Sunday, November 27, 2016

The easy way to remove Don from office

The latest video from Keith Olbermann, above, details an easy way that Don could be deposed as president without impeachment. There would be issues and obstacles to overcome, but the scenario that Keith lays out is legal, constitutional, and possible. Which is not to say it’s likely—or unlikely, either.

Keith is talking about using the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1967, which spells out the provisions for presidential succession, as well as what happens if, in the words of the Amendment, “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”.

Don’s fervent fans would consider it to be a sort of coup d'├ętat, however, the better, accurate comparison would be a parliamentary democracy. Keith mentions the UK, but it could be any similar country, including New Zealand and—especially—Australia.

In Australia, Kevin Rudd became Australia’s Prime Minister when his Australian Labor Party won the 2007 election. Then, he was deposed by Julia Gillard, who (barely) won the 2010 election. She was then deposed by Kevin Rudd in 2013, who lost that year’s election to the Liberal-National Coalition, making Tony Abbott prime minister until HE was deposed by Malcolm Turnbull in 2015. Turnbull won the 2016 election and is still the Australian Prime Minister—for now.

New Zealand has been much more sedate by comparison. In 1990, Mike Moore deposed Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer to, as he put it, prevent a greater loss by the NZ Labour Party in the 1990 elections two months later. The National party won the 1990 election, as expected, making Jim Bolger New Zealand Prime Minister. Bolger won the 1993 and 1996 elections, but was deposed by Jenny Shipley in 1997, a little over a year after the 1996 election. National lost the 1999 election, and Labour’s Helen Clark became Prime Minister. No New Zealand Prime Ministers have been deposed by their own party since.

The experience of the UK that Keith describes, as well as that of Australia and New Zealand, demonstrate a way to have a peaceful transfer of power when the head of government can no longer act in their role. That’s what Section 4 of the 25th Amendment does for the United States.

The alternative in the USA is for a president to be impeached by the US House of Representatives and then removed from office by the US Senate. Two US Presidents—Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton—were impeached, while Richard Nixon resigned before his inevitable impeachment. No president has ever been removed from office, but scholars generally agree that Nixon would have been.

It’s difficult to impeach a US President, and—so far—impossible to remove him. There's also a strong partisan bias against launching proceedings against a sitting president of the same party that controls the US House. This is why it’s unlikely that Don would be impeached and removed from office unless he faces some sort of criminal prosecution, which is entirely possible, or his abuse of his office or corruption in office was too egregious for even the most partisan Republicans to ignore.

The 25th Amendment provides a much easier way for Republicans to remove Don without having to risk failing to impeach and remove him. It would be messy, there would be a lot of awkward moments because of it, but, even so, it's possible. There’s absolutely no way to know if the Republicans would do this, however, there’s also no reason to dismiss the possibility outright—NOTHING about Don was, is, or ever will be, conventional.

Finally, a word about the video itself. During the campaign, Keith made a series of often strident videos for GQ in a series called “The Closer”. After the election, that series was renamed “The Resistance”, a term becoming common among some of Don’s opponents among Liberals and Progressives (thought not all use or even tolerate the term). Many of Keith's post-election videos have been even more strident than the election ones were, but the one above is less so. It also provides some really useful information for helping people understand the US Constitution better, as well as for giving people some hope that Don could be shoved to the sidelines if removing him would be too difficult.

Despite the easier Constitutional path to getting rid of Don, my bet is still that Don will simply resign part way through his term. The sooner the better, in my opinion.

Related: November 27 is the 43rd anniversary of the first time the 25th Amendment was used, when the US Senate voted 92-3 to confirm Gerald R. Ford as the 40th Vice President, to replace Spiro T. Agnew, who had resigned as a condition for pleading “no contest” to a single, lesser charge in his prosecution for bribery and corruption. Nine days later, the US House approved Ford in a 387 to 35 vote, making him the president-in-waiting as the presidency of Richard Nixon spiralled ever closer to its end.

Constitution Daily, the blog of the National Constitution Center, talks about this, and notes that because the US House was controlled by Democrats, had the 25th Amendment not been in place, the Speaker of the House, Carl Albert, a Democrat, would have become Acting President when Nixon, a Republican, resigned effective August 9, 1974.

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