TORRANCE, Calif. — A growing number of Congressmembers have called for Vice President Mike Pence and Cabinet leaders to invoke a constitutional safeguard that would remove President Donald Trump from office only two weeks before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
Congressman Ted Lieu of Torrance was among the early proponents of invoking the 25th Amendment on Wednesday. In statements posted on Twitter, Lieu called for Pence to take action shortly after the U.S. Capitol Building was locked down amid invasion by pro-Trump insurrectionists.
“The President of the United States continues to be detached from reality. You know it. I know it. We all know it,” Lieu, a Democrat, wrote in a tweet addressed to Pence. “You need to start the 25th Amendment process now to remove @realDonaldTrump. That’s why the Amendment exists, for situations like today.”
Lieu was among the many members of Congress who took shelter within the Capitol after pro-Trump rioters breached police lines, damaged and vandalized the building, and broke into restricted areas of the Capitol — with some even posing for photos in offices and in the Senate chambers.
The riot began not long after President Trump personally addressed his supporters at a rally, protesting the counting of electoral votes that would eventually confirm Biden’s victory.
In the 24 hours since, the call for Trump’s removal was bolstered with support from both parties, including fellow Californian and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
“The President has committed an unspeakable assault on our nation and our people,” Pelosi told reporters in her weekly press conference. “I join (Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer) in calling the Vice President to remove this president by invoking the 25th Amendment. If the Vice President and Cabinet do not act, the Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment.”
On Thursday, Lieu posted statements that he and other colleagues have begun to circulate articles of impeachment among other members of Congress. If the House of Representatives moves forward with impeachment, the Senate would again be forced to put Trump through a quasi-judicial trial that might end in his removal from office.
Late Thursday night, Lieu tweeted that he and his fellow Congressmembers will press forward with impeachment.
"I just want to note that in America, you don't get to have one free coup attempt. That's why we are readying Articles of Impeachment for introduction this Monday," he said.
The 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution was added in 1967 in the wake of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The amendment codifies the initial order of succession, and creates two avenues for a president to be unseated: a self-declaration that they are “unable to discharge the powers and duties of their office,” or a declaration made by the vice president and a majority of the president’s Cabinet of top department officials.
If the president disputes that declaration, the call for removal must be approved by a two-thirds majority of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. If that passes, the vice president then assumes the presidency for the rest of the term.
“In some ways, it’s a less political process (than impeachment),” said Sam Erman, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law. “It’s coming from the executive branch, from people appointed or chosen by the president him- or herself … and it requires a bipartisan supermajority.”
The 25th Amendment has been used twice before, and even then, only temporarily. In 2002, then again in 2007, President George W. Bush temporarily gave his powers to Vice President Dick Cheney while Bush underwent and recovered from medical procedures.
But Trump hasn’t become incapacitated. Rather, Erman noted, “what’s being said is that his politics and his tactics render him unfit for office … so in that sense, people calling for it are putting it to a more political use than was the core vision when it was implemented. It was designed for a different kind of removal, but written in a way that can cover this situation.”
Robert Shrum, the director of the Center for the Political Future at USC, said that he thinks it's unlikely that the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet would vote in favor of the 25th Amendment and that it’s also unlikely that two-thirds of Congress would vote for removal.
“But if the president does something else outrageous or intolerable, you might have a different situation,” Shrum said. “I think it’s a warning to Trump to not engage in some other form of subversion against the democratic system.”
Shrum also noted that, in at least one way, Trump’s power was already circumvented when the District of Columbia National Guard was activated to protect the Capitol building, seemingly without Trump’s approval.
“Yesterday was one of the darkest days in American history,” Shurm said. “We have a Trump presidency that began in bigotry and ends in infamy.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated with Rep. Lieu's tweet about preparing Articles of Impeachment. (January 7, 2020)