Despite calls, odds are against Trump’s impeachment or removal using 25th Amendment

The Senate has left until the eve of inauguration

President Donald Trump speaks to supporters from the Ellipse at the White House in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, as Congress prepares to certify the electoral college votes.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
President Donald Trump speaks to supporters from the Ellipse at the White House in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, as Congress prepares to certify the electoral college votes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 7, 2021 at 1:17pm

Clarified 6:20 p.m. | Despite calls, odds are against Trump’s impeachment or removal using 25th Amendment

Members of Congress are calling for President Donald Trump to be removed through either the 25th Amendment or impeachment, but the odds are against such moves.

Lawmakers have already left town, with the Senate not scheduled back for a regular session until 24 hours before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. No senator objected early Thursday morning to the scheduling of pro forma sessions only, with no business conducted, until Jan. 19. It would take unanimous consent, therefore, to do anything else until the inauguration eve.

Still, Democrats (and even some Republicans) would like to see the keys handed over to Vice President Mike Pence until Jan. 20.

"What happened at the U.S. Capitol yesterday was an insurrection against the United States, incited by the president. This president should not hold office one day longer," said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who will be majority leader by the end of January based on the outcome of the runoff elections in Georgia.

“The quickest and most effective way — it can be done today — to remove this president from office would be for the Vice President to immediately invoke the 25th amendment," the New York Democrat said in a Thursday statement. "If the Vice President and the Cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress should reconvene to impeach the president."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said she's on board.

“I join the Senate Democratic leader in calling on the vice president to remove this president by immediately invoking the 25th Amendment," the California Democrat said. "If the vice president and cabinet do not act, the Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment. That is the overwhelming sentiment of my caucus -- and the American people by the way.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who is third in the Senate Democratic leadership hierarchy, made a similar comment about the 25th Amendment in a statement issued in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

“The insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol today should be held fully accountable for their actions under the law. So should the President," Murray said. "The most immediate way to ensure the President is prevented from causing further harm in coming days is to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove him from office. As history watches, I urge Vice President Pence and the President’s cabinet to put country before party and act."

Under the 25th Amendment procedure, the vice president and a majority of the presidential Cabinet may determine if the president is unfit to continue to serve. If the president contests the finding (and there's no reason to think Trump wouldn't), a two-thirds vote of both chambers of Congress would ordinarily be needed to push the president aside.

But because it is the very end of the president's term, congressional leaders might be able to run out the clock because the 25th Amendment gives Congress a 21-day window after the vice president and Cabinet certify they believe that the president is not capable of serving. If Congress were to take no action during that time, Pence would remain acting president until Biden is sworn in.

A symbolic action under the 25th Amendment, rejected by Trump, could be a giant step for the history books, however, in the aftermath of the pro-Trump mob running loose at the Capitol Wednesday during the counting of Electoral College votes.

At the center of any 25th Amendment discussion would be not only Pence, who already went against Trump in fulfilling his constitutional role in the vote-counting, but also Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

In a letter posted to Twitter Thursday, Chao said she would leave the administration before the inauguration because of the violence.

“Yesterday our country experienced a traumatic and entirely avoidable event as supporters of the president stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed,” she wrote.  “As I'm sure is the case with many of you, it has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside."

Chao, who served all four years in the Trump administration, has also served in the administrations of George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Her resignation is effective Jan. 11. A Chao spokesman would not comment on whether she would support 25th Amendment efforts to unseat Trump before her departure.

While few elected Republicans have gone as far as the Democrats, one who has is Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger.

"Sadly, yesterday it became evident that not only has the president abdicated his duty to protect the American people and the people's House, he invoked and inflamed passions that only gave fuel to the insurrection we saw here," Kinzinger said in a video message.

"All indications are that the president has become unmoored, not just from his duty or even his oath, but from reality itself," he said. "It is for this reason that I call for the vice president and members of the cabinet to ensure the next few weeks are safe for the American people, and that we have a sane captain of the ship."

Lindsey McPherson and Jessica Wehrman contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify removal procedures under the 25th Amendment.

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