by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
I would not have supported the 25th Amendment when it was first proposed in 1965. It injected a parliamentary logic into the American system that was not previously present, giving the executive branch a power of self-policing that should have properly remained with Congress. The amendment requires the cabinet to begin a process of removing a president who is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” a wording choice that hints at a president who is just broadly bad at his job, as opposed to, say, unable to speak or move or think. The text is certainly far less precise than the impeachment clause’s reference to removing a president deemed guilty of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
But even conceding the 25th’s flaws, it is important to understand what it does not do. It does not make the president a passive victim of his own cabinet. Nor does it grant the cabinet some expedited power of impeachment. On the contrary, to the extent it creates a novel procedure of presidential disempowerment, it is one extraordinarily favorable to the president. For all intents and purposes, invoking the 25th is subject to presidential veto.
The 25th is one of the Constitution’s longest amendments. Those who cite it casually in the press (and, apparently, the White House) do not appear to have read more than a sentence or two. …
… [T]he president can still exercise some agency during someone else’s “acting presidency”: namely, the authority to end the acting presidency itself.