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From twitter tirades to bombastic statements, some critics of President Donald Trump are suggesting that the President might be mentally unstable and should be removed from office. The most obvious avenue in the U.S. Constitution to remove a President from office is through the impeachment and conviction process (The U.S House votes to impeach, then the U.S. Senate votes to convict). With the Republicans in control of both legislative chambers, this is highly unlikely.

Enter the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. The 25th Amendment states that should the President die or resign, the Vice President assumes the office of President. The amendment asserts that the new President may nominate a new Vice President, who can take the office upon winning a majority vote of both legislative chambers. In particular, Section 4 of the amendment provides a formula for removal of a President from office who“is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” According to the amendment, the Vice President and either a majority of Cabinet members or a majority of members of Congress must agree to remove the President. In the case at hand, this is a tall order considering that the GOP controls both the Cabinet and the Congress.

Flash back to November 27, 1963. President John F. Kennedy had been slain just five days earlier. The new President, Lyndon B. Johnson, addressed a Joint Session of Congress. The nation, still in mourning, watched the speech on television. The two men seated directly behind the President were first and second in line of Presidential succession. At this time, there was no provision in the Constitution allowing the President to nominate a new Vice President. Johnson had no Vice President until being sworn in for a full term in 1965. Had Johnson died in office, next in line to the Presidency was the 72-year old Speaker of the House John McCormack (D-MA). Behind him was 86-year old Senate Pro Tempore Carl Hayden (D-AZ). Neither appeared ready to serve as President.

Ironically, McCormack almost did assume the Presidency on the day Kennedy was killed. Secret Service Agent Gerald Blaine was on duty guarding Johnson’s Washington D.C. home. He heard footsteps and fired his submachine gun in the air to ward off any potential intruders. However, the person continued to walk toward Blaine. Blaine then put his finger on the trigger ready to shoot what he thought was an intruder. Fortunately Blaine then recognized the man walking toward him. It was President Johnson.

Prior to the 25th Amendment, the Constitution did not specify a procedure should the President become too disabled to discharge the duties of the office. Some Presidents had signed agreements with their Vice Presidents, stating under what conditions the Vice President would replace the President. However, these written agreements were not legally binding.

The Kennedy assassination put passage of the 25th Amendment on the fast track. Prior to Kennedy’s death, the American Bar Association had recommended a Constitutional amendment to codify a procedure for removing an incapacitated President and choosing a new President and Vice President. In 1965, the Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments Birch Bayh (D-IN) introduced his version of the proposed amendment. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Emanuel Celler (D-NY) introduced a separate proposal. The two versions were eventually reconciled, and by 1967 received approval of the requisite two-thirds of the states.

The impetus for writing this amendment was to avoid a similar situation as happened In 1919. President Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke. His wife Edith secretly made many decisions for the President. The President could barely even sign an official document. Much of this was downplayed in public, as the President was able to hide the severity of that stroke with wit and the appearance of dexterity for visitors. When U.S. Senator Albert Fall (R-MT), a steadfast critic, came to visit him, Fall began the meeting by stating to the President: “We have been praying for you Mr. President.” In a flash, Wilson proved his mental dexterity with the following clever retort: “Which way, Senator?” Fall later reported that the President was not too impaired to serve.

I recently spoke with Jason Berman, who was a legislative assistant for Senator Bayh during the development of the 25th Amendment. He remarked: “Woodrow Wilson was the historical precedent” which the amendment was based on. The drafters of the amendment were trying to conceive of “a set of traditional types of issues for inability and incapacity. Section 4 was conceived to cover situations where the President was unable. It was meant to cover a blind spot. It was not meant to be politically motivated.”

The timing of getting the amendment ratified was fortuitous. In 1973, just five years after the Amendment was ratified, Vice President Spiro Agnew was forced to resign after pleading nolo contender (no contest) to charges of failing to report $29,500 of personal income. President Richard M. Nixon now had the authority to nominate a new Vice President. His first choice to succeed Agnew was U.S. Treasury Secretary John Connally. However, Congressional leaders told Nixon that Connally would have problems being confirmed, so Nixon went with his second choice, U.S. House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford (R-MI). A year later, Nixon became enveloped in the Watergate Affair and was forced to resign from office. Ford became President.

Had the 25th Amendment not been in place when Republican President Nixon resigned, Democratic House Speaker Carl Albert of Oklahoma would have succeeded him. Thus despite the American people resoundingly re-electing a Republican President in 1972 (Nixon won 49 states), a Democrat would have ascended to the Presidency.

As President, Ford used the 25th Amendment to nominate former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President. Congress subsequently confirmed Rockefeller.

During the interim, when Nixon, then Ford were deciding who to nominate for Vice President, and again during the time period when Congress was considering the respective nominations of first Ford, then Rockefeller for Vice President, U.S. House Speaker Carl Albert (D-OK) was next in the line of succession for the Presidency.

