The 25th: It’s a short amendment with long-reaching power.
Some lawmakers and even the National Association of Manufacturers — hardly a liberal organization — are urging Vice President Mike Pence and cabinet leaders to invoke a portion of the 25th Amendment, in effect declaring that President Trump is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
There are four sections of the 25th, and while 1, 2 and 3 have been used to place the vice president in charge, Section 4 has never been invoked. (When President Ronald Reagan was shot in March 1981, his administration prepared the papers for Section 4, which would have made then-Vice President George H.W. Bush the commander-in-chief. But it was never invoked.)
To take this unprecedented step, Pence and the majority of the cabinet would need to declare their intent in writing to the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, and Senate President Pro Temp Chuck Grassley, a Republican.
Trump would immediately be relieved of the presidency, although the 25th allows the commander-in-chief to rebut the declaration. If he did, Trump would then resume the presidency unless Pence and the cabinet resubmitted their declaration within four days. Congress could then vote within 21 days, which under the current circumstances, would be after Inauguration Day. A two-thirds majority is required to remove the president in this situation.
Since the 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967 — a response to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy four years prior — other sections have been invoked:
In 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned after being charged with political corruption. Section 2 of the 25th Amendment required President Richard Nixon to nominate a new vice president for Congressional approval. Nixon appointed Gerald Ford and Congress approved the nomination.
In August 1974, Nixon resigned, also amid the Watergate scandal. Section 1 of the 25th allowed Ford to ascend to the presidency. Since that left a vice presidential vacancy, Ford invoked the 25th amendment — again Section 2 — and nominated Nelson Rockefeller to fill the vacancy.
In July 1985, before President Ronald Reagan underwent surgery for colon cancer, he used Section 3 of the 25th Amendment to temporarily transfer power to Vice President George H.W. Bush.
In June 2002, President George W. Bush invoked Section 3 prior to going under anesthesia for a colonoscopy and briefly made Vice President Dick Cheney the acting president. He did the same again when he had another colonoscopy in 2007.