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Why the 25th Amendment is suddenly getting so much attention

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) and Vice-President elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) and Vice-President elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 10, 2016.

"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."

And what does that mean exactly?Well, it means Congress isn't the only institution that can remove a president from office between elections. Under the 25th Amendment, a sitting vice president and a majority of the executive branch's cabinet could, on their own, agree to transfer power out of the hands of a sitting president. At that point, those officials would notify Congress, and the vice president would assume the office as the acting president.And what if the challenged president wasn't on board with the plan to remove him/her from the office? As Vox recently explained, "If the president wants to dispute this move, he can, but then it would be up to Congress to settle the matter with a vote. A two-thirds majority in both houses would be necessary to keep the vice president in charge. If that threshold isn't reached, the president would regain his powers."All of this comes up in fiction from time to time, and in all likelihood, Americans will probably never see this political crisis play out in real life. And that's probably a good thing: by all appearances, the intended purpose of the constitutional provision was to address a president with a serious ailment -- say, a stroke, for example -- in which he or she is alive, but unable to fulfill the duties of the office.It probably wasn't written to deal with a president who seems, to borrow a phrase, "barking mad."But the law exists, and the possibility that Mike Pence and half of the administration's still-incomplete cabinet -- a group of people who owe their jobs to the president whose stability has been called into question -- is the subject of scuttlebutt, even from a handful of members of Congress. That possibility has created hope among Trump's detractors that he may be legally removed from office before 2020.That said, my advice to Trump's critics is simple: keep your expectations low. Strange things clearly happen -- having a clownish television personality in the Oval Office is itself an unprecedented historical development -- but the odds of Trump's own team feeling compelled to remove the president from power are poor.