Speaker Albert had no presidential aspirations. However, when Nixon resigned, a battalion of Secret Service agents camped outside his apartment in a trailer. Albert’s landlord received a multitude of calls from other tenants in the building lamenting the presence of the agents. Some tenants believed the occupants of the trailer were hippies.

The disability provision of the 25th Amendment has been applied three times when the President underwent surgery. It was applied in 1985 when Ronald Reagan underwent Colon cancer surgery, and in 2002 and 2007 when George W. Bush experienced a colonoscopy.

U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is in the process of creating a “working group to clarify and strengthen” the amendment. Blumenauer avers: “In the absence of Congressional action, the constitutional language depends on action by the cabinet who may be fired by the President, undermining this ostensible check on an unstable president. It’s time to revisit and strengthen the Amendment and make sure there is a reliable mechanism in place.”

While the intent of the Amendment was never political, it can be a potential tool in the arsenal of those (in particular those members of the opposing party) who fear the President is mentally unstable.


Leakapalooza: Leaks are Nothing New in the White House

by Rich Rubino on February 22, 2017

Donald Trump is waging a Holy War against information leaks. He recently complained:“From intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked. It’s criminal action, criminal act, and it’s been going on for a long time before me.”

Leaking has been a bone of contention between Presidents and maverick government officials throughout the existence of the Republic. While Presidents attempt to keep private information private, moles regularly disclose the information to the media. Contrariwise, when the President actually wants to get the information out, he will sometimes leak the information himself.

In 1870, U.S. Attorney General Ebenezer R. Hoar of Massachusetts was asked by President Ulysses S. Grant to resign his Cabinet position. Grant told Hoar that Southern Senators were lobbying him to put a Southerner in the Cabinet and also protested that he had too many Massachusetts’ natives in his Cabinet. However, before Grant could publically announce the resignation, Grant’s personal secretary leaked the information to the media, and in the process blindsided Grant’s staff and Cabinet.

In 1874, as the nation was mired in an economic depression, President Grant ordered General George Armstrong Custer to lead a group to what is now known as the Black Hills of South Dakota to identify a good area to construct a military outpost. During the mission, Custer and his team happened to discover gold. When word got out, miners voyaged to the area to prospect for the gold. Many media outlets demanded that Grant annex the land. However, the U.S. had signed a treaty granting the Lakota Indians plenary authority to the land.

Grant publicly maintained that he would not violate the treaty. Yet his administration, seeking to purloin the land from the tribe, created fake grievances against the Lakota’s. Erwin Watkins, who worked as an inspector at the Federal Indian Bureau, was enlisted to issue a report about the Lakota tribe members who did not sign the peace treaty with the Federal Government. The dossier branded the tribe as “wild and hostile bands of Sioux Indians.” The Lakotas were also excoriated for allegedly killing white settlers.

The Report was leaked to the media. The leaker was never exposed. The Chicago Inter Ocean Newspaper reported: “The roving tribes and those who are known as wild Indians will probably be given over entirely to the military until they are subdued.” The administration denied that it was planning for war. However, war did ensue and the U.S. seized the land.

Theodore Roosevelt leaked information to the Press during the anthracite coal strike of 1902, telling the Media that he would nationalize the nation’s coal mines and order federal troops to distribute the coal if a settlement could not be reached. This leak effectuated an agreement by the coal companies to sit-down at the arbitration table with the United Mine Workers. The result was that the coal miners were awarded a pay raise and a shorter workday. Thus the strike was averted.

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson campaigned for a full Presidential term in office in part by trying to tether his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, to extremists. When the Goldwater campaign used the slogan: “In your heart you know he’s right” the Johnson campaign cleverly retorted: “In your gut you know he’s nuts.”

Goldwater denied charges that he was “trigger-happy.” He argued that Johnson’s Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, had authorized the use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Actually, McNamara had ordered the Seventh Fleet to the Gulf of Tonkin, authorizing them to use “whatever force is necessary,” but had categorically discounted the use of nuclear weapons.

In order to combat Goldwater’s line of attack that Johnson was actually more bellicose than him, either Johnson or a subordinate leaked to Chalmers Roberts of The Washington Postthat Johnson had ordered the usage of “conventional ordinances only.” This was proved by listening to Johnson directly giving that order. The President recorded his telephone conversations. The subheading of Roberts’ article read: “Orders now taped.”

When Vice President Gerald R. Ford assumed the Presidency in 1974, after the resignation of Richard M. Nixon, he chose former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to assume the Vice Presidency. However, an allegation was gaining traction that Rockefeller had hired henchmen to disrupt the Democratic National Convention. Hamilton Long, a crusader against Communism, leaked the allegations to the Press. This prompted Ford to instruct the FBI to investigate the charges. Rockefeller was cleared when the accusations against him proved mendacious. Long had claimed that there was a safe deposit box which contained documents proving the accusations. However, the safe deposit box housed no such documents. Ford subsequently announced Rockefeller as his choice for Vice President.

