveiled a new bill to establish a Commission on the Presidential Ability to Discard the Powers and Duties of the Cabinet, which would help carry out the Twenty-Fifth Amendment process if the President becomes unable to do his job. (Sponsored by Democratic representative and former constitutional law professor Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the House bill is similar to one he presented in 2017.) Project announcement just a week after the president’s diagnosis of covet 19 was released and three weeks before the election, Pelosi invoked the Amendment as a “way to preserve stability if a president suffers a disabling physical or mental problem”. She added: “This is not about President Trump. He will face the voters’ judgment, but it shows the need to create a process for future presidents ”.
Section four of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment provides two distinct ways to remove a president against his will. In one, the vice president joins the majority of the cabinet to send Congress a written declaration that the president cannot serve. In the other, the vice president does so with the majority of “any other body that Congress may provide by law.” The purpose of the House project is to provide the body appointed by Congress that the Amendment envisages, creating a committee of seventeen members to be chosen by both parties, made up of doctors and former senior executive officers. According to the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, once Congress receives a declaration of incapacity from the President, both houses could then decide, by two-thirds of the vote, to replace him with the Vice President.
Pelosi’s decision to reveal the bill so close to the election may, as Republicans have claimed, intend to harm Trump at the polls, drawing more attention to his health concerns. On October 19, Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Georgia Republican, presented a non-binding Senate resolution to condemn House Democrats for “politicizing the twenty-fifth amendment” and the health of the president “during a global pandemic to influence the next elections in November “.
In fact, it is very easy, in a fragile democracy, especially in a time of immense crisis and fear, to turn a leader’s vehement political or moral disapproval into a conviction that he or she is mentally ill and therefore dangerous – and it must be overthrown by non-electoral means. This is probably why the Twenty-Fifth Amendment was invoked only on a temporary and limited basis, and only in cases of physical disability. George W. Bush invoked him twice for colonoscopies, each time making Vice President Dick Cheney the interim president. When Ronald Reagan was shot and in surgery in 1981, his government took steps to install Vice President George H. W. Bush, but he soon decided against it. Four years later, Reagan transferred power to his vice president before colon cancer surgery.
In the realm of mental disability, when Richard Nixon faced a likely impeachment, his team feared that his state of decay could lead him to order a nuclear launch, and his defense secretary even told the Joint Chiefs not to carry out such a military order if came directly from the president. But Nixon’s Cabinet did not seek to put its removal into motion under the twenty-fifth amendment. Reagan’s team considered invoking the Amendment when their dementia became evident to them at the end of their second term, but decided against it. In 2017, Rod Rosenstein, then Trump’s deputy attorney general, allegedly suggested that the Cabinet invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, shortly after Trump dismissed F.B.I. director, James Comey.
The questioning of Trump’s aptitude persisted throughout his presidency, as members of his party and his associates fed the narrative of a deteriorating mind. In 2017, then-senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who was then chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, called the White House an “adult daycare center”; he continued, “I know for sure that every day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain it.” In “A Warning”, published in 2019, an anonymous senior Trump official reported: “He trips, shuts, gets confused, easily irritated and has trouble synthesizing information, not occasionally, but regularly.” Like Corker, the administration official added that working with Trump was “like showing up at the nursing home at dawn.” Other senior officials said Trump, who is 74, appeared to suffer from some form of dementia. Trump’s former White House adviser, Omarosa Newman, said in his 2018 book “Unhinged” that Trump’s “mental decline could not be denied.” Former Trump White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said in 2019 that Trump “has declining mental faculties”.