A second Trump impeachment vs. the 25th Amendment

John Bolton, former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, talks to Jake Tapper about the likelihood of Trump's cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment against him following the deadly riots in Washington, DC.

Posted: Jan 8, 2021 1:30 AM
Updated: Jan 8, 2021 1:30 AM

Here's a list of consequential things that happened Thursday in relatively short succession:

Why the 25th Amendment? It's the one that provides for the replacement of a president who has been deemed "unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office." Read more on it here. Unless the president has declared himself incapacitated -- say, for a medical procedure -- putting it into action requires the agreement of a majority of the Cabinet.

So why is the chain of events above so important? McConnell, who has partnered with Trump to reshape the federal judiciary, forcefully rebuked him on Wednesday -- twice -- and shot down Republican objections to counting electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden.

If there were going to be a Cabinet member who would help generate support for Trump's ouster using the 25th Amendment, it might have been McConnell's wife, Chao. So her departure from the Cabinet dims the likelihood of using the amendment to remove Trump, who is increasingly isolated in these final days of his term but still, as many have pointed out, has access to the nuclear codes.

Chao's resignation isn't effective until Monday, but any effort to protect the country from these last days of Trump would probably have to go through the Congress via a lightning-quick impeachment process -- Trump's second -- as Pelosi suggested. "My phone is exploding with 'impeach, impeach, impeach,'" she told reporters Thursday.

It's possible, according to a report from CNN's Manu Raju, Lauren Fox and Phil Mattingly, for Democrats to bypass a trial like the one they conducted over Trump's abuse of power on Ukraine in 2019 and instead impeach the President in a resolution. But removing Trump would require a two-thirds vote by the Senate, which is currently in recess until after Biden's inauguration on January 20. Read more here.

Futureproofing. There is an argument that an impeachment could be continued after Trump leaves office -- and, potentially, that it's even more valuable than removing him by amendment because it would bar him from holding public office in the future (like, in 2024).

But we already know impeachment is a horribly divisive affair. And if there's a way to drive Republicans back toward Trump, that may be it.

Biden's stake. Does the next president want his first 100 days to be about Trump's last two weeks? He does not, reports CNN's Jeff Zeleny. Biden has a lot he wants to get done -- Covid, Obamacare, tax revisions.

And yet!

The fear, obviously, is that Trump's subversive activities will get more insidious as he approaches his final days of power. And he's only becoming more isolated, seeking solace with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and other enablers. Don't forget the expected last-minute pardon fest, including potentially the never-attempted and totally dubious self-pardon many people expect Trump to try to bestow upon himself.

RELATED: Prosecutors also looking at Trump as they begin to file charges

So, as is the case so often in modern American politics, there are no good choices. On the one hand, this man must be stopped before more people get hurt. Four people died at the Capitol on Wednesday, and it could have been worse.

On the other hand, as former national security adviser John Bolton said Thursday on CNN, there are really only seven business days of his presidency left. (Though when I noted that on Twitter, someone ironically, and correctly, shot back: "Good point! We're fortunate that pardons, general mayhem, and nuclear annihilation can't occur on weekends or holidays.")

The reality, though, is that the constitutional mechanisms to remove him are cumbersome and give him the benefit of the doubt. In the 25th Amendment scenario, Bolton suggested you could end up with Trump and Pence dueling over who has power as president: "Do you think Donald Trump will back down when he gets a letter from Mike Pence? Think again. So are we better off with two Presidents competing with each other in the last 13 days? I think you risk making the situation which is as bad as it is, far worse."

Revulsion grows. It's clear there's bipartisan disgust with Trump's fomenting the angry mob that attacked the Capitol on Wednesday. Following Chao's resignation Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced her early departure, too. A number of aides have also resigned from the White House.

Even the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal called on Trump to spare the country another impeachment fight and instead "go away quietly," making the case that he should follow the example set by Richard Nixon.

Former top officials also condemned their former boss.

Former Attorney General William Barr: The President's behavior "was a betrayal of his office and supporters."

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis: Trump fomented mob rule and was "enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice."

Former DHS Secretary and White House chief of staff John Kelly said he'd vote to remove Trump from office if he were still at the White House.

Kelly's successor as chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, left his ambassadorial post in protest.

The list goes on.

And Facebook suspended Trump's account at least through the end of his presidency.

How to deal with Trump's enablers?

There is some satisfaction each time a former Trump aide or official finally cuts ties with him. It is a validation of what many have long warned: that his unstable presidency is a threat.

But it is also -- after four years of remarkably consistent outrageous behavior and lack of leadership by the President -- too late.

RELATED: Trump's years of lying led to Capitol calamity

McConnell stood up. He cast what he called the most important vote of his career against the effort, led by Trump, to overthrow the Electoral College.

But it comes after four years of McConnell doing everything he could to keep quiet about the President while wringing as many conservative judges as possible from the equation.

Cotton stood up. Good on Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas for condemning his fellow Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, who helped carry out Trump's agenda by seconding House objections to the electoral votes that were based on Trump's own false claims.