In 1981, Syndicated Columnist Jack Anderson received leaks about potential changes in the cabinet of President Ronald Reagan. U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig was allegedly on Reagan’s “disappointment list.” An inflamed Haig blamed the allegation on a White House aide who was “running a gorilla campaign” against him. The leaker was never unearthed, but the possibility of a rogue aide dispensing this information became a story in and of itself.

There was an instance in 1893 wherein the White House successfully denied a leaked story. Grover Cleveland suffered from a cancerous tumor at the top of his mouth. Doctors told him that it must be removed to save the President’s life. Cleveland agreed to have it removed only if the operation did not get leaked to the press. The nation was enveloped in an economic depression and the President was trepidatious about the potential effect his condition would have on the stock market.

Cleveland and the doctors formulated a scheme wherein the President would tell the media that he was taking a four-day fishing excursion on a friend’s yacht from New York City to his summer home in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. During the trip, six doctors performed the surgery.

Two months after the surgery, E.J. Edwards of the Philadelphia Press wrote a story about the operation, telling readers that one of the doctors had leaked the information about the operation to him. Cleveland vociferously denied the story, and it soon died. However, the scheme was revealed in 1917 (24 years later) when one of the doctors, William keen, admitted the entire story and thus exonerating Edwards.

The aforementioned examples are just a small sampling of the leaks which occur in Presidential administrations. David Axelrod, a former aide to Barack Obama, averred during the President’s 2012 re-election campaign: “There are leaks out of every administration.”

Jody Powell, who served as Press Secretary to President Jimmy Carter informed the Washington Post of the process he employed to leak information to the media. “If I wanted to leak something I would get somebody else to do it. Generally speaking, the higher up the leaker is, the more credibility he has; except that, again, it might be better to have a staffer at the National Security Council do it than the National Security Adviser, because it would seem more exciting to the reporter and less like the party line.”

Donald Trump is now learning about the leaky culture which permeates the political-media landscape in Washington D.C. Leaks are not aberrations by rogue government employees, but fairly regular occurrences that have existed at the Presidential level since the founding of the Republic. The Journalist William Greider averred: “Leaks and whispers are a daily routine of news-gathering in Washington.”


Trump Was Not First to Use Slogan “America First”

February 1, 2017

In his Inaugural Address, President Donald Trump repeated a theme from his Presidential Campaign, telling the world: “From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.” Many Trump critics point to the fact that this was a watchword for those who opposed U.S. intervention in WWll before the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor. Actually, the phrase […]

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Presidential Transition Day: Some Interesting Stories

January 11, 2017

Protocol dictates that the outgoing President leaves a note to be read by his successor upon taking office. This practice began when Ronald Reagan left a note for his successor George H.W. Bush, admonishing him: “Don’t let the turkey’s get you down.” The President then welcomes his successor to the White House. The outgoing and […]

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Split Voter Syndrome

January 4, 2017

In 2016, Vermont voters selected Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by more than 26 percentage points over Republican nominee Donald Trump, while also choosing Republican Gubernatorial nominee Phil Scott by over eight points. Contrariwise, West Virginia voters chose Trump with an overwhelming 68.7% of the vote. This was his biggest win in the country. However, […]

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Congressman Tim Ryan: From Political Obscurity To Rustbelt Renegade

December 7, 2016

A year ago, U.S. Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH) was an obscure backbencher Congressman. He has since become a national figure, first for his consideration by Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for her Vice Presidential runningmate, and second for his role in unsuccessfully challenging House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in her bid for re-election to […]

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Donald Trump’s Democratic Allies?

November 23, 2016

Donald Trump won the Presidency not only by appealing to the Republican Party’s core conservative constituencies, but also by winning the support of many blue-collar workers who had marked ballots for Democratic Presidential nominees in the past. Trump did this by running as a populist insurrectionist candidate whose appeal ran beyond traditional Republicans who champion […]

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Slim Victories and Narrow Defeats: Razor-close Elections In American Politics

November 4, 2016

In politics, most candidates would probably rather lose in an electoral avalanche than lose by a razor-thin margin. A candidate will always have second thoughts regarding what he/she could have done to win the election. A mishap or day off the campaign trail can haunt candidates for the rest of their lives. Richard M. Nixon […]

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Like Nixon In 1968, Pence Could Become The Consensus GOP Candidate in 2020

October 18, 2016

Before Donald Trump selected Mike Pence to be his Vice Presidential Runningmate, Pence was locked in a tight race to retain his job as Indiana Governor, sporting job approval ratings of under 50 percent. If Pence had run for re-election and lost, his expiration date as a viable Presidential candidate would likely have passed. On […]

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Hillary Plays Into Hands Of Trump With ‘Basket Of Deplorables’ Remark

September 28, 2016

Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton recently stated at a New York fundraiser: “You can put half of Donald Trump’s supporters into what I call a basket of deplorables.” While she was referring to the most extreme Trump supporters, her characterization is an exhibition of why Democrats are losing white blue-collar voters, some of whom share […]

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