Trump’s Cuban Policy Reaffirms American Double Standard on Human Rights

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Fidel and Raul Castro, 2001 (CC: Estudios Revolución Consejo de Estado de Cuba)

In 1960, in the midst of the Cold War, the United States imposed an embargo on goods to Cuba, excepting food and medicine. This was two years after Fidel Castro came to power and tilted Cuba into the influence of the Soviet Union. The embargo occurred after Cuba nationalized American-owned businesses without compensation. Nearly two years later, the embargo was tightened by forbidding almost all exports. Little known is that the United States imposed an embargo on Cuba in 1958 when Fulgencio Batista was still in power. That embargo forbid the transfer of American arms to Cuba.

The easing of the embargo and travel restrictions by Barack Obama in 2016 was long overdue. While there was geopolitical justification for the embargo during the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union turned the already poorly run Cuban economy upside down. Since then, Cuba has drastically scaled back its international efforts to advance communism. It did continue its humanitarian efforts with as many as 20,000 doctors in 68 countries as late as 2004. That cannot be construed as a threat to the United States or any country. Yet, the Cold War embargo on Cuba by the US continued for twenty-five years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

When Raul Castro replaced his brother as President, he began a slow liberalization of the economy which allowed for the operation of small businesses, the right to own private property and decreased persecution of the LGBT community. Despite these changes, Cuba remains a country with few freedoms.

The hope of the Obama administration was that opening relations with Cuba would lead to further liberties there. That was not just a hope but a lesson of history. Trade, tourism and other international contacts are revolutionary to closed states. There is a reason that North Korea is a tightly closed society. If its people knew more about the outside world, they would revolt. The Soviet Union collapsed because the Soviets wanted to emulate the massive technological changes the West was undergoing in hopes of stimulating their economy. People risked their lives to leave the Iron Curtain during the Cold War because they knew about the higher quality of life in the West. Increased contacts with Americans most likely would have pushed some form of social upheaval and change in Cuba over the coming years.

A few dags ago, the Trump administration announced that it is rescinding much of Obama’s Cuba policy . This is possible because Obama made the changes based on an executive order. It can be undone by an executive order too, and that is Trump’s path to action. Trump declared the reasons for the policy change:

“To the Cuban government, I say, put an end to the abuse of dissidents, release the political prisoners, stop jailing innocent people, open yourselves to political and economic freedoms, return the fugitives from American justice, including the return of the cop killer Joanne Chesimard,” Trump said, referencing the former Black Panther who was convicted of murder in 1977.

Trump’s assertions are factual and backed up by human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Cuba is one of the worst offenders of human rights in the world. However, it is not the worst. If this was a change in US foreign policy to place human rights at the forefront as Jimmy Carter once did, then it could be something to cheer.

What upends Trump’s argument is not that Cuba shouldn’t have sanctions, which is a question in itself, but if the United States wants to implement a policy based on human rights, then it must be based on human rights and not political posturing. That is not happening.

Freedom House does an annual ranking of political and civil freedoms of all countries in the world. On a scale of 0 to 100, Cuba places a 15. That is very low. Yet, there are nearly 20 countries lower still. Many of those countries are supported by or have close relationships with the United States. These include South Sudan, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Bahrain, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and, of course, Saudi Arabia. The United States is not going to place an embargo on Saudi Arabia or any of the other countries listed unless a government adverse to the interests of the United States comes to power or these countries drift within 90 miles of the US coastline and acquire a large politically influential ethnic group in a swing state…like Florida.

Cuba’s Freedom House rating is exactly the same as China’s. The closest Trump has come to imposing economic sanctions on China is to threaten them with tariffs as high as 45%. Moreover, Trump’s threat of tariffs is not even based on human rights, but trade policies. The human rights abuses going on in China are perfectly fine for the Trump administration to do business with, but intolerable when it comes to Cuba.

The only reason for the Cuban policy shift is Trump’s fulfillment of a campaign promise to Cuban voters and to curry the favor of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American. Trump’s actions are not supported by the American public. The Obama policy on Cuba is wildly popular, even 64% of Republicans favor keeping it.

