Trump going nowhere despite opponents’ fantasies
Last week, the top Democrat in the US Senate was recorded saying that he would like to see President Donald Trump impeached, “the sooner the better.” Similarly, an anonymous official from Trump’s own administration wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times raising the possibility — even the hope — that the president would be removed from office. Then another prominent senator suggested that Trump could be removed using an obscure process allowed by the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution. This all comes as the US approaches the November midterm elections, which will determine who controls the legislative branches of government and, some say, whether there will be a fight over the continuation of Trump’s presidency.
However, it must be made clear that, despite the significant hate toward Trump in the bowels of government buildings and amongst powerful people in Washington, he is not going anywhere for the rest of his term. There are four ways to remove a president from office in the US system, barring a tragedy, and none of them appear likely before at least January 2021.
The first means of transferring the power of the presidency is by election. Every four years a presidential election is held on the first Tuesday in November and the winner is inaugurated on the following Jan. 20. A president is eligible to serve two terms, and Trump has already announced he will be running for re-election in two years. The Framers of the US Constitution intended for elections to be the means of holding politicians accountable, and premature removal was only for emergencies.
A president can choose to resign before their term is over. Only one president has done this: Richard Nixon in 1974, two-and-a-half years before his second term was due to end. Nixon resigned because he was caught in the scandal known as Watergate. There is no indication that Trump will resign and no serious hint of a scandal at this time that would make him consider it.
There are two ways a president can be forced out of office. The most commonly discussed method is for the legislative branch to impeach the president, and then put the president on trial. The process of removal in this way is complicated. The 435 members of the House of Representatives vote on whether there is enough evidence to impeach the president. If a majority votes in favor and the president is impeached, the process next goes to a trial before the 100 members of the Senate. The trial is presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and it requires 67 Senators to agree to convict. The process was designed to be arduous because removing a president from office overturns the will of the voters.
The Framers of the US Constitution intended for elections to be the means of holding politicians accountable, and premature removal was only for emergencies.
Ellen R. Wald
There is little chance that Trump will be forced from office via impeachment. Right now, his party, the Republican Party, holds a majority of seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. It is possible that, after the November elections, that will change. It appears likely that the Democrats will win a majority of seats in the House. Nevertheless, it is impossible for the Democrats to hold 67 seats after this election. At the very minimum, the Republicans will retain control of 42 seats, meaning the Democrats cannot convict without the extremely improbable compliance of some Republicans.
Moreover, technically, the House is only supposed to impeach, and the Senate is only supposed to convict, if a president commits “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Any Representative seeking to impeach the president would need to at least issue articles of impeachment alleging actual high crimes or misdemeanors. There is vagueness in this description of offenses, but as yet Trump has not been accused of any such crime.
Finally, presidential power can also be transferred using an obscure process described in section four of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. Trump’s most vocal detractors have been raising this possibility almost since his election victory. It provides for the vice president and a majority of the president’s Cabinet to essentially inform Congress that the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office;” thereupon the vice president would take over the job. It is intended to protect the functions of government in case the president suffers incapacitation through illness or catastrophe. It was not intended for members of the government to dislodge a sitting president because they disagreed with his policies or temperament, and it is unlikely to ever be used for that. The vice president and all of the Cabinet members are in their positions because the president chose them, and he can fire all of them except for the vice president. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that this could be used to force out Trump or any future president.
Some of his most radical opponents harbor fantasies of firing Trump, but it is not that easy. The US government was designed specifically to avoid rash decisions by the populace or by politicians. Barring an unforeseen major event, Trump is sticking around, at least until January 2021 and perhaps even until 2025.
- Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and author of “Saudi, Inc.” She is the president of Transversal Consulting and also teaches Middle East history and policy at Jacksonville University. Twitter: @EnergzdEconomy