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Is President Trump Unfit To Remain In Office For The Next 2 Weeks?

NOEL KING, HOST:

Is President Trump fit to remain in office for the next 13 days? He incited a mob yesterday that stormed the U.S. Capitol. Then in a video, he told that mob, we love you. Go home. This morning, he issued a statement promising a peaceful transfer of power to Joe Biden. Still, some lawmakers say it's time for Vice President Pence and Trump's cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove him from office. Kim Wehle is an expert on the Constitution and a professor of law at the University of Baltimore. Good morning, Kim.

KIM WEHLE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: What does the 25th Amendment say, exactly?

WEHLE: The 25th Amendment identifies what happens, first of all, if the president or vice president is removed or dies in office, and then also has provisions for temporary sort of incapacitation. And then, finally, it authorizes the cabinet and the vice president to, basically, ask - let Congress know they're believe - they believe that the president is, quote, "unable to discharge the powers and duties of office." And in that instance, over the president's will, the vice president would become president of the United States. That's Section 4.

KING: OK. You are the expert here. Do you agree with people saying that Pence should invoke it?

WEHLE: You know, I do think, in this moment, it's absolutely crucial to do something in terms of accountability about what happened yesterday. It's not a big surprise that this violence escalated in this moment. Donald Trump's been stoking it for years. And this isn't just about whether he's fit for office, but whether he's a danger to the American people for his remaining term in office. So I do think that the 25th Amendment should be invoked in this moment to protect American interests and to protect Congress and others from domestic terrorism. That's what really happened yesterday.

KING: How would it work, though? I mean, he's only in office for the next 13 days. And everything in government seems to take so long. Is this a fast process?

WEHLE: So you know, the tricky thing, again, it's a political process. That is, it requires half of his cabinet secretaries and the vice president. So there's about 15 of them. So it would be, you know, eight cabinet secretaries and the vice president would have to decide to send a letter to Congress invoking the 25th Amendment. And then, in response, the president can say, no, actually, I'm fine. Then the cabinet has four days to say, no, you're not fine and send another letter. And at that point, it triggers a 21-day period for Congress to decide which side is correct.

But in that 21-day period, the president would not be president anymore. So he would not be in charge of the military, the entire criminal justice apparatus and, of course, the nuclear codes. So there is a swift mechanism to basically take him - the power away pending Joe Biden's inauguration on the 20th, because the default is he loses power if the cabinet decides - a majority of the cabinet decides that there's a danger right in this moment.

KING: That's faster than I would have thought. We have asked you this often over the last four years - in the seconds we have left - if there is no accountability, if the president isn't held accountable, what's the precedent that that sets?

WEHLE: We're going to see elections sort of distorted going forward, potentially. We'll see these kind of rioting. And we'll see too much power in the presidency and, potentially, the end of democracy itself in our lifetime. And I hate to say it, but I think it's possible.

KING: Kim Wehle is a professor of law at the University of Baltimore. Kim, thanks for your time.

WEHLE: Thank you, Noel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "BOREAL FOREST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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