The time may be coming when the country will have to have a serious conversation about a very uncomfortable topic: President Biden’s mental health.
It’s a conservation the left and the media forced on the public during the Trump administration. Claims that President Trump was not mentally fit for the job and needed to be removed from office began in earnest right after his inauguration in 2017.
By January 2018, questions about Trump’s “mental fitness for the heavy duties of the presidency” nudged him to ask his doctor to administer a cognitive test. Members of Congress even requested the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service to provide an overview of the 25th Amendment’s history, purpose and process for removing a president.
In December 2019, 350 psychiatrists and other mental health professionals signed a petition during the Democrats’ first impeachment fiasco claiming Trump’s mental health was rapidly deteriorating. And the accusations took on renewed urgency right after the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Democrats even tried but failed to establish a “presidential disability review body” in 2017 to help with the ousting process.
All those efforts went nowhere. Yes, Trump can be unpredictable, moody, temperamental, undisciplined and occasionally downright crude, according to those who served under him. But I know several people who claim similar characteristics for their bosses.
Biden’s issues are substantively different. We frequently see him, after he has delivered a speech, wander off as if he doesn’t know where he is or where he’s supposed to go. Someone hurries over and takes his arm and points him in the right direction.
At times he’s lucid and in control, but at other times he seems baffled and confused. It’s not unusual to see this behavior in older people, and Biden turns 80 this month.
While many 80-plus seniors are still intellectually vigorous – famed lawyer Alan Dershowitz, for example, is 84 and still an intellectual powerhouse – Biden isn’t your average senior. He’s the president of the United States with two more years in office, and he’s hinting he wants four more years after that. If that is indeed mental decline we’re seeing, it will likely get worse.
So how would a 25th Amendment removal work? The amendment was proposed by Congress in 1965 and ratified by the states in 1967. While Article II, Section I, Clause 6 of the U.S. Constitution says the vice president will assume the “powers and duties” of the presidency in the event of the president’s “inability” to serve, it doesn’t define what inability means. President Eisenhower had a number of health issues, so he and then-Vice President Nixon worked out an arrangement for when Nixon might need to take charge.
After the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, Congress added more specificity to the Constitution’s conditions and process for transferring power, hence the 25th Amendment.
The amendment has four sections. The first reaffirms that the vice president becomes president upon the death or resignation of the president. The second provides for replacing the vice president if that office becomes vacant. The third section lays out how the president can voluntarily transfer power to the vice president, such as if the president is very sick or undergoing a medical procedure.
The fourth section is the only one that has never been implemented. It provides for the involuntary replacement of the president when the “Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments [i.e., the Cabinet] or of such other body as Congress may by law provide” determine that the “President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
Would Vice President Harris ever take such a step? It strikes me as very unlikely.
More likely, I think, would be a full-court press by Democratic leaders to convince Biden not to run for reelection. How successful that effort would be is anyone’s guess. People in mental decline are often the last to concede the fact. But as I have written here previously, political parties don’t have the power to stop someone from running, especially an incumbent president. So, if Democratic leaders feel Biden isn’t up to running again, they could use the 25th Amendment provision as leverage to get him to agree.
No one, Republican or Democrat, hopes it comes to that. But we live in a very dangerous time, with rogue authoritarians seeking to expand their influence and power, especially if they perceive a weakened U.S. president.
Democrats spent four years waving the 25th Amendment flag at Donald Trump, mostly because they didn’t like him or his policies. It was an exercise in futility that further angered and divided the country. But the day may be coming when the country will have to turn to Section 4 of the 25th Amendment for the good of the nation.