The Boston Globe had a story this morning suggesting that some of these recent cabinet-level resignations were motivated by a desire either to avoid invoking the 25th Amendment or to avoid voting on it if invoked. First of all, the 25th Amendment is simply not the proper way of removing this President. It exists so as to provide a constitutional process by which to remove a President who’s become mentally incapacitated, i.e. by a stroke or something like that. Although I think Trump committed a criminal act by inciting a crowd to riot, that is not proof of his mental incapacity. It proves only that he’s a criminal. As I’ve said before, he should be impeached and removed for his criminal behavior. But it’s a dangerous precedent to short-circuit the impeachment process by using the 25th Amendment. Congress wants to let itself off the hook by calling for this instead of exercising their own constitutional powers.
I don’t think, however, that the 25th Amendment is really on the table as a possibility. It’s a media-generated story that keeps providing fuel for itself, as the media continues to report their own reporting of it. I could be wrong. As a political scientist, I should stay out of the business of providing prognostications both because I’m not good at it and because it’s not really my job. Nonetheless, there would need to be more evidence from people in the Cabinet itself that they’re actually talking about it in order for me to begin to take it seriously.
For that reason, the Boston Globe’s suggestion that people are resigning so as to avoid invoking the 25th Amendment seems to me a bit silly. People are resigning because they feel that they can no longer work for a criminal. Such resignations have a long tradition both in politics and elsewhere. People resign as a sign of protest (i.e. Elliot Richardson in the Nixon administration). Typically such resignations are greeted with applause as a sign of courage. A wave of resignations is politically disastrous for a President. For instance, there’s an important moment in the Bush administration in which a certain interpretation of governmental power in homeland security nearly set off a wave of resignations. The President stepped back from his interpretation to avoid that wave. Obviously, there are those who say this is too little, too late; Trump has already shown enough of himself that they should have resigned long ago. I would say, however, that this is the first time that he has engaged in obviously criminal behavior. This behavior would get anyone other than the President arrested. Working on the old model of the political meaning of resignations and under the reasonable assumption that the 25th Amendment is not a genuine possibility, they resigned to signal the gravity of his actions.