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Explainer – The 25th Amendment & Who Runs the Country When the President Can’t

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After chaos ensued in Washington D.C. on January 6, questions have been raised about whether or not Donald Trump is fit to remain in office after inciting violence among his supporters. Just one day after the attack on the Capitol that left four dead and dozens injured, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for the 25th Amendment to be invoked to remove Trump from office. 

What Is the 25th Amendment, Again?

Death, removal, resignation, or incapacitation—those are the circumstances in which the 25th Amendment grants an administration the ability to transfer authority over to the vice president (or the speaker of the house, if there is a double vacancy). 

The amendment was adopted after the assasination of President John F. Kennedy. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson then became president and there was confusion about how the position of vice president would be filled. 

Other than in the case of death, invoking the 25th Amendment can be tricky. Most sections of this amendment outline circumstances wherein the President transfers his or her authority willingly and in most cases, temporarily. 

In 1967 when Nixon resigned, he left willingly and the process to replace him with Vice President Gerald Ford was seamless. In other instances, President Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush themselves invoked the amendment to temporarily transfer power during medical emergencies. 

Can Trump Be Removed?

As a means of removing the president, it isn’t a seamless process. It wasn’t intended to be. In this case, the vice president, along with a majority of the cabinet would be required to submit written details of the president’s incapacitation to the president pro tempore of the Senate (Chuck Grassley, R-IA) and the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi, D-CA). The sitting president could then submit his or her own written declaration that they are, in fact, able to uphold the responsibilities of the presidency, and reclaim the position. 

While these declarations call for a lot of back-and-forth, ultimately, Congress is left to assemble within 48 hours and vote within 21 days. If two-thirds agree to the removal the president be stripped of their position.

Thalia Carrillo is a writer based in Austin, TX. Her formal background is in journalism, sociology, and digital marketing. She's a plant mom of 20 (and counting), specialty coffee enthusiast, and amateur baker. She has a passion for social justice, lifestyle news, and pop culture.