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Unequal Justice: Where Are Impeachment and the 25th Amendment When We Need Them?

The coronavirus pandemic cries out for remedies to remove the President.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus response while flanked by Vice President Mike Pence during a briefing with health insurers at the White House on March 10, 2020.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus response while flanked by Vice President Mike Pence during a briefing with health insurers at the White House on March 10, 2020. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

On March 13, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, President Donald Trump was asked if he took responsibility for the nation's lack of preparedness. His reply: "I don't take responsibility at all."

Where are impeachment and the Twenty-Fifth Amendment—the two mechanisms provided by the Constitution for removing an unfit President—when we need them the most, as we do right now?

On February 5, Trump was acquitted in his impeachment trial as a result of GOP cronyism and cowardice, so that door is shut. And the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, which requires action by the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet or Congress to initiate removal, is a non-starter, given the obsequiousness of Mike Pence and the intractable corruption of Senate Republicans.

Meanwhile, just when you thought Trump couldn't get any crazier or more incompetent in his handling of the coronavirus crisis, he took another wild leap into bizarro land with comments at Tuesday's White House press conference, and in remarks he uttered the same day on Twitter. 

The press conference was called to update the public on the health emergency and to announce the administration's stimulus package to revive the economy, which is now likely in recession. In an exchange with reporters, Trump was asked by NBC's Kristen Welker whether he had changed his once-dismissive attitude about the perils posed by the virus. Trump responded:

"I have seen that where people actually liked [my tone during a press conference held the day before], but I didn't feel different. I've always known this is a real—this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic. . . . I've always viewed it as very serious."

During the conference, Trump also praised Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, with whom he has often clashed over other kinds of policies and programs, stating that he and Cuomo had a "good talk this morning," and that he and the governor were "both doing a really good job."

But Trump delivered a very different message to his millions of social media followers just a few hours earlier, upbraiding Cuomo in a racist tweet: "Cuomo wants 'all states to be treated the same.' But all states aren't the same. Some are being hit hard by the Chinese Virus, some are being hit practically not at all. New York is a very big 'hotspot,' West Virginia has, thus far, zero cases. Andrew, keep politics out of it . . ."

By any rational standard, Trump's comments qualify as either some of the most egregious political lies of the twenty-first century or as yet another indication that he suffers from a personality disorder that allows him to dissociate from reality and disclaim responsibility for any of his actions. Instead, he blames others for any harm to the public, shocks to the stock market, or damage to the wider economy.

In truth, of course, the coronavirus isn't a Chinese disease, even if the initial outbreak occurred in China's Hubei Province and its capital city, Wuhan. The virus has since spread across the globe, fueled by community transmission, and is now firmly entrenched in the United States. 

All Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity, are equally susceptible to the disease and equally capable of infecting others. And late Tuesday, belying Trump's tweet, West Virginia reported its first coronavirus case. The disease is now in every state in the nation.

If anything, there is even less truth in Trump's press conference claim that he anticipated the pandemic before anyone else. To the contrary, Trump downplayed the severity of the virus from the very outset, erroneously comparing it to the flu (which is far less lethal), denouncing media coverage of the malady as a "hoax," and predicting that "one day—it's like a miracle—it will disappear." 

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In a recent column, The New York Times' David Leonhardt catalogued many of Trump's most misleading statements. Here's a taste:

President Trump made his first public comments about the coronavirus on Jan. 22, in a television interview from Davos with CNBC's Joe Kernen. The first American case had been announced the day before, and Kernen asked Trump, "Are there worries about a pandemic at this point?"

The President responded: "No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It's going to be just fine."

By this point, the seriousness of the virus was becoming clearer. It had spread from China to four other countries. China was starting to take drastic measures and was on the verge of closing off the city of Wuhan.

In the weeks that followed, Trump faced a series of choices. He could have taken aggressive measures to slow the spread of the virus. He could have insisted that the United States ramp up efforts to produce test kits. He could have emphasized the risks that the virus presented and urged Americans to take precautions if they had reason to believe they were sick. He could have used the powers of the presidency to reduce the number of people who would ultimately get sick.

He did none of those things.


Perhaps the most loathsome of all of Trump's lies was his oft-repeated claim that test kits for the virus were widely available to anyone who desired one.

In fact, as other countries rolled out thousands of testing kits, the Centers for Disease Control was slow to act, and resisted using tests produced by the World Health Organization. Kits manufactured in the United States are only now being provided on a large scale to hospitals around the country, but at a pace that continues to lag that achieved by many other nations. 

The paucity of kits prevented the United States from enacting early and effective containment initiatives, which in turn has resulted in undercounts of the U.S. infection rate, and no doubt will ultimately lead to a higher overall incidence of mortality from the illness. 

If the first duty of a President is to level with the American people and tell the truth in times of crisis, Trump has been a colossal failure. Whether that failure is due to ineptitude, malfeasance, a psychological impairment or some combination of factors, the country needs to remove him from office. 

In the absence of impeachment and the fortitude to invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, we are left with one alternative—to oust him next November. That's provided, of course, that the coronavirus doesn't arm Trump with a pretext to suspend the election and declare martial law. 

Think that couldn't happen? I would have thought so, too, but that was before the virus shut down life as we knew it in America. 

Bill Blum

Bill Blum

Bill Blum is a former administrative law judge and death penalty defense attorney. He is the author of three legal thrillers published by Penguin/Putnam and a contributing writer for California Lawyer Magazine. His non-fiction work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, ranging from The Nation and The Progressive to the Los Angeles Times, the L.A. Weekly and Los Angeles Magazine.

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