If during Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia he had blasted their human rights failings, there might be some argument that human rights matter to him in Cuba and elsewhere. Instead, Trump announced a $100 billion military deal with the Saudis. Instead of an embargo, the Saudis got their wish list of military hardware.

China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba — three different countries with roughly the same human rights problems represent three different Trump policies. To be fair, this is how Presidents have acted for decades. Trump’s policies are nothing new to American foreign policy. Instead of building on Obama’s actions with Cuba, which was a first step to putting that relationship into a geopolitical footing similar to other nations, Trump is returning to the policies of the Cold War without the Soviet adversary.

Cuba doesn’t have the trade power or oil to curry American economic favor, but it isn’t the threat it was decades ago. While there is no reason for the United States to support the Cuban government as it does with Saudi Arabia, neither is there any reason to shove Cuban foreign policy back into the darkness of the Cold War. Declaring a return to Cold War policies because of Cuban human rights is not just another hypocritical step in American foreign policy, but an insult to all those persecuted in China, Saudi Arabia and the many other countries with dismal human rights records that the United States supports.

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Impeaching Trump

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Impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson (Wikimedia: Public Domain)

Critics of Donald Trump have been calling for his impeachment since his inauguration. The Russian connection, Emoluments Clause, fears of nepotism and growing concerns over obstruction of justice, especially since the firing of FBI Director James Comey, have fueled this hope. However, the idea of impeaching and then convicting Trump remains little more than a pipe dream for two reasons.

First, nothing has been publicly released that ties Trump to any of the potential charges that could bring down his Presidency. Second, impeachment is a political act, not a criminal one. Being a political act, it needs political pressure, and that presents a significant challenge

The Constitution is clear on impeachment. A President may be impeached and “removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The House of Representatives only needs a majority vote to impeach, but removal from office requires a two-thirds conviction in the Senate.

Several Presidents have committed acts that could be defined as impeachable. Andrew Jackson ignored the Supreme Court’s ruling when he forcibly removed the Cherokee from the Southeast to Oklahoma. Ulysses Grant presided over an enormously corrupt administration, although there is no evidence that he engaged in illegal activities himself. Warren Harding presided over another massively corrupt administration, but he directly allowed it to continue and even aided at least one official at avoiding prosecution. Other Presidents have intentionally misled the American people on major issues, generally of war. James Polk maneuvered to get Mexico to attack American troops. Lyndon Johnson lied about the Gulf of Tonkin incident. George W. Bush may have done the same on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Even great Presidents, such as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, have used executive orders that were viewed even in their day as overtly unconstitutional. None of these Presidents faced formal impeachment charges.

History provides us some clues on how a future impeachment might develop. The two Presidents who have been impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, faced a hostile Congress controlled by the opposing party. Even then, there were not enough votes in the Senate to indict either President. Richard Nixon was not impeached because he resigned before the full House could vote after a House committee recommended impeachment on three counts.

Clearly, any serious attempt to impeach Trump will face a situation significantly different from Johnson, Clinton or Nixon. Trump’s party controls the House, and no President has ever faced impeachment charges when his party controls the House. The Trump Presidency may change that, but it will take a string of extraordinary events. Unfortunately for Trump, that string of events is well on its way. However, anyone who thinks that Trump is going to face impeachment in short order is going to be disappointed. Impeachment is a drawn out process. To consider the possibility of a Trump impeachment is best looked at in historical context of the three Presidents that did face those charges.

Andrew Johnson was a Southerner and Democrat who became President when Lincoln was assassinated. The only reason he was Vice President was because Lincoln sought a unity ticket in the close election campaign of 1864. Johnson was viewed suspiciously by the Radical Republicans after the Civil War because of his Southern ties and Democratic Party allegiance. There were concerns that he would go easy on the defeated Confederate states. There were also concerns that he would sack Secretary of State Edwin Stanton, a Radical Republican. Congress, widely dominated by Republicans, passed the Tenure in Office Act which required Senate approval before any Senate approved federal official could be fired. The Act itself was likely unconstitutional and was significantly amended in 1869 before being repealed in 1887.

