Why all the talk about the process for removing presidents? Well, I think we all know why. And now the Democratic congressman from Portland has a bill for it:
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) filed the bill during the House's two-week April recess to empower former presidents and vice presidents of both parties, in coordination with the sitting vice president, to determine if a president is fit for office.
Blumenauer's idea, of course, is a political one, to highlight President Trump's erratic behavior. But to the extent that the proposal represents anything serious, it is grounded in the idea that 25th Amendment's default process for removal of an unfit president is unsuitable.
The amendment, ratified in 1967 with broad bipartisan support, requires a declaration from the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet, "or of such other body as Congress may by law provide," that the president is incapable of exercising his duties. If the president becomes fit again (perhaps recovering from an assassination attempt or a debilitating disease), or if he contests the determination that he was unfit in the first place, then he resumes his powers unless supermajorities in both houses of Congress vote to remove him.
Blumenauer fears that as long as the process depends so much on the Cabinet, it puts too much pressure on people who owe their job to the president himself and whom he can actually fire. A law establishing a panel of former presidents, Blumenauer reasons, would face no such pressure.
Then again, that's an awful lot of power to give to former presidents, who aren't going to be nearly as familiar with the president's mental state as his own Cabinet will be. (And of course, don't forget, Trump will also have this power to cast judgment on his successors' fitness someday, unless he passes away before leaving office.)
Maybe this idea has some merits in the abstract, and it's certainly within what the Constitution permits. But I'm almost more afraid to encourage Blumenauer and others in their fantasy that Trump is somehow going to be removed from office. Unless the failure to remove a president puts us into a nuclear war situation, such a removal for unfitness might be more traumatic for the nation right now than merely suffering bad decisions and erratic tweets.
I kind of like the idea that the bar for presidential unfitness should be so high that a president's own appointees must make the decision to send the issue to Congress. If you're afraid of a president firing his entire Cabinet to avoid removal for unfitness, perhaps a better solution is for Congress to give Cabinet members a few days to remain in office after any president fires them. That way, in the rare case where it's obvious to everyone that a president has really lost it, the Cabinet would have a chance to settle the issue on the spot.