Welcome to another installment in “Get To Know Your Government,” a series that answers obscure questions about how politics and government in the United States works.
This installment is brought to you by 2017. The Hold-My-Beer of years.
The President of the United States of America is the head of the Executive Branch of the Federal government, and is ostensibly in charge of setting policies on how laws are enforced, is the Commander in Chief of the military, and helps set foreign policy. They do not create laws, nor do they interpret them. Those are the purview of the Legislative and Judicial branches, respectively. Separate but equal in power, ensuring a series of checks and balances on each other.
A President is elected through the Electoral College, not by popular vote, and serves a 4 year term. The 22nd Amendment set a limit of two terms. This was after FDR died in office shortly after being sworn in for his fourth term.
There are five ways that a person can be leave the Presidency. They are completing their term, death, resignation, removal following Impeachment, and removal following the procedures laid out in the 25th Amendment.
SERVING OUT THE TERM
The easiest, and by far most common method for a President to leave the office is to finish their term. Once their four years are up, or 8 if they won reelection, they walk out and go home. Every President since Gerald Ford has left the office peacefully at the end of their term. It’s said that on Inauguration Day, the two happiest people on the planet are the incoming and outgoing Presidents. One has accomplished their life-long goal, the other is glad that it’s someone else’s problem now.
DIED IN OFFICE
The next most common method of leaving office is unfortunately the most tragic. Dying in office. This has happened 8 times in American history. William Henry Harrison got sick and died in 1841, a few months after being elected. Zachary Taylor ate something that didn’t agree with him in 1850. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, as was James Garfield in 1881, and William McKinley in 1901. Warren G. Harding died of mysterious circumstances in 1923, Franklin D. Roosevelt died of natural causes in 1945, and John F. Kennedy was killed in 1963. In each of those situations, the Vice President was immediately sworn in as President.
As of August 2017, only Richard Milhouse Nixon has resigned the office of President of the United States. Nixon resigned before he was impeached for his role in Watergate. When he resigned, Gerald Ford became the first President to serve that wasn’t elected by the Electoral College as either the President or Vice President, as he was appointed to replace Spiro Agnew.
The founding fathers developed a method to remove corrupt government officials from their offices called Impeachment.
Impeachment works when the House of Representatives drafts and passes Articles of Impeachment against a person, listing all of the crimes they are accused of. Then, the House votes on each article. If even one of those passes the House, the official is Impeached. That does not mean they are removed from office, however.
Following an Impeachment, the passed articles then head to the Senate for trial. There, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court oversees the trial while the Senate serves as the jury. If a 2/3rds majority votes yea, the person is removed from office and is barred from serving the public trust ever again.
While this has happened with many judges and other bureaucrats, no President has been removed from office this way. Bill Clinton was impeached in the 1990’s for lying under oath, but the vote to remove him from office wasn’t even close. Andrew Johnson avoided removal from office by one vote.
The final legal method for removing a President from office is through use of the 25th Amendment.
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.
Section 4 of the 25th Amendment was originally intended to be used for temporary incapacitation or serious medical issue, like a stroke or heart attack. George W. Bush used this when he went under for a colon surgery, and, for s few hours, Dick Cheney was Acting President. The only thing he did was write a note to his granddaughter.
This has never been used to permanently transfer power to the Vice President. It hasn’t been needed yet.
LIKELIHOOD OF EACH HAPPENING
Personally, based off of what I’ve seen, read, heard, felt, and tasted, here’s how I think Trump will leave office.
Donald Trump won’t make it a full 4 year term. He’s under several investigations at once, is facing record low approval ratings, is an embarrassment to the country, and is dangerously unstable, and unhealthy.
Death from natural causes is pretty high with him. I won’t rule out an assassin trying something, but the Secret Service is very good at their job.
Trump may try to resign when he feels things are getting too close to him, but he’s just unstable enough to want to fight this the whole way through an Impeachment. I put the odds between those two at a coin toss.
As far as the 25th goes, all it requires is a majority of the Cabinet, or a panel appointed by the House to determine whether Donald Trump is fit to serve as President. I still think it’s pretty unlikely, which considering its 2017, means it’ll probably happen. It’s the easiest and safest way for the Republicans to get away from Trump without any criminal charges.
That’s it for tonight. Let’s see what else breaks.