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Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy.
This is pretty simple: President Donald Trump is not only unfit for the office he holds — that’s been true for four years — but he’s now actively a danger to the republic. Yes, there are only two weeks remaining in his term, but he should be removed from office.
Hundreds of political scientists agree, and after the mob invited to Washington by Trump and egged on by Trump attacked the Capitol on Wednesday, these scholars of democracy, U.S. politics and world politics rapidly organized an open letter calling for Trump to be ousted “through the impeachment process or by invoking the 25th Amendment.”
“The President’s actions threaten American democracy. He has rejected the peaceful transfer of power, encouraged state legislators to overturn election results in their states, pressured a state official to change election results and now incited a violent mob that shut down the counting of electoral votes and stormed the U.S. Capitol.
“Our profession seeks to understand politics, not engage in it, but we share a commitment to democratic values. The President’s actions show he is unwilling or unable to fulfill his oath to protect and defend the Constitution. He should be removed from office immediately before further violence takes place or further damage is done to our democracy.”
I don’t expect this to happen (although there’s some reporting that at least some senior Republicans may be interested). But it should.
There are three methods possible to evict a president from office: Impeachment and removal; resignation under threat of removal, as was the case for President Richard Nixon in 1974; and the use of the 25th Amendment, which lays out a process by which his Cabinet can declare him unable to perform his duties. The best method would be impeachment by the House of Representatives and removal by the Senate.
It’s the proper constitutional form. It would further allow the Senate, under the Constitution, to disqualify Trump from holding any future office. It is public in a way that the use of the 25th Amendment, or resignation, is not. Members of the House and Senate would have to go on record. Granted, any impeachment at this point would have to skip the process of building a record through committee hearings and deliberation, and the Senate would not have time to hold any serious trial before Trump’s term ends on Jan. 20. But votes could be taken, and members could be held responsible.
I remain skeptical about using the procedures of the 25th Amendment, intended to protect against a president who is unable to function, to remove a president who simply shouldn’t be in office. The 25th isn’t fully tested, and while scholars have studied it, the mechanism was never intended for use against a president who would fight back against it and it’s not entirely clear that it would work smoothly in practice. And at best, Vice President Mike Pence would only become acting president, leaving Trump in a weird president-but-without-his-powers status, presumably maneuvering nonstop to restore himself. No one has any doubt that if the House impeaches and the Senate convicts, Vice President Mike Pence would immediately become president until the term expires in two weeks.
The other possibility, resignation under fire, appears entirely unrealistic. And even if it could happen, a formal statement of charges by the House and conviction by the Senate would be better.
Trump has been undermining the rule of law since election day. His actions in the last few days, from pressuring state officials to break the law to fomenting violence, make it dangerous to leave him in office — and the repugnance of his actions demands an official response. It’s good to see responsible Republicans such as Sen. Mitt Romney and the chair of the House Republican Conference, Rep. Liz Cheney, tell the truth about Trump’s culpability. If they believe what they say, they should take the lead in removing him from the White House as soon as possible.