On Jan. 6, as a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building, the president tweeted that “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country.” Twitter, in a warning attached to the tweet attacking his vice president—who presides over the Senate—said the post couldn’t be liked or retweeted “due to a risk of violence.”
Ted Lieu, a Democratic member of Congress from California, suggested in response that the tweet, which could be read as an incitement to violently overturn the US presidential election results, was sufficient grounds for Pence “to start the 25th Amendment process.” The sentiment was echoed by Democratic representatives Charlie Crist (Florida) and Seth Moulton (Massachusetts), along with the National Association of Manufacturers and the North America Building Trades Union. By the following morning, at least four Republican members of Congress had joined the chorus, and according to CBS News, some members of the cabinet are discussing the possibility as well.
The 25th amendment, which was enacted in 1967 following the assassination of president John F. Kennedy in 1963, provides a protocol for how the vice president can assume power in case the president is in some way incapacitated. It covers cases in which the president agrees that he is temporarily unfit for office—two presidents, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, have invoked it while they underwent surgeries—as well as cases in which the president does not consent.
In the latter scenario, which seems more relevant to the current situation, Pence would need to produce a letter co-signed by a majority of Trump’s 15 cabinet secretaries stating “that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” and deliver it to the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader.
At that point, Pence would immediately take over as president, until Trump himself delivered a letter countering the assertion. After that, Congress is required to assemble within 48 hours, and to vote on the matter within 21 days. If a two-thirds majority in both chambers agrees that the president is unfit, the vice president remains acting president until the next regularly scheduled election.
In the case of Trump and Pence, because Trump has only 14 days remaining in his term, the congressional voting aspect could be moot. But it’s still impossible to predict whether the requisite coalition of cabinet members forming up behind Pence.
Since his tweet this morning, Trump released a video asking demonstrators to “go home” and saying “we have to have peace.” But he reiterated his claim that “the election was stolen from us” and was “fraudulent.”
This post has been updated to include more recent information.