Even Graham! Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina almost made a joke of his break with Trump during a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday night, saying he'd been on a "hell of a journey" with Trump but he's had enough now. He's been Trump's most loyal foot soldier in Congress.

Facebook and Twitter stood up. But how many falsehoods were spread by Trump on Facebook and Twitter before they started marking them during the election season and suspended his accounts when he tried to spark a rebellion against Congress?

The writing was on the wall. Couldn't any of these organizations or people have woken up a smidge earlier? Perhaps when Trump was lying his way through his impeachment?

A last-minute conversion is better than no conversion at all. But it doesn't erase what came before. And it doesn't inoculate them from what's to come.

Trump will leave office, somehow. But he won't go away entirely, even if his Twitter account is deactivated. And the nerve he touched was there before his election and it will be there when he leaves.

Cotton, Hawley and Cruz -- I'd be willing to bet all three men run for president in 2024. And they'll be fighting for Trump voters.

McConnell will be creating new and creative methods of obstruction as soon as he can.

And Facebook and Twitter will need to figure out how to better deal with conspiracy theories spreading on their platforms.

I haven't even gotten into Fox News here. That's a whole different animal, since the network's anchors were quickly pivoting, somehow, to pin blame for the insurrection on "antifa," the golem of liberal protesters they've helped conjure.

There's still a virulent strain of Trumpism in the GOP. Just a few senators supported objections to the electoral vote after Trump's mob entered their chamber. More than half of House Republicans did. (Tracker here.)

When lawmakers and pundits say what we all witnessed Wednesday isn't who we are as a country, they are wrong. It may not be who anyone wants the US to be, but Trump's brand of violent, racist politics is now part of the American political landscape. It will take work to weed it out.

The Capitol should not be vulnerable

There are going to be many rightful recriminations for the rioters' ability to walk, smiling, up to Capitol Hill, break through barricades, shatter windows and have their way with the Capitol.

Federal officials have begun filing charges against the rioters, who gleefully posted images of themselves all over social media. The FBI has asked for the public's help.

RELATED: Some rioters -- conspiracy theorists and extremists -- have already been identified by CNN

The Senate sergeant-at-arms has resigned, as has the chief of the Capitol Police.

Why weren't they all ready for a protest that had been long planned and how can anyone justify the fortress planning for Black Lives Matter protesters versus the fear police had of some Trump supporters, many of them dressed in battle gear and surely toting guns?

There's also the question of the National Guard, which took so very long to mobilize. There should be answers for that.

"Why spend $700B on the military if they can't defend the Capitol from attack?" asked Connecticut's Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy on Twitter.

Don't just shut the Capitol down, please. One great and important feature of the US Capitol, the seat of a democracy, is openness and accessibility. It's the seat of power, and yet the public could go inside, see the debates, talk to the lawmakers. I hope an end result of this stupidity is not a complete clampdown.

The view from abroad

One way to view what's going on is from the outside. I was riveted by the British journalist Robert Moore's ITV report -- reminded me of old-school "Nightline," actually -- because his tone is that of an outsider who can't believe this is going on in the US, of all places. Watch it here.

"America's long journey as a stable democracy appears to be in genuine doubt," he says at the end, over pictures of rioters and police going at it.

It has been a long journey, but not as long as we Americans like to tell ourselves.

A friend sent me a clip of the comedian Seth Meyers, who took the jokes out of his show Wednesday and made the point that universal suffrage to men and women has been in place in this country only since the 1960s.

"Multiracial, pluralistic democracy is fragile and precious and requires our vigilant stewardship and protection," he said. "And anyone not willing to forward that project with the fullness of their effort must be shamed and disgraced and removed from office. And that must start immediately with Donald Trump."

That's a remarkable thing to hear on network television, which is not known for its political statements. It was no less weird than another thing that happened Wednesday, which was that the National Association of Manufacturers -- a trade group not usually involved in radical politics -- called for Trump's removal.

It is certainly proof that the more despicably Trump and his mob act, the further isolated they become from the country's mainstream.

Justice takes a long time

I also spent some time thinking today about what we might be talking about a year or two from now, long after Trump is out of office, whichever way that happens.

Just about exactly 160 years after it seceded from the Union on "Jan'ry 19, 1861," over the issue of "African slavery," and specifically because it feared the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, Georgia is sending a Black man to the US Senate.

Don't let one ugly day of backlash and the disgusting images of rioters carrying Confederate flags through the Capitol completely distract you from that power shift. The Confederate flag-toting rioter is the extremist, quickly kicked out of the building. The Black man is the senator with the six-year term.

Reading Georgia's 1861 secession declaration, which I found at the Library of Congress website, it strikes me that back then, secessionists were trying to repeal their association with the Constitution. Today, rioters are more likely to say they're protecting it, even though their effort to stop the counting of Georgia's electoral votes, which this year went to the candidate who made a point of rejecting racism, would actually rip the Constitution to shreds.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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