From the early days of the 2016 race knowledgeable political observers of all stripes were saying that Donald Trump was unqualified to hold the office of the presidency. In fact many, including leading Republicans, viewed his candidacy as a joke and/or publicity stunt. (I still think it may have begun as a publicity stunt and then morphed into something real almost by accident. Many in the Trump campaign never expected to win as late as the afternoon of Election Day.) Time has proven him to be unquestionably unqualified, unwilling to learn and increasingly unstable. The Constitution has a provision for handling such a situation. It is the 25th Amendment. The question is do we have enough patriots in the Cabinet to invoke it. Let’s explore.
It’s a bit more complex than this but here is a quick version of how the 25th Amendment works. The Vice President and the majority of the remainder of the Cabinet must declare that the President is unfit to continue in office to remove him replacing him with the Vice President.
Let’s look at who the players are in addition to Vice President Mike Pence.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Secretary of Defense James Mattis
Secretary of Commerce Wilber Ross
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke
Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue
Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta
HUD Secretary Ben Carson
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao
Secretary of Energy Rick Perry
Chief of Staff John Kelly
U. S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats
U. N. Ambassador Nikki Haley
OMB Director Mick Mulvaney
CIA Director Mike Pompeo
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt
SBA Administrator Linda McMahon
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin
HHS Secretary Don Wright (Acting)
Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke (Acting), Kirstjen Neilson (Nominee)
Pence is a political opportunist and will act in what he perceives to be his best interest. The minute he thinks he can get 13 (50% + 1) of the rest of the Cabinet to move against Trump he will pounce. Getting to 13 is the challenge.
By my estimation there are nine who will never vote to oust Trump. Ross has been on the fringe of international money laundering for decades. (Where have we heard that phrase associated with Trump before?) DeVos and McMahon bought their way into the Cabinet. Zinke and Pruitt are in serious trouble and need Trump. Can anyone imagine Carson, Perry, Mulvaney or Pompeo in any Cabinet other than Trump’s?
Rex Tillerson and Jeff Sessions present interesting cases. Trump has been exceptionally mean to both of them so they have every reason to want to extract revenge. Sessions knows he is out of the job that he covets soon after Trump departs. Tillerson doesn’t need the Secretary of State job or any other job for that matter. While a solid case can be made that Tillerson is the worst Secretary of State in modern times if not American history; simultaneously just as convincing a case can be made that he is one of the best people in Trump’s Cabinet. That is how weak this Cabinet is. It is like the 2016 GOP primary clown car where a case could be made that Chris Christie was one of if not the most mature, moderate and qualified. I could see them going either way and in the event the 25th Amendment is invoked will likely be two of the last to come on board.
Mnuchin, Perdue, Acosta, Lighthizer, Coats, Haley and Shulkin fall into the category of I can’t make a call or simply don’t know much about them. They are question marks. I’m of the Lyndon Johnson school of vote counting; if I don’t know which way you are going I assume you are going against me.
Elaine Chao is in a category of her own. I expect when it is all said and done she will vote to oust Trump. Chao is Mrs. Mitch McConnell. Trump and his cronies have made life miserable for McConnell, are openly challenging him in internal Republican politics and have failed to deliver on what I have long viewed as Don McConnell’s piece of the scam action. Trump has proven useless to McConnell and Chao. McConnell has enough juice to keep his wife in a future Republican cabinet if they so choose. The McConnells don’t need Trump and their life is probably better off without him. If I were putting together a majority Chao would be my thirteenth vote. Once she commits, she will be solid and reliable.
Next we come to the true patriots. I believe Mattis and Kelly have long been ready to invoke the 25th. They are military men who put country first and know crazy when they see it.
The last group is the two “open” posts. With the departure of Tom Price, Don Wright is the acting head at HHS. Who knows which way he would go, how long that job will be “open” and who his replacement will be. Elaine Duke is currently the acting head at Homeland Security. On October 12th Trump nominated Kirstjen Nielsen to head Homeland Security with Duke reverting to her previous number two slot at the department. Nielsen has much more loyalty to Kelly than Trump and I think will be a solid vote to invoke when and if the time comes.
If Trump feels his insulation is slipping he would be wise to nominate (and hope the Senate confirms) people who he feels hold loyalty to him above loyalty to the country. In that case the 25th Amendment is superfluous. Who said American politics is boring and can we go 14 for 24?
This article was written well in advance of publishing to accommodate my travel schedule
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