Fire and Fury and the 25th Amendment

This week an explosive new book called Fire and Fury: Inside the White House was published. The book was written by journalist Michael Wolff who claimed to have ‘fly on the wall’ access to the White House and its staff.

Fire and Fury

Wolff’s book has caused a storm across Washington

Among the key claims in the book are:

  • Members of Trump’s campaign team were certain he would not win. It is claimed that Kellyanne Conway, his campaign manager, was already job-hunting before Election Day.
  • Trump eats so much fast-food because he is worried about being poisoned.
  • That the First Lady, Melania Trump, was disappointed by Trump’s election victory.
  • Staff in Trump’s White House describe him as ‘Child-Like’.

The book featured ‘on the record’ interviews with former Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon. Among the claims about the Trump administration by Bannon were:

Sloppy Steve

Trump’s former strategist has now been labelled ‘Sloppy Steve’ by the President

  • That a meeting between Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr, and Lawyers with links to the Russian Government were “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”.
  • That Ivanka Trump was “dumb” and that she had ambitions to be the first female President of the United States.

Trump’s response was ferocious. As expected, the first salvos were fired on Twitter:

Trump Tweet

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There have been a number of factual errors in the book. Some commentators have been extremely critical of the author. Trump himself has already questioned the access that Wolff had to him in making the book. Wolff has said that he has spent around 3 hours with Trump, the President has disputed this, saying he hardly met him. The book is now No.1 on the Amazon Best-Sellers List. Arguably, this is largely because of the reaction of the Trump Administration.

Among the things being talked about this week is the 25th Amendment. This was passed in February 1967 and changed a number if important things:

Section 1 – Confirmed that the Vice-President would assume the presidency if the President resigned or died.

Therefore, when Richard Nixon resigned on the 9th August 1974, Gerald Ford became President.

Section 2 – If there was a vacancy for Vice-President the President would nominate a Vice-President who would be confirmed by the House of Representatives.

This happened in 1974 when Spiro Agnew was forced to resign as Vice-President after pleading guilty to tax evasion. Gerald Ford was nominated by Nixon as the next Vice-President and the House of Representatives confirmed his appointment by 387-5.

Gerald Ford

When Gerald Ford became President in August 1974 he was the first to assume the position having not won a popular election. He was an unelected President.

Section 3 – This allowed for the President to temporarily hand his power to the Vice-President by signing a letter that is sent to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Senate Pro Tempore. The President can return his powers by submitting a second letter.

George W. Bush twice used Section 3 to hand power to Dick Cheney whilst he was under general anaesthetic.

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Dick Cheney (left) twice became Acting President while George W. Bush was indisposed

Section 4 – Of these, one that has been talked about this week is Section 4. Section 4 of the 25th Amendment allows a President to be removed from office if they are deemed by the Vice-President and the majority of the cabinet to be unfit to ‘discharge their duties’. If this were agreed, the President would be removed from Office, either permanently or temporarily, and the Vice-President would assume the presidency.

Section 4 acts essentially as a Check on the Executive by the Executive. Section 4 has never been invoked. However, in 1981 it probably should have been. In March 1981 President Ronald Reagan was shot in an attempted assassination. As Vice-President George H.W Bush was not in Washington the Cabinet could not meet in time to invoke Section 4. As a result, whilst Reagan was in surgery America was technically without an ‘Acting President’.

The idea of removing a President due to incapability was also rumoured to have been considered under Ronald Reagan. It is suggested that members of his staff, including Chief of Staff, Howard Baker, had doubts about Reagan’s lazy and inattentive attitudes towards his duties.

In his book Wolff suggests that the notion of invoking Section 4 is often discussed in the Trump White House, however, it is unlikely a ‘coup’ would come from inside the White House. A Democratic Congressman, Jamie Raskin has proposed a bill called the Oversight Commission of the Presidential Capacity Act, this would take the power to check the President’s capacity away from the President and give it to a congressional Commission of 11 members. The bill now has 56 co-sponsors.

There is no doubt that Wollf’s book is damaging to Trump. However, claims it will result in his removal from Office are far-fetched. What is most damaging to Trump is that the claims seem to reinforce what people already think. This could be damaging to the Republicans in the November 2018 Mid-Term Elections and the 2020 Presidential Election.

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