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What is the 25th amendment and why wasn’t it used to remove Trump from office?

April Roach and Luke O'Reilly
·4-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Donald Trump has become the first ever US President to be impeached twice.

Despite finally agreeing to an orderly transition of power, the president is facing forcible removal from office in the wake of the US Capitol riots.

Now, with his term expiring next week, the Senate will vote to decide whether he will be removed from office. It will take a two thirds majority to succeed.

It came after Vice President Mike Pence refused a request from the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove Mr Trump with a cabinet vote.

Here we take a look at what the 25th amendment is, and what alternative is left for the Democrats to remove Trump from power.

What is the 25th amendment?

The 25th amendment is one of two ways that a US President can be removed from office.

The amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1967, four years after the assassination of John F Kennedy.

It explains what would happen if a president was, for whatever reason, unable to do his job.

Presidents have used section three of the amendment, which allows them to temporarily hand over power to their vice-presidents. In 2002 and 2007, President George W Bush placed his vice-president in charge when he was sedated during routine colonoscopies.

President Ronald Reagan invoked the amendment in 1985 when he was in hospital for cancer surgery.

Another section - four - allows executive officials to declare the President is unfit to do his or her job. It has never been used before.

Why was the 25th Amendment not used to remove Trump from office

US Vice President Mike Pence ruled out using the 25th Amendment to remove President Donald Trump from office.

In a letter to House speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mr Pence said the mechanism should not be used "as a means of punishment or usurpation" and reserved for cases of medical or mental incapacitation.

Ms Pelosi had called on Mr Pence to secure the majority of the Cabinet and vote to declare Mr Trump unfit to serve - less than a week after the president's supporters stormed the US Capitol.

Instead Mr Pence encouraged Congress to avoid actions to "further divide and inflame the passions of the moment" and to focus on smoothing the transition to President-elect Joe Biden's administration.

Following Mr Pence's decision not to use the 25th Amendment against the president, the House of Representatives voted to impeach the President, with 10 Republicans voting against their party.

What is impeachment?

Impeachment is when a senior figure, suspected of committing offences while in office, is held to account by other senior figures.

Judges, cabinet members and presidents are examples of roles which can be examined.

The suspected party can be impeached for a whole host of reasons including alleged treason, bribery and misdemeanours.

After someone is impeached they go on trial in front of the upper house of Congress called the Senate.

The members decide if the person is guilty of the offence. Impeachment is a political trial and not a criminal one.

President-elect Joe Biden is just one week away from his inauguration, but even at this late stage of Mr Trump’s term, impeachment could see the Senate vote to disqualify Mr Trump from ever holding federal office again.

Mr Trump was previously impeached by the House in December 2019. He was acquitted by the Republican-led Senate in February last year.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a 25th amendment plan to remove Mr Trump from office in October last year.

Ms Pelosi had been raising questions about Mr Trump’s mental fitness since his Covid-19 diagnosis and had called for more transparency about his health.

Weeks before the November 3 election, with no hopes of the bill becoming law, the rollout was eventually dismissed.

Who is calling for Mr Trump’s removal from office?

A handful of Republicans backed impeachment, including Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican.

"I am not choosing a side, I'm choosing truth," Republican Jamie Herrera Beutler said in announcing her support for impeachment, drawing applause from Democrats. "It's the only way to defeat fear."

In a break from standard procedure, Republican House leaders refrained from urging their members to vote against impeachment, calling the vote a matter of individual conscience.

Under the US Constitution, impeachment in the House triggers a trial in the Senate. A two-thirds majority would be needed to convict and remove Trump, meaning at least 17 Republicans in the 100-member chamber would have to join the Democrats.

New York rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted one word: “Impeach”.

Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s chief of staff and a former White House press secretary, submitted her resignation last week.

Deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, White House social secretary Rickie Niceta and deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews also resigned, according to officials.

Officials have said more departures are expected in the coming days.

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie told ABC that “responsible members of the Cabinet” should be thinking about fulfilling their oath of office, adding that Mr Trump had “violated his oath and betrayed the American people”.

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