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What is 25th Amendment that US Democrats want to invoke against Trump?

Outgoing US president's opponents are intensifying efforts to remove him from office before end of his term on 20 January
Trump rally (MEE)
Scores of Trump supporters stormed US Capitol on Wednesday, in what congressional leaders are calling a 'failed insurrection' (MEE/Ali Harb)
By
Ali Harb
in
Washington

America and the world have endured almost four years under the presidency of Donald Trump, but as they woke up to a ransacked Capitol building and dangerously divided country on Thursday, key Democrats were saying "no more".

With less than two weeks left in Trump's term, Democratic congressional leaders are calling for his immediate removal from office, accusing him of inciting an "armed insurrection" against the United States.

"This president should not hold office one day longer," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement early in the day.

'This president should not hold office one day longer'

- Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi echoed that call, accusing Trump of committing an "unspeakable assault" on America's democracy.

Scores of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol in Washington on Wednesday while Congress was in session certifying Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election.

The rioters wreaked havoc in the building, ravaging lawmakers' offices and taking selfies in the halls of Congress amid lax security. Four people died, including one woman who was shot and later died of her wounds.

"I joined the Senate Democratic leader in calling on the vice president to remove this president by immediately invoking the 25th Amendment," Pelosi said on Thursday.

The 25th Amendment

So what is the 25th Amendment to the Constitution and how does it work?

The 25th Amendment establishes that the vice president and a majority of the 23-member cabinet can unseat the president by declaring he "is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office".

The vice president would have to inform congressional leaders with a written declaration, and that would make him immediately the acting president.

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Within four days, the president can refute the vice president's assertion and restore his powers with his own written declaration to Congress "that no inability exists".

In this case, it would fall on Congress to decide whether the president is incapable of serving or not. 

Two-thirds of the votes in both the House and the Senate would be needed to hand the powers of the presidency to the vice president in such a case.

Ratified in 1967, four years after the assassination of President John F Kennedy, the amendment is meant to lay out clear procedures for succession in case of a vacancy in the presidency. 

The provision of removing presidents unable to perform their duties has never been invoked.

Impeachment

Both Schumer and Pelosi said they would pursue impeachment if the vice president and cabinet fail to invoke the 25th Amendment.

Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives in 2019 over allegations of improperly pressuring Ukraine to investigate dealings by Biden's son, but the Republican-controlled Senate acquitted him a month later.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar already introduced an impeachment resolution on Thursday, and dozens of her Democratic colleagues are joining her effort. 

"Donald J. Trump should be impeached by the House of Representatives & removed from office by the United States Senate," Omar wrote on Twitter.

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"We can't allow him to remain in office, it’s a matter of preserving our Republic and we need to fulfill our oath."

But as demonstrated by the previous impeachment proceedings, attempting to remove a president through Congress can be a lengthy process. 

The 25th Amendment is a more straightforward route than impeachment. Vice President Mike Pence has been a loyal subordinate to Trump over the past four years, yet he defied the president in refusing to object to the congressional certification of the election results on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, a member of the cabinet who is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, resigned in a sign that mainstream Republicans are starting to distance themselves from the president.

McConnell himself slammed the mob attack on the Capitol late on Wednesday, calling it a "failed insurrection" and an attempt to "disrupt our democracy".

'White supremacy'

Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), said efforts to unseat Trump do face an issue of timing. With 13 days left in his presidency, Trump will likely see out the rest of his term, he predicted.

'The threat of white supremacy is real'

- Abed Ayoub, ADC

Still, Ayoub added, the push to remove Trump is important because there is fear that the current occupant of the White House has set an example for a more competent future president with the same authoritarian impulses.

"You have to hold Trump accountable to prevent that from happening," Ayoub said.

He said the incoming administration can prosecute Trump after he leaves office, but it is not clear if the Biden administration would be willing to spend political capital indicting a former president at a time when it is facing other pressing priorities, including the coronavirus pandemic.

The assault on the Capitol on Wednesday, Ayoub said, should serve as a reminder for the incoming administration that far-right violence is a top national security issue.

"The threat of white supremacy is real, and if it goes unchecked, you're going to see something we haven't seen in this country in our lifetime," Ayoub told MEE.

"What happened is not a result of Trump alone; it's a culmination of decades of ignoring the real threat in this country - that's white supremacy."