government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. — Lincoln
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President. -Twenty-fifth Amendment
The Constitution allows Congress to create a commission on presidential fitness, but is it a good idea? The need for an effective way to remove a president in an emergency is apparent. Current provisions are ineffective.
- Impeachment proved futile in the case of the Ukraine scandal, and would likely be futile under any circumstances..
- Even though Trump’s cabinet reportedly contemplated action, today’s cabinets are unlikely to agree to depose their leader in any circumstance.
- There is no other legal procedure for deposing an unfit president.
Yet a commission on presidential fitness might not provide an effective solution.
- A commission, however constituted, would be suspected of political bias.
- Commissioners elected by the people or party in power would be suspect.
- An appointed commission would replace democracy with meritocracy.
- Action by the commission would provoke a constitutional crisis. An unfit president would be expected to defy Congress.
- In the present highly politicized time, the removal of a president for good reason might provoke retaliation for no good reason.
The fundamental problem is that The Constitution assumes some degree of wisdom and good will among elected officials and the people. In the absence of wisdom and good will, constitutional restrictions and long standing norms for acceptable behavior are inadequate. It is a dilemma–if the people won’t protect democracy, American democracy may be a lost cause.