Johnson did fire Stanton. That led to 11 articles of impeachment against him. Some charges were ludicrous such as the one that Johnson showed disrespect to Congress by making three speeches critical of that body. Yet, all 11 articles passed the House by an overwhelming 126 to 47 vote. The Senate was also dominated by Republicans with 45 of the 54 Senators being Republicans. With 36 votes needed to convict, many expected Johnson to be removed from office. However, 10 Republicans bucked their party and voted for Johnson’s acquittal. In three votes over several weeks, the Senate voted each time 35-19 to convict. Johnson survived as President by a single vote, although the crisis emasculated his already weak Presidency.

The Johnson impeachment was a pure political act. Yet, despite overwhelming support to remove Johnson and a lopsided Republican majority,  over twenty percent of the Republican senators chose principle over political expediency. The attempt to remove Johnson from office revealed that while impeachment is relatively easy in some situations, conviction is a much harder task to accomplish.

The impeachment of Bill Clinton was also primarily driven by politics. Unlike Johnson, Clinton did give his opponents an argument for impeachment because he misled a grand jury during his Monica Lewinsky testimony. Whether that was justification for impeachment remains a debatable question.

The country was evenly divided on whether to impeach Clinton. That showed in the House impeachment vote. Clinton was impeached 228-206 on perjury to a grand jury and 221-212 on obstruction of justice. He was cleared on two other charges. A handful of Democrats voted for impeachment, and a handful of Republicans voted against it. In the Senate, where 67 votes were needed to convict and remove from office, 45 voted in favor of the perjury charge and 50 for obstruction of justice. All Democrats voted against conviction while 10 Republicans voted against the perjury charge and 5 against the obstruction of justice charge.

As with Johnson, the impeachment of Clinton was more a political act than Constitutional reason. Unlike the Johnson vote in the Senate, there never was any serious doubt that Clinton would be convicted. During the impeachment and trial, most Americans believed that he should not have been impeached and removed from office. Clinton even enjoyed some of the highest approval ratings of any post-war President. As with Johnson, the impeachment of Clinton was more a political act than Constitutional reason, but constitutional principles were not need to save Clinton, public support did.

Richard Nixon’s brush with impeachment is a different story. The Watergate break-in and cover-up represented a significant attempt to subvert the American political system. The Watergate investigation, from the time it broke in June 1972 to Nixon’s resignation in August 1974, covered over two years. It required groundbreaking investigative reporting, grand jury investigations and over four months of House Judiciary Committee proceedings. The Johnson and Clinton impeachments went from a House vote to Senate trial in less time than it took the House committee to pass articles of impeachment. However, the Clinton impeachment was discussed in general terms for months before Congressional action started.

Eventually, the House Judiciary Committee recommended articles of impeachment on three charges against Nixon while dismissing two charges: obstruction of justice passed 27-11, abuse of power 28-10 and contempt of Congress 21-17. All Democrats voted for impeachment while the Republicans split 6-11, 7-10 and 2-15 respectively. Nixon resigned before the full House could take up those charges.

These three attempts at impeachment give a road map on how the impeachment of Trump might go, if it should happen.

With multiple constitutional issues already being raised regarding his conduct in office to his business dealings, a possible Trump impeachment is going to have more similarities with Nixon than Johnson or Clinton. It will also have one major difference from the three other impeachments. Trump’s party is in control of Congress. That means the case against Trump is going to have to be far stronger than it was against Nixon. Even with the extremely strong case against Nixon, most Republicans opposed impeachment. In order to impeach Trump, It will take 10% of the House Republicans to defect for impeachment and 40% of Senate Republicans for conviction. This assumes all Democrats vote in unanimity. This is a feat that will require an overwhelming case.

Nixon enjoyed widespread public support until May 1973. At that point his public approval dipped from a high of 67% earlier in the year to less than 50%. By mid-summer, his approval ratings started to free fall. They plummeted to 40% and shortly after rested at 25% for the rest of his Presidency. Even then it would still take a year to drive him from office.

Trump’s approval ratings has stayed at 40% throughout his short Presidency with a few short spikes and dips. While this is historically low, it is high enough that impeachment has no chance of passing.

