The end of a presidency?

There has been speculation as to whether Donald Trump will survive his first term as President.  Apart from death, how can a President fail to see out his constitutionally prescribed term of office?  There are three ways in which he could cease to hold office.

(1) Resignation.  Only one President, Richard Nixon, has resigned office, which he did in 1974 under threat of impeachment.  Had he not resigned – he sent a short, one-sentence letter – he is likely to have been impeached by the House of Representatives and convicted by the Senate.  (The Republican leaders in the House and Senate told him they did not have the votes to prevent his removal.)  Some observers think that Trump is uneasy in the office, reflected in his frequent absence from the White House, and may simply decide to walk away.  I have heard the contrary view, namely that he is the sort that thrives on all the attention.  Anyone else may find the barrage of criticism to be intolerable, but his narcissistic tendencies means that it just bounces off his self-regarding armour.

(2) Impeachment.  Under Article 2(4) of the Constitution, a President (or Vice-President or other civil officer of the US) ‘shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours’.   The process entails the House voting articles of impeachment and the Senate, presided over by the Chief Justice, voting by a two-thirds majority of those present for conviction.  Only two Presidents have been impeached (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton), but neither was convicted by the Senate.  Although the process is quasi-judicial, politics impinges, so much depends on the willingness of Republican law-makers to break ranks.  That may well depend on how egregious the actions of the President are and the extent to which his popularity plummets.  Members of Congress will not be acting in a political vacuum.  Their principal concern will be to be re-elected.

(3) Removal under the 25th Amendment.  Under this Amendment, ratified in 1967, the Vice-President takes over as Acting President if the Vice-President ‘and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide’, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office.  In short, the President may be removed by the Cabinet or Congress on grounds other that conviction of an offence.  However, unlike the previous two routes, this one is not necessarily terminal.  The President may resume office if he sends to the two presiding officers a written statement that no disability exists, unless the Vice-President and a majority of the principal officers or a body appointed by Congress within four days write to say that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office.  ‘Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within 48 hours for that purpose if not in session.’  If then, within 21 days, Congress by a two-thirds majority of both Houses votes that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice-President continues as Acting President; otherwise, the President resumes his office.  One can see how messy this option can become.

Are we likely to see any one of these utilised?  One poll of some university professors found that over 60 per cent thought he would be impeached, though among the public the figure was 48 per cent – still a remarkably high figure, not least given that the President has been in office for only seven months.  In Congress, 27 members of the House have co-sponsored a Bill to establish ‘a commission on presidential capacity’.  All the members are Democrats, but the fact that they have made the move so early in a presidency reflects the concern about the President’s mental state.

Donald Trump is remarkable for the extent to which his possible resignation or removal is being discussed so early in his incumbency.  Even if he survives this four-year term, it is not just leading Democrats who are eyeing the presidential nomination for 2020.  He may see out his term, but the actions that give rise to all the speculation about him not doing so are generating a highly unstable polity.  It really is a case of ‘tin hats everyone’.


About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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10 Responses to The end of a presidency?

  1. labeldesalis says:

    Good luck to DJT in his efforts to drain the Washington DC swamp and its attendant lefty group-think.

  2. Pingback: Reprise : Trump en Khomeini | Polit’bistro : des politiques, du café

  3. Croft says:

    “Are we likely to see any one of these utilised? One poll of some university professors found that over 60 per cent thought he would be impeached, though among the public the figure was 48 per cent – still a remarkably high figure”

    I’m not sure that tells us much more than the politics of those involved. Academics/experts have in recent times seemed worryingly unable to separate their personal politics from their professional judgements – and not just in the American context.

    Trump is unusual, so normal rules may not apply, but history tells us that impeachment is almost impossible to achieve. I don’t at present see it as probable this will change. 2/3rds is such a high bar, the 25 Amd is I suggest irrelevant. The ability of the president to sack key office holders tends to nullify that option (one designed to deal with ill health not conduct) even before factoring in they are (usually) held by loyalists in the first place.

  4. Tony Sands says:

    I remember in Hull in the eighties we studied James Barber’s analysis of the Presidential Character. I’d think we’d have had a lot of fun trying to categorise Trump. Not sure he’d fit in Barber’s existing categories! Perhaps a new category of reactive negative or even better a narcissistic negative would work! He certainly doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself or achieving very much. I’m sure the psychological approach will yield lots of papers about Trump’s Presidency!
    I don’t think Trump will be impeached although it is amazing that this is already being discussed. Not a profound analysis but I think this will be a 4 year period of not achieving very much with Trump leaving offfice as a one-term President.

  5. maude elwes says:

    Trump is a scapegoat for the growing instability of the USA. He is not the cause of the discontent, he is a symbol of it. Worry more about where this is taking us here in the UK as we mimic America in the same way apes mimic us. It appears the US is on the cusp of civil war. And it too is as the first civil war, down to economic policy and not, as professed, by their uneducated news reports.

    Trump is aware, and was aware when he ran, that his country is in deep trouble. He hoped he would be able to offset the inevitable by ridding Washington of the delusional leadership still entrenched within what they call, the deep state. If he can pull it off he will be lauded as the modern equivilant of Abraham Lincoln. If he cannot, kiss those States as we know them, goodbye.

    And for heavens sake, learn from what is taking place there, rather than play at a continuation of blind man’s bluff.

    And here is the history.

  6. tizres says:

    “All the members are Democrats, but the fact that they have made the move so early in a presidency reflects the concern about the President’s mental state.”

    The ‘Duty of the Commission’ is clear:

    (a) In general.—If directed by Congress pursuant to section 5, the Commission shall carry out a medical examination of the President to determine whether the President is mentally or physically unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office, as described under subsection (b).

    (b) Determination.—The determination under subsection (a) shall be made if the Commission finds that the President is temporarily or permanently impaired by physical illness or disability, mental illness, mental deficiency, or alcohol or drug use to the extent that the person lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to execute the powers and duties of the office of President.

    There is little chance that a medical examination will find against Pres. Trump. Impeachment was the first choice of some prior to his inauguration but, as discussed above, will not happen; resignation is what is left and can be envisaged.

    The rest of the world, meanwhile, appears to have accepted the US democratic deficit by ignoring him as best they can.

    • maude elwes says:

      I feel the world accepts the democratic choice of the US people. Just as they do with Merkel, Macron, May, etc.. Take a look at their unbalanced policies over the last years. Macron having the Oedipus complex, with a wife that had she been an ordinary women, would, akin to, Rolf Harris, be in jail. And weigh that up with the idea the the Germans are going to re-elect Merkel after she has destroyed their country. Reason is not part of this process.

      So, the will of the people is far more important than the will of, hidden from sight and manipulative, deep state and the lunatics they have running that show. There is the place to start determining mental ability to run a country’s administration. They are the destruction of that once relatively healthy society.

      Greed being good that is.

      • tizres says:

        Should we, then, test the sanity of the would-be voter?

      • maude elwes says:

        The voter scans what the runner gives them as a platform and in innocence they still hope they will come through. No matter how many times they sell the same line and renege on it.

        Of course, you do have to ask where the voter is coming from when they try again and again to have their wishes answered and mostly, by the same stooges they presented last time. However, it will be noted, people are seriously moving away from trust in our governments and the following shock outcomes, such as a Trump. They see officials as traitors to their welfare, hence the Brexit vote.

        The only answer is Direct Democracy. Swiss style. Control of every move they make is what is desperately needed. And a good clear out along with it. Otherwise you never get rid of the rot. Look at Blair. His hand is always up the pants. Either from the right or the left.

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