The 25th Amendment: What it is, how it works, and its Indiana roots

Donald Trump
Posted at 5:53 PM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-08 17:54:20-05

INDIANAPOLIS — After the rioting at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, there has been more discussion of invoking the 25th Amendment to the Constitution and removing President Donald Trump from office.

But what is the 25th Amendment and how does it work?

What is it?

There are four sections to the amendment, mostly disclosing what happens if a president is unable to perform the duties of his office. But what’s gaining attention lately is the fourth part, which allows for somebody other than the president to remove them.

The amendment says if the vice president and either most of the president’s Cabinet or a specific body appointed by Congress declare that the president is unfit for office, the vice president immediately takes over. At that time, the president can argue the opposite — that he is still fit for office and able to continue. If that’s the case, Congress makes the decision by a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate.

Why is the 25th Amendment being discussed now?

Many prominent federal lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, both Democrats, have called for Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment over Trump’s role in the riots this week. At Trump’s rally before Wednesday’s protest turned into a riot, he urged the crowd to march to the Capitol.

“We’re going to walk down to the Capitol and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and Congressmen and women,” Trump said.

ABC News reported Thursday that “there have been discussions among some members of Donald Trump's Cabinet and his allies over invoking the 25th Amendment,” and at least one Republican member of Congress, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, has also publicly called for it.

Has the 25th Amendment ever been used before?

Not like this. Part of it has been invoked three times, when presidents were temporarily unable to do their jobs. They temporarily hand off power to their vice president, then resume power when they’re able. NPR has reported President Ronald Reagan did it once when he underwent cancer surgery in 1985, and President George W. Bush did it twice while undergoing routine colonoscopies.

It was written so the country has a plan if a president is ill or incapacitated, not in a situation like this.

What’s the history of it?

The amendment was written by Indiana’s own Birch Bayh, the only American to author two constitutional amendments who wasn’t also a Founding Father. He also wrote the 26th Amendment, which lowered the country’s voting age to 18.

The 25th Amendment was passed by Congress in 1965 and ratified in 1967, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.