It is important to emphasize again that impeachment is a political act. Even in the case of malfeasance of the Nixon caliber, most Republicans stuck with their party’s President. With his approval stuck around 25% and 60% of Americans disapproving, Nixon still had a majority of House Republicans supporting him. Only when the Supreme Court ruled on August 5, 1974, that all the Nixon tapes must be released did the smoking gun that Nixon plotted a cover-up days after the 1972 Watergate break-in become known. Only at that moment did Senate Republicans realize that they did not have enough votes to block the 67 votes need to convict. Nixon then resigned.

It will take a bombshell like this to lead to Trump’s conviction. There would need to be indisputable evidence of Russian collusion, obstruction of justice, corruption or some other illegal activity.

However, there is one more factor that is significant. The 2018 elections are approaching. There is already a feeling that the Democrats may gain a considerable number of House seats. The closer the current investigations approach 2018, the more uneasy Republicans will feel. Although they control Congress and the Presidency, unlike the other impeachment proceedings, Trump remains distrusted among his fellow Republicans because his party registrations have changed over the years and he lacks a reliable adherence to party doctrine. On the other hand, Trump’s Vice-President Mike Pence is a loyal, conservative and reliable Republican. It would be politically feasible to dump a sinking Trump knowing that Pence was the replacement. Republican House members in competitive districts may find it easy to impeach an unpopular President with multiple ethical problems. Senators are more insulated but a Pence Presidency may look enticing when compared to an unpopular, chaotic Trump administration dragging the vote totals down.

If Trump is to be impeached, the polls will be the first sign. A Trump approval rating of 30% and 60% disapproval means that impeachment will become a serious possibility. If Trump’s numbers drop towards 20%, he probably will be gone.

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The “Ridiculous” 100-Day Standard for Presidents

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Franklin Roosevelt’s legislative agenda to fight the Great Depression started the 100-day time period that all the following Presidencies have been evaluated (Public Doman: Wikimedia)

Ever since Franklin Roosevelt took office during the midst of the Great Depression in 1933, Presidents have been held to a 100 days standard. The argument is that a newly inaugurated President has a unique opportunity early in his Presidency to push through his agenda. A President’s popularity is rarely as high as during his first months in office unless a national disaster such as a 9/11 comes along.

Donald Trump’s Presidency has been marred by disorganization and a obvious failure to pass key legislation such as the repeal of Obamacare. As Trump’s hundredth day approaches, the national media has drawn attention to his ineffectiveness. Trump has responded by calling it a “ridiculous standard” and claimed to be in “no particular rush” to push through healthcare reform. That followed a statement that there would a vote on a revised healthcare bill in a few days. After Republican Congressional leaders pushed back, Trump retracted the need to rush the bill through Congress.

Trump’s criticism of the 100-day standard would carry a lot more weight if it wasn’t overtly self-serving. Just a few days ago, while in Wisconsin, Trump claimed that “no administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days.” During the campaign, Trump also mentioned the many accomplishments that he would achieve in his Presidencies initial days. At numerous campaign rallies, Trump said, “imagine what we can accomplish in the first 100 days of a Trump administration.” During the Republican National Convention, Trump stated that he would ask in the first 100 days of a Trump administration for every federal government department to provide him wasteful programs to be eliminated. Both promises have fallen short.

Trump has clearly bought into the 100-day agenda notion, at least up to his 90 days. Then, upon realizing that his only major Congressional accomplishment was Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation, Trump has tried to back peddle. Getting Gorsuch confirmed, while a long-lasting influence for years to come, really wasn’t in doubt with Republican control of the Senate.

Trump has enacted a number of executive orders that are having major impacts on American life from the Keystone Pipeline to lowering climate change protections to revoking Barack Obama’s fair pay rules to Trump’s legally troubled travel ban. All together, Trump initiated 25 executive orders. This puts him close to the period between Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman when Presidents would sometimes issue hundreds of executive orders a year.  Since then, the highest number of executive orders came from Jimmy Carter who issued 80 per year. Barack Obama has had the lowest number of executive orders on a yearly average since Grover Cleveland in the late nineteenth century. Trump is on a path to exceed Obama’s average in a couple of months. At the pace that he is on, he will average about 100 executive orders a year.

