On virtually every metric, Americans are worse off today than they were a year ago. The Biden Administration has failed at the primary function of government — to protect its citizens from harm. This begs the question as to whether the president is accountable to the American people and, if not, to whom might he answer.
How did Joe Biden, a career politician, who was always the bridesmaid and never the bride, ascend to the most powerful office in the world? The short answer is a perfect storm comprised of an increasingly unpopular incumbent president hobbled by a massive disinformation campaign that falsely accused him of Russian collusion, a mainstream press that effectively serves as the propaganda arm of the Democrat party, and the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down a booming U.S. economy while sanctioning large-scale changes in voting procedures that if not irrefutably fraudulent were nevertheless highly irregular. The pandemic also enabled candidate Joe Biden to hunker down in his basement purportedly out of concern that campaign events would become super-spreader events. As a result, the scrutiny of this candidate was sorely lacking. Now that he is president, Biden’s cognitive impairment is on full display for the American people and our adversaries to see through an unfiltered lens. Had he exhibited similar failings on the campaign trail he likely would not be president.
Removal of the President
There are three ways in which a president leaves office prior to the end of his term: impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate Under Article I, Sections 2 and 3 of the Constitution, death, and the 25th Amendment. Of the forty-six U.S. presidents, three have been impeached, Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump (twice), but no president has been removed from office having been convicted by the Senate. Eight U.S. presidents have died in office, four by natural causes and four by assassination. The 25th Amendment has been invoked seven times since its ratification in 1967. In four of these cases, the president was administered anesthesia to undergo a medical procedure, and power was temporarily transferred to the vice-president under Section 3 of the 25th Amendment. To date, Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, which empowers the vice-president and select cabinet secretaries to remove a sitting president, has never been invoked.
The fundamental problem with each of these approaches is that they implicitly assume the president was sufficiently competent at the time of his inauguration to have selected a vice-president and cabinet secretaries capable of governing effectively in his absence. If this assumption is incorrect, there is no credible basis to believe that the deficiencies in the president would not survive him through the vice-president and the cabinet secretaries he selected (i.e., incompetence by transitivity). It is the case that the vice-president is on the ballot along with the president and the cabinet secretaries must be confirmed by the Senate, but this process does not guarantee these individuals are competent as much as help ensure that they are not grossly incompetent. Eleven months in, the evidence is mounting that the process failed in the case of this administration.
A Vote of No Confidence
A fourth option for removing the president along with the vice-president and the cabinet that warrants consideration is that of a vote of no confidence. It would entail a procedure similar to that in a parliamentary system except that it would be decided by a vote of the electorate rather than legislators. A stipulated percentage of eligible voters would be required to sign a petition in support of the vote of no confidence. The threshold level of signatures would be set at a high level out of deference to the office and recognition that this option should be reserved for only the most egregious cases of administration incompetence. Once the threshold is reached and the signatures authenticated, a new election would be held.
The removal of the president through impeachment and conviction is not sufficient. First, as Alexander Hamilton admonished in Federalist 65, “[T]here will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.” To wit, an act by the president may be deemed impeachable when the other political party controls both houses of Congress, but not otherwise. Second, the impeachment and conviction process can remove a president, but it cannot remove the administration that a cognitively impaired president installed. Finally, impeachment is a congressional response to a “bad act” committed by the president and is therefore entirely reactive in nature. A cognitively impaired president is an unacceptable risk to the country irrespective of whether an impeachable act has been committed.
Why did the framers of our system of government, the most brilliant collection of political theorists ever assembled for a common purpose, not foresee the need for a vote of no confidence? There is no simple answer to this question other than to point out that the framers did not anticipate the need for the 25th Amendment either. Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the Constitution states that “In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President…” Nonetheless, as constitutional experts have recognized, this phraseology does not specify who makes the decision as to the president’s inability to perform or even how “inability” is defined. This imprecision has on several occasions left the country without effective presidential leadership.
The world has undergone a sea change in the two-hundred and thirty-three years since the Constitution was ratified. Technological change is exponentially faster, information flows are instantaneous and the weapons of war are now orders of magnitude more destructive. Not even the most expansive deployment of muskets and cannons could initiate the cessation of life on the planet. The framers may have believed that an 18th-century president was limited in the damage he could do in four years and his power could always be reined in before that through the midterm elections. They could not foresee how much power would come to be concentrated in the executive branch and pari passu what the president could mandate with the stroke of a pen sans any real checks and balances.
A cancer of incompetency has metastasized beyond the Oval Office to envelop the executive branch of the United States government. We seem powerless to contain it in the short run and yet the damage may be irreversible in the long run. What is required is the power of the people to exercise a vote of no confidence that would effectively recall the president, the vice-president, and the cabinet. Lest we think this proposal too extreme, that the removal of the president would suffice, we need only consider how the country would fare over the next three years under the leadership of President Kamala Harris. The country is faced with the dilemma of choosing between a president who is not up to the job and a vice-president that may be worse still.