KSL Investigators explore the 25th Amendment

Jan 7, 2021, 11:22 PM | Updated: Feb 7, 2023, 3:02 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are blaming President Donald Trump for inciting the violence that occurred Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol when protesters stormed the building and interrupted the Electoral College vote count for several hours. In the aftermath, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called for Trump to be removed from office.

In a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday morning, Schumer wrote, “What happened at the U.S. Capitol yesterday was an insurrection against the United States, incited by President Trump. This president must not hold office one day longer.”

In a reply to that tweet, the senator continued, “The quickest and most effective way — it can be done today — to remove this president from office would be for the Vice President to immediately invoke the 25th Amendment. If the Vice President and the Cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress must reconvene to impeach President Trump.”

(Twitter) (Twitter)

A Bipartisan Call

Later Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said during a press conference that if the president is not removed under the 25th Amendment, Congress may move forward with impeachment.

“We are in a very difficult place in our country as long as Donald Trump still sits in the White House,” Pelosi said.

Although an impeachment process is technically possible, several lawmakers told the KSL Investigators Thursday that it is unlikely there is time enough to do that before Trump’s time in office wraps up.

Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger was the first Republican Congressman Thursday morning to join in the call to invoke the 25th Amendment following the Capitol riot.

“The president is unfit and the president is unwell,” Rep. Kinzinger said in a filmed statement he posted on Twitter. “The president must now relinquish control of the executive branch – voluntarily or involuntary.”

Kinzinger implied invoking the 25th Amendment would “end this nightmare.”

What Is The 25th Amendment?

The 25th Amendment was ratified to the United States Constitution on Feb. 10, 1967, largely in response to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It addressed the succession of presidential power.

The amendment also clarifies next steps in the event a president is killed, removed from office, or is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” In this event, the vice president shall become president.

The amendment has been invoked six times in all, including during medical procedures for both presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Professor RonNell Andersen Jones, Constitutional law professor at the University of Utah. (KSL-TV)

“The vast majority of the times that it’s been invoked have been times when the president has declared himself unable to discharge the duties of his office for a temporary period of time,” explained Professor RonNell Andersen Jones, a Constitutional law professor at the University of Utah. “We’re talking about situations where a president is going to go under anesthesia for a medical test or surgery, and wants to specify that he will be unfit for that period of time and leave the duties of the office to the vice president during that time period.”

If the 25th Amendment is utilized before Trump leaves office, doing so would mark the first time the amendment has been invoked in this particular way – with a declaration by someone other than the president himself.

How Could It Happen?

Professor Andersen Jones says Vice President Mike Pence would play the critical role in the amendment invoking process, as would members of President Trump’s Cabinet.

The Cabinet includes Pence and the heads of the 15 executive departments – the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General.

“The vice president plus a majority of the cabinet write a letter specifying that the president is unfit. When the letter is received by Congress, powers of the presidency are assumed by the vice president,” Andersen Jones said.

The president could fight the action with a letter of his own, in response.

If Trump were overruled, Andersen Jones says, Congress must convene within 48 hours, then has 21 days to weigh in on whether the president is unfit for office.

President Trump, however, has fewer than 13 days remaining in his term.

“So, technically, the leadership of the House and the Senate could – by even stalling a small amount – just run out the clock on the Trump presidency in that space,” Andersen Jones added. “That’s a piece of what’s at play here.”

She continued, “It’s an absolutely unprecedented moment for the presidency and certainly a moment in which we get the chance to think about the 25th Amendment in ways we haven’t ever in the past.”

Utah Delegation Weighs In

When asked about invoking the 25th Amendment, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney told Capitol reporters Thursday, “I think we’ve got to hold our breath for the next 20 days.”

Rep. John Curtis doubted it will happen.

“If you’re going to invoke the 25th Amendment, you’re going to overturn the will of the people, and that should not be done lightly,” Curtis said. “It cannot be done because of poor judgment. It’s not intended for that. It’s not intended for judgment that you disagree with.”

Curtis believes those who think otherwise aren’t being realistic.

“Their only conceivable motivation would be to just increase the temperature. And that’s exactly the wrong direction where we need to be going right now,” he continued.

Rep. John Curtis. (KSL-TV)

Andersen Jones said no matter what happens, the current discussion is unprecedented.

“It’s a complicated situation to be invoking the 25th Amendment and declaring a president unfit under any circumstances. It’s an especially complicated circumstance to be doing so at the tail end of a presidency that’s about to expire. That changes the calculus in a lot of really interesting and complicated ways,” she said.

Congress reconvened and certified President-Elect Joe Biden’s victory just before 2 a.m. Thursday. Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris will take office in 13 days.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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KSL Investigators explore the 25th Amendment