Yet, executive orders, as influential as they may be, are not the standard by which a President’s first 100 days are measured. Signed laws are the standard. While Trump has signed into law 28 bills, notable legislation is lacking. Many are resolutions appointing people to positions such as the Board of Regents for the Smithsonian Institute. Others, like the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017, are significant at improving weather forecasting, but hardly qualify as groundbreaking legislation. Trump’s signing of legislation reducing privacy protections on the Internet is another significant piece of law, but hardly something to hang the success of a Presidency’s first 100 days.

Trump’s 28 signed laws are the highest of any President since Harry Truman’s 55 and FDR’s 76. Trump just edges John Kennedy’s 26 and Bill Clinton’s 24  signed laws in the first 100 days. However, FDR came into office during the middle of the Great Depression. Truman assumed office just as World War II was ending. Those were momentous times with a need for far-reaching legislation.

While many like to point to the lack of substantial legislation as an indication of flailing administration, that is not necessarily a harbinger for future accomplishments. FDR continued with significant legislation throughout his Presidency. Dwight Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act towards the end of his first term. Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 six months into his Presidency. Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts didn’t become law until August of that year. Barack Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act wasn’t signed until he was well in his second year in office. Many consequential presidencies only signed a handful of laws in the first 100 days. Reagan did 9. Richard Nixon also signed 9. Johnson had 10 pieces of legislation.

The legislative success of a President’s first 100 days rests less on the popularity that a President rides into office in and the ambitiousness of his agenda and more on factors outside his control. Times of crisis, as with FDR and Truman, prompt significant legislation. Having the President’s own party in control of Congress also helps. That is probably the most noticeable element of Trump’s somewhat inept first 100 days. The Republicans control the House, Senate and Presidency. Yet, they haven’t been able to push through much prominent legislation. That may signal that the Republican-controlled government may bumble along and achieve little until the 2018 elections. On the other hand, they may string together a row of significant legislation as the year progresses. To assert that Trump is on a track to failure is far to early to claim. As 2018 approaches, the window for that legislation will close, but there is still a long way to go.

The first 100 days of a Presidency is simply an artificial milestone. To weigh the success or failure by accomplishments made in that short time frame is a distraction and needless preoccupation with the nice even number of 100. It will be many months before anyone knows how this Presidency will be defined. George W. Bush’s Presidency wasn’t defined for eight months until the 9/11 attacks. Kennedy’s Presidency wasn’t defined by its first 100 days when the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation was conducted. For once, when Trump says that the first 100 days is a “ridiculous standard,” he is right. It is too bad for himself that he spent a year-and-a-half campaigning and the first 90 days of his administration suggesting that it was significant. Trump’s recent reversal of how significant those first days are is probably one of the most significant developments of the first 100 days. It shows that he hasn’t grown into the job or learned to keep his foot out of his mouth.

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Obamacare is Here to Stay

CC: Obama

Since its inception in 2010, the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare has been under assault. The House of Representatives voted over 50 times to repeal or amend it. All these attempts died either because of Senate opposition or because Obama vetoed them. In March, the one time that the political dominoes were aligned to repeal and replace it, House Republicans failed to repeal. This last attempt makes for a very clear fact. Obamacare is here to stay. That is not to say it will not be modified because it will. Even supporters of the Affordable Care Act know that it needs to change. However, the basic principles of the healthcare law are not going away. That is because Barack Obama moved the goalposts of healthcare. That is significant and adds to his historical legacy. This is the most meaningful healthcare legislation since Lyndon Johnson pushed through Medicare in 1966. Those who believe they can repeal Obamacare and return to the pre-Obamacare days are simply fooling themselves.

The  basics of Obamacare are thus:

  • Dependents are covered on their parent’s health plans until the age of 26
  • Preexisting conditions are covered
  • Many preventive health care procedures are free
  • Insurers may not put monetary limits on essential benefits
  • Insurers may not cancel policies when policy holders become sick
  • All individuals must purchase insurance policies or pay a penalty
  • Medicaid expanded to 133% above poverty line
  • Subsidies available for those with incomes 400% above poverty line
  • Employers may now make employees wait longer than 90 days for health care coverage
  • Subsidies available to small business employers
  • Penalties for larger business employers who don’t offer health care
  • Minimum health care standards enforced

The most disliked feature of Obamacare is the individual mandates. Nobody likes being forced to buy anything. However, the mandates were essential to provide the many benefits of Obamacare.

