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This Is What the Twenty-fifth Amendment Was Designed For

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Laura Brampton

If Joe Biden doesn’t willingly resign, there’s another solution, which would allow Democrats to unite around a new incumbent.
[Black and white photo of U.S. President Joe Biden at the June 27 2024 CNN debate. The photographer has manipulated the image to appear blurred and unfocused.] A once obscure constitutional provision, the Twenty-fifth Amendment became familiar to the public during Donald Trump’s Presidency, when there was constant chatter about his mental unfitness and incapacity. Now, the same concerns seem to be mounting around President Joe Biden.
The widespread anxieties about Biden’s age-related impairment have increased over time, only to be shushed by his allies. They became most plainly justified during his painful and prolonged public exposure on television during last week’s debate. The fact that many prominent Democrats have yet to say the obvious and instead have told voters not to worry about one bad debate is a poignant national version of the denial that almost every family eventually goes through with respect to an aging patriarch or matriarch.
It is time for our leaders to realize that this is not in fact a family matter and take seriously their own constitutional responsibility to determine whether the President—not the team around him—has the capacity to govern. The “will he or won’t he” speculation in the past few days has been about whether Biden will choose to step aside as the Democratic nominee in the Presidential race, which reflects a desire to leave the President to make the decision about whether he can beat Trump in November. This is misguided.
Instead, Biden should resign from the Presidency altogether as soon as possible. The Twenty-fifth Amendment says that in the case of the President’s resignation, the Vice-President—Kamala Harris—becomes the President. President Harris could then run as the incumbent—a benefit to her candidacy that would also offer the stability we desperately need. We would not have to fret intensely about an open convention or anticipate a divisive and bruising fight over who the nominee will be. This allows an orderly transition—in place of mayhem—in which Biden cedes smoothly to Harris and sets the stage for a campaign season focused on a version of the Biden-Harris Administration with Harris as its representative. By November, President Harris would already have had four months on the job. Biden and those who love him could campaign for her based on his Administration’s record and accomplishments.
The Constitution allows a President who is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” to step aside or be removed and have the Vice-President “immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.” It is time for Democratic leaders to dust off their knowledge of the Amendment—this time regarding their own party’s President. The difficult but responsible path forward is for Biden to resign, enabling an orderly transition to President Harris.