Why the 25th Amendment Matters to Mike Pence—And Should Matter to You

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2016-07-17 – Ted Cruz’s father knew something important when he (according to Donald Trump) abetted the assassination of President Kennedy. You should know it too.

In the wake of the dreadful event of November 22, 1963, Congress proposed and the states ratified the 25th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, modifying the rules on presidential succession. Ted Cruz’s father was hoping that his then unborn son would someday be able to take advantage of it. Close, but no cigar.

The 25th amendment made two basic changes to our basic law. First, in the case of a vacancy in the vice presidency, it allows the President to appoint one, with consent of Congress. Lyndon Johnson served the remainder of John Kennedy’s term, after the assassination, without a Vice President. As a result of the 25th amendment, Richard Nixon was able to appoint Gerald Ford as Vice President when his elected Veep Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace. Less than a year later, Gerald Ford used the power to appoint Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President after Nixon resigned in disgrace and he became President leaving a vacancy in the vice presidency.

We’re all familiar with this part of the 25th amendment, if we are old enough to have been aware during the 1970s. But there is another part.

Section 4 of the 25th amendment allows the Vice President, with a majority of the Cabinet, to declare the President “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” allowing the Vice President to assume the powers and duties of the presidency as Acting President.

Such a declaration was considered following the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981, but nothing was done because his Vice President George H. W. Bush was on a plane at the time and Reagan was out of surgery before Bush’s plane landed in Washington. It was considered again in 1987 when Howard Baker became Reagan’s chief of staff in 1987 due to Reagan’s perceived laziness an ineptitude (later suggested to be the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease). But nothing was done.

(The second George Bush voluntarily made his Vice President Dick Cheney Acting President in 2002 and 2007 when he had colonoscopies, but took back the reins when the procedures were over. Ronald Reagan set the precedent on this with the first George Bush in 1985 when he had a colonoscopy.)

Every four years we talk about the seriousness of selecting a Vice President because the nominee will be a “heartbeat away” from assuming the presidency. But under the 25th amendment, the heartbeat does not have to stop before presidential succession occurs.

Ted Cruz’s father knew how history would ultimately play out. But it turns out that his son wasn’t Donald Trump’s pick. It’s Indiana’s Gov. Mike Pence.

Vice Presidents don’t have many constitutional duties. They can preside over the Senate, if they choose to show up. And they can be elevated to the presidency under the 25th amendment. Other than the “honor” of holding the office, the only reason an accomplished politician would want to be Vice President is to improve his chances of one day becoming President.

This worked for the first George Bush by making him electable. It worked for Gerald Ford and Lyndon Johnson (and others before I was born) through presidential succession.

If Donald Trump is elected President, he would be the oldest individual to take office. But his mortality is not what should worry us. As he says, he will be the healthiest person to ever take office.

But rumors swirl that he would resign shortly after winning because he will have proven that he is the ultimate winner, which is all that should matter. Then his Vice President, presumably Mike Pence, would succeed to the presidency.

And under the 25th amendment, there is another possibility that could deprive Crazy Donald of his win and hand it to Mike Pence. We’ve seen plenty of evidence that the Donald is “unable to discharge the powers and duties” of the President.

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