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, preexisting conditions were usually not covered in health plans. Adult children had to get their own plans when turning 18 unless they were in college. Fewer provisions were covered in free preventive health care. Insurers capped many essential benefits. Employer health care was not mandatory.

Premiums are now cheaper for the poor and lower-middle class. On the flip side, those with higher incomes are paying higher premiums. That is the price of having 20 million more people with health insurance, plus the benefits listed above.

There are some real problems in the availability of plans because the quirks and kinks in the law make health insurance unprofitable in some areas for insurers. This is primarily because the risk management programs of the Affordable Care Act have left insurers on the hook for unexpected costs. Changes need to be done to make those markets profitable for insurers. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has no desire to keep Obamacare alive. It is quite likely that they will even cease to do the normal tweaks required in administering laws. Thereby, creating havoc in the marketplace while trying to point their finger in all directions but at themselves as the source of the problems. On the other hand, in many places, Obamacare will operate with only minor hiccups.

This is not surprising. Any new legislation has unexpected consequences. A major, complicated piece of legislation such as the Affordable Care Act has needed tweaking from the beginning. That hasn’t happened because Republicans control Congress and have used their opposition to successfully rally their supporters. That strategy is now coming back to bite them though.

The problem for the repeal crowd in Congress is that Obamacare has been around long enough that the political hype has given way to personal experience. Only 18% of the public want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The rest either want to keep it the way it is or modify it. The overwhelming majority of Americans have found that there are many things that they like in Obamacare.

The Republican majority in Congress has an impossible situation. Democrats will not support anything that guts the benefits. Even a majority of Republicans now accept that preexisting conditions must be covered in health plans. Most also accept that young adults should be on their parent’s plans until they have established jobs. Many of the other benefits from expanded preventive care to removing caps on benefits are viewed as essential. Republican members of Congress who oppose the subsidies are now on board that those who can’t afford health insurance should at least get tax credits to help pay for it.

These are the results of Obama’s law. This is how Obama has moved the goalposts so that health care cannot go back to the pre-Obamacare days. Even the American Healthcare Act that recently failed in Congress accepted these conditions. As the House Freedom Caucus stated, it was Obamacare lite. What the members of the Freedom Caucus fail to realize is that Americans don’t want to go back to the pre-Obamacare days.

While the Freedom Caucus wants to repeal Obamacare without putting a replacement in place immediately, Republican moderates are even more willing to accept Obamacare. They want to keep the expanded Medicaid. They will not support a repeal of the law.

There is no political path to repeal Obamacare without a replacement. There isn’t even a political path to replace the main features of the law without Democratic support to change it. The Republicans want to say they repealed it. They may in name only, but it would be a cheap political trick. It will be a change in name only, while keeping the main features. It is possible that the individual mandate may get replaced or amended by some form of subsidy and tax credits, but the replacement will have to be sweetened so that people are still compelled to buy insurance. How that will happen is yet to be determined.

One thing for certain, is that the main features of Obamacare will not be repealed. If it was, the 2018 elections would be a bloodbath for the Republicans, and they know it – excepting the Freedom Caucus. As we get later in the year, the chance for major change grows less likely because the 2018 elections will grow closer. The possibility for meaningful change to amend Obamacare will grow more likely. Any deal the Republicans make will require changing the name so that Obama is not associated with it. That makes no difference. Obama was aware that its name needed to change to bring Republicans on board. Whatever it will be called, history will continue to remember it as the descendant of Obamacare. Obamacare is here to stay no matter what it is called.

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The Twenty-Fifth Amendment can Disempower the President and Create Havoc

Invariably, every President who assumes office is threatened with removal at some point. This almost always involves impeachment, but only rarely do the efforts amount to anything more than a few political opponents introducing articles of impeachment that eventually die unmoved in the House of Representatives.

However, the election of Donald Trump has spurred a serious discussion regarding his removal from the onset of his presidency. It isn’t only concerns about Trump’s campaign contacts with Russia and Vladimir Putin that have initiated these discussions, but Trump’s odd and often unpredictable behavior.

