The wisest advice we’ve heard for President-elect Biden is that offered today by President Trump — “Be careful what you wish for.” The President was speaking from Texas, where he went to visit, and to sign, the border wall that was a promise of his 2016 campaign. At one point, he belittled the danger to him of the 25th Amendment, via which the Democrats want to sideline him for the final days of his term.
“The 25th Amendment is of zero risk to me,” the President said, “but will come back to haunt Joe Biden and the Biden administration. As the expression goes, be careful what you wish for.” We don’t mind saying he scooped us, in that the same thought struck us as soon as the Democrats started talking about using the 25th Amendment, which permits the vice president and a majority of the cabinet to force a president aside.
Our own view is that the 25th Amendment was never intended for the political purposes for which the Democrats are agitating that it be used. Rather, it was designed for medical emergencies, situations in which a president is, say, under anesthesia or, temporarily, felled by a heart attack. Not when the Vice President and cabinet were repelled by the President’s actions or policies, which is what happened here.
One academic study of the 25th — by Michael Brubaker of South Dakota State — touches on the lingering death of President Garfield, whose travail from Guiteau’s gun lasted two and a half months before he died. With the 25th not yet on the books, President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon struck a written agreement against the contingency that Ike might fall ill. JFK and LBJ also used their template.
The authors of those agreements, we’ll hazard, would have been horrified to see the 25th Amendment used instead of the impeachment process, which in this case mightn’t prosper and would anyhow take too long. And horrified to see it used without consent of a president who functions well enough to go to Texas and speak to the builders of the wall and offer an analysis of the 25th as shrewd as he the one he offered.
What we took to be Mr. Trump’s point is that in refusing to wave his colleagues away from using 25th, Mr. Biden is not thinking like a man who’s about to be president. Particularly because Mr. Biden is set to be the oldest president ever inaugurated. He is being flyspecked, even by friends, for signs of dementia and age-related infirmities. Could the current crisis set a precedent for the use of the 25th against him?
It might turn out, of course, that the 25th Amendment is the least of Mr. Trump’s troubles. It looks like the vote to impeach Mr. Trump for inciting sedition is coming up in the House Wednesday. No less a figure than Liz Cheney, the number three Republican in the House, is planning to vote for it. Plus, Senator Mitch McConnell, if one can credit the Times, says he believes Mr. Trump committed impeachable offenses.
Moreover, says the Times, Mr. McConnell says he’s delighted at the prospect of impeachment because it will make it easier to purge Mr. Trump from the Republican Party. That report, if it holds up, is a breath-taking development in our view, pitting the most powerful Republican in the Senate against the biggest presidential vote-getter in Republican history. Mr. Biden might not be the only one who needs to be careful for what he wishes.
Correction: Republican history is the span in which Mr. Trump was the biggest presidential vote-getter. The context was described erroneously in the bulldog edition.