Why wait?
Why wait? daizuoxin / Getty Images

Oh, now Republicans think Trump went too far? This is what it took? Now they’re shocked, after four miserable, child-caging, post-office-wrecking, emoluments-clause-violating, pandemic-worsening, racist years? Okay, fine, WHATEVER, welcome to the resistance, various unnamed Republican officials who think Trump should be removed immediately but who lack the courage to actually be quoted saying so.

So here we are again, cracking open the old civics textbooks for a refresher on how a toxic president can be yanked out of office before the end of his term. There are basically two options — well, two nonviolent options — for getting him out in the next few days. First we have impeachment, which worked so well the last time. Then we have the 25th Amendment, which… well, at this point, there are a lot more unsavory outcomes that seem a lot more likely.

Let’s start with impeachment, which gives Congress the authority to remove a president accused of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” There’s a couple different ways it can work, but generally the House Judiciary Committee holds an investigation and then kicks articles of impeachment over to the full House for a majority vote. If the House votes to impeach, then the Senate holds a trial that requires a two-thirds vote to convict the President.

Could all that happen in the next few days? Nobody’s really sure! It’s only ever happened three times — once with Andrew Johnson, once with Bill Clinton, and once already with Donald Trump. That last time, Republicans obediently lined up to acquit him. Maybe they’ll be less accommodating this time now that their place of work was physically attacked. Republicans only care about problems that affect them personally, so, who knows, maybe yesterday’s mob is what it’ll take to get them to do the right thing.


Rep. Ilhan Omar started drafting articles of impeachment before the dust had settled yesterday (you can view them here), but they won’t go anywhere without support from House leadership like Nancy Pelosi, who did a funny clap once. So helpful. As of this morning, Pelosi's only action has been to ask Trump to ask the protestors to leave. Good job.

Update: At a press conference today, Pelosi said "Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment." MAY????

For his part, incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has called for more decisive action. But he's not in charge yet.

Now about the 25th Amendment option: That involves fewer committees, but it would also require Mike Pence to take action, which is even less likely than Nancy Pelosi doing anything. And it requires Trump to voluntarily step down, which… okay, now that option’s really seeming like a non-starter.


Because it was written with assassinations in mind, the 25th Amendment lays out a process that starts with the Vice President and Cabinet declaring the President incapacitated; but then the President can simply write a letter saying something like, "No, that’s okay, thank you for your concern, but I’m fine." Then the matter gets kicked over to Congress, and two thirds of both chambers would have to vote to strip him of his powers.

That raises the question: Are Democrats really even serious about removing Trump? House Judiciary Committee member David Cicilline, for example, described an elaborate game of telephone-theater that he plans to engage in: He says he’ll send a letter from the committee to Mike Pence, asking him to use the 25th Amendment to remove the President. But… wait… if Cicilline is on the House Judiciary Committee… and they’re the ones who can do impeachments… why doesn’t he just get to work on that instead of hoping Pence will do something??? Why??????? Arghhhhh.

So anyway, that’s where we are now. Both processes assume that national leaders have the best interests of the country at heart, which is a pretty thing to believe, but has zero alignment with reality.

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Of course, there’s always the possibility of regime change that occurs, to quote the darkly abrupt ending of the musical Urinetown, “in a manner not quite so gentle.”

“Can’t we do a happy musical next time?” asks Little Sally as the show comes to a close and deaths mount.

“If there is a next time,” Officer Lockstock replies. “Thank you, and good night.”