When the removal of the President is discussed, it usually involves impeachment.  Two Presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Neither was removed from office because the Senate failed to convict. Conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds vote; impeachment in the House of Representatives only requires a majority vote.

Even though impeachment is meant to occur as Article 2, Section IV of the Constitution states when “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” impeachment is often a political act. Both Presidents who were impeached came about by a House majority controlled by the opposite party. While Richard Nixon was not impeached, he resigned before a vote was taken, the House was also under the control of the opposing party at that time. The difference is that many Republicans broke rank from Nixon as the enormity of the Watergate cover up became apparent. Nixon did not stick around for a vote because he knew he did not have the support of his party.

Impeachment is not a quick process. It can take months of investigation and discussion. In the nuclear age, a President who is mentally or emotionally unstable would still hold all the powers of the office while an impeachment was proceeding. That is not a comforting thought.

There is another way that a President can be removed. It is much quicker and never before tested. It is Section 4 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment, ratified in 1967.

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.

 

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days 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. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

Stripped to plain English, this means that the Vice-President and a majority of the Cabinet (8 of 15) can declare the President unable to fulfill his duties. Immediately upon presenting that decision to Congress, the Vice-President assumes power as acting President. The President can respond at any point thereafter that he is fit to resume office. The Vice-President and Cabinet majority can then challenge the President’s response by notifying Congress within four days that they deem him still unfit to serve. The Vice-President remains as acting President during that four-day period. If the Vice-President and Cabinet reassert that the President is unable to perform his duties, then Congress must take up the matter within twenty-one days of assembling and determine by a two-thirds vote that the President is not capable of resuming office.

Here is the kicker. Even after Congress determines that the President is unable to resume duties, the Vice-President remains only the acting President. The President can then re-initiate another twenty-one day cycle to be reinstated. That can go on until the President’s term expires.

Presumably, a President who is denied resuming office and becomes obstructionist will be impeached or persuaded to resign so that the carnival-like atmosphere of a President trying to reattain power will not go on for the remaining years of his term.

The only time this section of the Twenty-fifth Amendment was ever considered was in 1987 when Howard Baker assumed the position of Chief-of-Staff in the Ronald Reagan White House. Baker had been informed by his predecessor that Reagan was “inattentive,” “lazy” and “inept.” One day, Baker and his associates evaluated Reagan during a crowded meeting, but determined he was fit to continue his duties.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment clarified what had been an ambiguous clause of the Constitution that allowed for the removal of the President. It was never attempted earlier because of the ambiguity. The two times it could have been used was when James Garfield laid bedridden for eighty days after he was shot in 1881, and when Woodrow Wilson laid incapacitated from a stroke for the last eighteen months of his term. The advent of instantaneous communications and nuclear weapons in the twentieth century made this type of situation untenable. With the assassination of John Kennedy, the political will was put in motion to clarify an incapacitated President.

Now, in 2017, there has been a long-standing concern about the stability of Donald Trump stemming back to the time that he was a Presidential candidate. Many potential causes of impeachment have been raised from his business dealings to involvement with Russia. Just as disturbing is his emotional stability. A disastrous turn of events in his Presidency has raised the specter that Trump may come even more unhinged than he already is. A drawn out impeachment process could be a disaster in itself. When Richard Nixon was besieged by Watergate investigations, many of his advisers worried about his mental state. Trump isn’t even facing those consequences and many question his mental state. That is what makes the Twenty-fifth Amendment enticing. It’s implementation is immediate.

While Trump would probably view his removal from office by members of his own administration as a coup, it would not be one. Coups are illegal acts where a government is overthrown by force, not law. The removal of the President under the Twenty-fifth Amendment is empowered as law in the Constitution.

While the potential removal of Trump or any unwilling President under these conditions would create political havoc, the possibility that the President could continue challenging his removal for months or longer would create a Constitutional crisis, especially since Trump would be able to rally his supporters outside the normal media channels. His widespread use of Twitter is a potent propaganda tool. A sizable number of his followers have already shown themselves to be true believers likely to stand with him to the end.

Quite possibly, nothing will come of this and Trump will serve out his term as he grows more comfortable and competent in his job. However, his continuing penchant for chaos makes the two Constitutional means for his removal from office potential scenarios.

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