After Donald Trump helped incite an insurrectionist riot in January, the question among many officials was not whether to hold the then-president responsible, but how. Attention quickly turned to the 25th Amendment, through which the White House cabinet could agree to remove Trump from power before he did any additional damage.
It was not just idle chatter. A lobbying group influential in Republican politics publicly urged then-Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump and "preserve democracy." Around the same time, former Defense Secretary William Cohen -- who served in Congress as a Maine Republican for many years -- made the same call.
As we discussed at the time, several dozen members of Congress -- including one House Republican -- also urged Trump administration officials to take advantage of the constitutional remedy and force out the then-president. According to multiple reports, there were "preliminary discussions" among cabinet members about executing such a plan.
In January, with the United States facing a serious threat, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said nothing. Now, however, the Florida Republican suddenly wants to talk about the 25th Amendment. Politico reported:
Sen. Rick Scott, the chair of the Senate GOP campaign arm, questioned Monday whether President Joe Biden's Cabinet should remove him from office, a near impossibility, over the sudden collapse of Afghanistan. Scott, who is widely viewed as a potential 2024 presidential candidate tweeted: "We must confront a serious question: Is Joe Biden capable of discharging the duties of his office or has time come to exercise the provisions of the 25th Amendment?"
In case there's any confusion about Rick Scott's partisan tendencies, the Florida Republican hasn't exactly earned a reputation for sensible pragmatism. Scott was, for example, one of only eight GOP senators to refuse to certify Biden's election victory, even after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. He also recently warned American businesses that they'll soon face a "day of reckoning" if they're too "woke" for his standards, and he's helped spearhead the next debt-ceiling crisis.
A staid, respected observer he is not.
But publicly suggesting the incumbent president be removed from office because he may not be "capable of discharging the duties of his office" is an obvious and unsettling escalation. Under normal political circumstances, when a member of a major party's Senate leadership team broaches such a subject, it would be a dramatic development.
Of course, in 2021, given what's become of Republican politics, Rick Scott merely generated a handful of headlines, because people recognized the senator's tweet for what it was: a sad, little partisan stunt.
To the extent that reality still has meaning, the idea that Biden can't serve as president is obviously bonkers. The Delaware Democrat is leading effectively; he's enjoying levels of popularity his immediate predecessor never achieved; key elements of his legislative agenda are advancing on Capitol Hill; he's helped improve the United States' international standing; and the domestic economy is recovering thanks in large part to his agenda.
This is not the record of an incumbent who needs to be forced out of office by his own cabinet for the good of the country.
But here's the punch-line: Rick Scott almost certainly knows all of this. Indeed, there's no reason to believe the far-right senator was making a serious governing recommendation.
Scott floated the 25th Amendment because he -- in his capacity as the current chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- believes it might excite his party's base and boost partisan fundraising. Scott also understands that the conservative media machine will appreciate rhetoric like this, and it will offer the senator something to brag about during upcoming campaigns. ("While others hesitated," he'll say, "I was the first senator to question whether Biden should be removed from office....")
In other words, the line pushed by the Floridian yesterday was a case study in how contemporary Republican politics works.