It’s a question that’s been doing the rounds among President Donald Trump‘s detractors ever since his elevation to the presidency: can Trump be removed from office on account of being mentally unfit for the job?
He may have anointed himself a “stable genius,” but to many of President Trump’s critics, he’s not mentally stable enough to be trusted with the powers of the presidency. Some have asked out loud whether Trump’s alleged mental instability could be used to depose him.
Much of the chatter in recent weeks has centred around the 25th Amendment.
Passed in 1965 in the wake of the chaos that followed the assassination of former president John F. Kennedy, the amendment sets out rules for replacing a president in the event of their death, resignation or inability “to discharge the powers and duties of office.”
It has never been used.
Trump’s critics are particularly interested in section 4 of the amendment, which addresses the case of a president who is deemed unable to fulfill his or her role, but is unwilling to step down.
The section states that if the vice-president and a majority of either the cabinet or a special congressional body declare that the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties” of office, the vice-president assumes office as acting president.
The matter then goes before Congress for a final decision:
“If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.”
On Sunday, Michael Wolff, author of the explosive new book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that members of Trump’s own staff have grown so concerned over his fitness for office that they regularly invoke the 25th Amendment in White House water-cooler conversations.
Wolff claimed that White House staffers would say things like “We’re not at 25th Amendment level yet,” or “Okay, this is a little 25th Amendment.”
While the Trump administration has rubbished the book’s various claims as fabrication, interest over the amendment and the president’s mental fitness for office has steadily grown in the halls of government.
WATCH: Former Trump campaign manager calls ‘Fire and Fury’ book a ‘complete fabrication’
In early December, lawmakers reportedly invited a Yale University psychiatry professor to Capitol Hill to hear her assessments of Trump’s behaviour.
According to Politico, Dr. Bandy X. Lee warned over a dozen members of Congress — including one Republican — that Trump was bound to “unravel.” She cited, among other examples, Trump’s Twitter rants as “an indication of his falling apart under stress.”
Lee is the editor of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, a collection of essays from mental health professionals.
But the psychiatric community is far from reaching a consensus on the matter.
Lee has been accused by some colleagues of violating American Psychiatric Association guidelines that requires that psychiatrists do not publicly speculate on or discuss the mental health of public figures in the absence of an actual diagnosis.
In a letter published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, Lee was warned against “overstepping ethical boundaries for the purposes of political expression.”
The letter points out that “any of the neuropsychiatric conditions that the president is believed to have can be confirmed (or ruled out) by standard diagnostic tests.”
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While there is currently no process in place to order a mental evaluation of the president, one group of Democratic lawmakers is hoping to change that.
In April, lawmakers led by Rep. Jamie Raskin introduced a bill to set up a special commission dedicated to assessing the president’s fitness for office. The proposed Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity would have the power to order a medical examination to ascertain the president’s physical and mental capacity for the job.
Raskin has argued that because members of Congress aren’t qualified to speculate on the president’s health, it behooves them to set up a body qualified to make such judgments.
Speaking to CNN on Thursday, Raskin said mental health professionals have told him that there’s no medical cure as such for the kinds of behaviours being exhibited by Trump, and that “their objective in treating people with such symptoms is to contain them and to keep them away from weaponry.”
Many others have echoed similar sentiments, saying Trump is too volatile to be trusted with access to nuclear weapon codes.
The bill is currently awaiting deliberation by the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.
In summary, for the 25th Amendment to be successfully invoked to remove Trump from office, a number of pieces would have to fall into place:
Raskin’s bill gets voted into law, and the Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity is formed.
Congress directs the commission to carry out a medical evaluation of the president.
A majority of commission members call for the 25th Amendment to be invoked on the grounds that President Trump is unable to discharge the duties of office.
Vice-President Mike Pence signs off on the measure.
Congress certifies the declaration by a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The requirement laid out in point #5 means the removal of a president over mental health concerns is even more difficult to achieve than impeachment, which requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate but only a simple majority in the House.
WATCH: Michael Wolff: People close to Donald Trump consider him a ‘moron’ who acts ‘like a child’
For his part, Trump has slammed speculation on his mental stability, tweeting that, “throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.”
His press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the concerns as “disgraceful and laughable” in a White House press briefing Thursday.
“If he was unfit, he probably wouldn’t be sitting there and wouldn’t have defeated the most qualified group of candidates the Republican Party has ever seen,” Sanders said. “This is an incredibly strong and good leader. That’s why we’ve had such a successful 2017 and why we’re going to continue to do great things as we move forward in this administration.”