A 1-Minute Guide to the 25th Amendment


Pence watches Trump. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Donald Trump is acting crazy yet again and so here comes all the talk of the 25th Amendment.

Here’s how the 25th Amendment works, in less than 1 minute:

1) The Vice President must declare that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his/her office. The VP’s declaration is required.

2) A majority of the Cabinet–today that means 8 or more members–must also declare the President is unable to do his/her job.

3) They must put that declaration in writing and deliver it to the Speaker of the House and the president pro tem of the Senate. At that point, the VP immediately becomes Acting President.

There. That’s it.

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If you have a few more minutes and want a little more context, read on:

First up, since the 25th Amendment can only be triggered when the Vice President makes the declaration, and our Vice President is currently Mike Pence, I think we can kiss the idea of the 25th Amendment being invoked goodbye.

Secondly, we need 8 or more members of the Cabinet to make the official declaration. (The Constitution actually says either the Cabinet or “another body” that Congress chooses. But since Congress has never had to make that decision, the common understanding is that it would be up to the Cabinet.) Here’s a list of our current Cabinet:

Secretary of State: Mike Pompeo
Secretary of the Treasury: Steven Mnuchin
Secretary of Defense: James Mattis
Attorney General (acting): Matthew Whitaker
Secretary of the Interior: Ryan Zinke
Secretary of Agriculture: Sonny Perdue
Secretary of Commerce: Wilbur Ross
Secretary of Labor: Alex Acosta
Secretary of Health & Human Services: Alex Azar
Secretary of Housing & Urban Development: Ben Carson
Secretary of Transportation: Elaine Chao
Secretary of Energy: Rick Perry
Secretary of Education: Betsy DeVos
Secretary of Veterans Affairs: Robert Wilkie
Secretary of Homeland Security: Kirstjen Nielsen

Are there 8 people on that list who would publicly declare Donald Trump as unfit? Considering how much each one of them has enabled Trump so far, I don’t see it.

Now, if the 25th Amendment is invoked, it is only temporary. In the situation that a President is, say, in a coma for two weeks but then returns to full health, the Vice President can then step aside and let the President resume his/her duties. Unlike being impeached and convicted which does mean the President is removed from power permanently, the 25th Amendment is not a permanent removal of the President.

Let’s say the VP and a majority of the Cabinet agree the President must be removed from power. The President can challenge that decision. The President can declare that he/she is indeed able to perform the job. Then it gets really tricky:

If the VP and majority of the Cabinet don’t reaffirm that he is unable to perform the duties of the office within 4 days, the President returns to office. (I.e. if they do nothing, the President returns to power.)

If the VP and majority of the Cabinet do reaffirm that the President is still unable to perform the duties of the office, then the VP stays on as President while Congress  quickly votes to make the final decision. Both the Senate and the House have to have 2/3 of their members decide that the President should not return to power for the VP to hold onto the office.

So to recap, to get Trump removed from office we’d need Mike Pence to agree and the majority of the Cabinet to agree. We all know Trump would immediately challenge it. Which means 67 members of the Senate and 290 members of the House would have to vote to keep Trump out of office. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see this as even a remote possibility.

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A few frequently asked questions:

When was the 25th Amendment created? 

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy revealed the weakness of the country’s succession plan and Congress moved quickly to fix the problem. The 25th Amendment was ratified by the states in 1967.

Has the 25th Amendment ever been invoked?


Where can I read the text of the 25th Amendment?

The Constitution Center is my favorite site for reading sections of the Constitution. Here is the link: Amendment XXV

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2 replies

  1. Mike Pence scares me more than Trump!

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