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Donald Trump: is the 25th Amendment the same as impeachment?

Members of Congress are considering two constitutional methods to remove the President from office after he incited 'Stop the Steal' rioters in the Capitol.

Donald Trump: is the 25th Amendment the same as impeachment?
ERIN SCOTT REUTERS

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has today called on Vice President Mike Pence to take steps to remove President Donald Trump from office for his role in inciting the violent occupation of the Capitol on Wednesday. Pelosi becomes the latest and most high-profile member of Congress to publically call for Trump’s time in office to be brought to an end before the scheduled transfer of power on 20 January.

In a speech in the Capitol on Thursday, Pelosi said that Trump had "incited an armed insurrection against America”, and demanded that Pence “remove this President immediately by invoking the 25th Amendment.”

She added: "If the Vice President and cabinet do not act, the Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment. That is the overwhelming sentiment of my caucus."

This speech echoed the words of Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer who issued a similar statement on Wednesday, saying “This president should not hold office one day longer”.

What is the difference between the 25th Amendment and impeachment?

Impeachment has been looming in the background in Washington DC for much of Trump’s time in office after the Mueller investigation unearthed links between his election campaign and foreign powers. Articles of impeachment were initiated in December 2019, but the President was acquitted by the Republican-led Senate in February 2020.

Eleven months ago Trump was saved by a GOP majority in the Upper House but now that the Democrats have flipped the Senate he is much less secure. It gives the Democrats, and the growing number of Republicans who have publically opposed Trump, greater leverage with which to push Pence and other members of Trump’s cabinet into initiating the 25th Amendment.

The 25th Amendment, ratified in 1967 after the assassination of President John F Kennedy, provides a constitutional process for replacing the head of state if they die or are otherwise unable to perform presidential duties. In the past Presidents have used this facility to temporarily pass power to the Vice President while undergoing an operation, but it is possible for Trump’s own Cabinet to remove him from office and put Vice President Pence in his place.

To do so it would require the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet (eight members) to determine that the President is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”. Unlike with Impeachment, the 25th Amendment could be enacted if just nine members of the Trump administration were to take a stand against the President.

However, the President does have the ability to fight the move and he is expected to cling to power for his final days in office. Even if his Cabinet do turn on him Trump can dispute the decision with a letter to Congress, which would delay the process by four days, before both Houses have to vote whether or not to remove him and place Pence in charge. This would require a supermajority of two-thirds in both the House and the Senate, unlikely so close to the end of his term.

More lawmakers call for Trump to be removed from office

In his statement yesterday the new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called on the Cabinet to make use of the 25th Amendment and to remove Trump themselves, but stressed that impeachment was still an option.

“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 should reconvene to impeach the president," he said.

Tellingly, there has been a notable change in the attitudes of GOP lawmakers with more coming out against the President in the aftermath of Wednesday’s ugly scenes in the Capitol that left four dead. In a video statement posted on Twitter on Thursday, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger called for the 25th Amendment to be invoked, blaming “fire stoked by the President” for the riots in Washington.

On Thursday afternoon Trump’s former Chief of Staff John Kelly stated that he believes that the Cabinet should meet to discuss the President’s behaviour in recent weeks and months. Kelly confirmed that if he were still a member of the Cabinet he would indeed vote to remove Trump from office, citing the President’s involvement in inciting the Capitol Hill riots yesterday as a key factor.