An alternative to impeachment? Not likely

Amid the growing cries for the removal of President Donald Trump, a University of Chicago Law School professor has come up with a new scheme beyond impeachment. It proposes a new process of recall, but not (as some states do with their governors) directly by the voters. It's an interesting but ultimately very bad idea.

Its architect, Prof. Eric Posner, proposes enlarging the 25th Amendment, which now empowers a majority of the cabinet and the vice president to remove the president principally on grounds of mental or physical illness.


Under Mr. Posner's scheme, a bipartisan Presidential Oversight Council would be created that would evaluate the Oval Office occupant's unfitness in terms of temperament and behavior. The council, composed of equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, mostly leading members of Congress but including some state governors as well, could remove the president with a two-thirds majority vote, based on inability "to discharge the powers and duties of his office."

Mr. Posner argued in his proposal, published by the Washington Post, that he was referring to political incompetence: the inability to "exercise the powers of the presidency in a way that meets the approval of the president's party as well as the opposing party." That yardstick alone would set a very high bar, but a high bar is necessary. The idea is that if "the president's values fall outside the mainstream" or if "he lacks the interest or attention span to inform himself about issues, or he lacks management abilities and is unable to govern effectively," there is a legal means to protect the republic by removing him.


"The problem we currently face — and may face in the future — concerns the president's character," he wrote.

The author further argues his plan "would allow Republicans to demonstrate the gravity of their concerns about Trump's behavior without forcing them to take a stand on impeachment, which would surely fail. ... It would reinforce the notion that the president does not govern alone but must maintain the support of Congress and other institutions in the much-maligned but essential 'political establishment.' And it would give notice to Trump and his aides that outrageous behavior will no longer be tolerated and is not shielded by the Constitution."

All this rationale, however, seems a huge stretch of wishful thinking in light of Mr. Trump's well-established demeanor and the realities of political combat in both parties.

The broad Trump base has thinned somewhat during his first eight months as president, but it still remains at one-third or more of the electorate. It would seem poised to fight any such new and untested effort to remove the president by this or any other means.

One might imagine other approaches introduced at the federal level, such as the recall process, which has been used in some gubernatorial fights, or a no-confidence vote in Congress in the parliamentary manner. But none of these is likely ever to take hold in the American system.

In the last prominent recall effort on the state level, Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin prevailed. But when he reached for the GOP presidential nomination of 2016, he was early and emphatically drubbed by Mr. Trump and the large field of contenders.

For all practical purposes, the most immediate threat to Mr. Trump's tenure in office is the intensive Justice Department investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, and into the associated activities of Trump officials, including the president's sons, daughter and son-in-law, with Russian business and political figures.

Other anti-Trump sleuths are pursuing the possible case against the president and family members for alleged violations of the Constitution's emoluments clause barring foreign contributions to the presidential family. The issue also maintains a cloud of impropriety or even illegality over the first family.


But the heaviest burden on Mr. Trump in his first year in the White House has been the basic dysfunction of his administration and his failure to uphold his campaign commitment to "drain the swamp" of Washington legislative stalemate, despite Republican control of all three branches of the federal apparatus.

Mr. Trump's latest party break, in striking a deal with the Democrats on extending the nation's fiscal debt limit, has roiled the most conservative GOP faithful on Capitol Hill, signaling more contention well before his first year in the Oval Office is out.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is