When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, the was some confusion on succession. The Constitution was not clear on whether the vice president would be president or acting president in the event of the death, resignation, removal or incapacity due to disability.
In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.
It does not state who had the power to declare a President incapacitated. Also, it did not provide a mechanism for filling a Vice Presidential vacancy prior to the next Presidential election. The issue of clarification was already under discussion in the Senate prior to Kennedy’s death, With concerns over the health of the new President Lyndon Johnson, who had already had two heart attacks, the process of writing and passing a presidential succession amendment accelerated. The 25th Amendment was ratified on February 10, 1967 while Johnson was still in office. It supersedes the ambiguous wording of Article II, Section 1, Clause 6. It reads:
Section 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
Section 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.
Section 3. Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.
Section 4. 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.
Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days 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. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
With the election of Donald Trump and serious questions about his mental health and many conflicts of interest, as well as, his questionable relationship with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, there has been more discussion of both the Emoluments Clause and section 4 of the 25th Amendment. Removing Trump by impeachment has many impediments sine both houses of congress are controlled by the very partisan Republican party, very much unlike the grand old party of the 70’s that saw the need to remove Pres. Richard M. Nixon. This GOP sees Trump as a means to pass their agenda while the public is being distracted by trump’s antics, national security be damned.
The man who wields the power to remove Trump from office under Article 4 of the 25th Amendment is Vice Pres. Mike Pence, an unpopular religious ideologue who, policy wise, may be worse than Trump but not as erratic. He is greatest danger to Trump’s presidency.
The 25th Amendment might well be the relief from the lunatic that now occupies the Oval Office but it won’t cure the real ailment plaguing American, the Republican Party.