Suppose that the president in office begins proposing the craziest ideas, none of them passing a reality check.

Can the House impeach him or her? I know the president can only be impeached for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors", but it's not clear to me what falls under "misdemeanors".

Is harming the Union a criterion, and if so, how do you measure it?

Or are there other ways to get rid of such a president?

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    Problem is, half the country is firmly convinced that candidate A is grossly incompetent and B is fully competent. And the other half the country is convinced in reverse. – user4012 Aug 15 '16 at 16:30
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    @user4012 I can think of a person who is held incompetent by both Republican and Democratic representatives. – Peter Valcke Aug 15 '16 at 16:37
  • Probably should be a duplicate of politics.stackexchange.com/questions/965/… - the answer is the same, even if the question is coming at it from a different angle. – Bobson Aug 15 '16 at 17:00
up vote 7 down vote accepted

The process of impeachment is covered in this answer. As reported there, President Ford once said that 'high crimes and misdemeanors' are:

whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.

That quote gives us enough framework to evaluate the question. I'll take each reason for impeachment in turn (treason, bribery, other high crimes and misdemeanors).

At some level, this is a legal question. I am not a lawyer, so I'll defer to some legal experts.

High Crimes

The law faculty at the University of Missouri has a page on impeachment which discusses the history of how the framers set this part of the Constitution. Before adoption, the term used was 'maladministration'. At the time of adoption, it was changed to 'high crimes and misdemeanors'.

It does seem that the framers' intent may have been that this level of buffoonery would be impeachable. That is only important if you think that the opinion of the writers of the Constitution is important.

On the other hand, there is an argument to be made that this only covers willful maladministration. The examples provided in the debate (also in the linked article) are all examples of where a ruler chooses to abuse their power for their own benefit.

Flexibility

However, a large part of the question is also political. That part is flexible. In practice, a President could be impeached for anything that Congress impeaches them for. The Constitution is often less a set of formal rules for how our government acts, and much more a set of transient guidelines which are open to change.

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    "It does seem that the framers' intent may have been that this level of buffoonery would be impeachable." Exactly the opposite, actually. "Maladministration" was proposed, but the response was "that's too vague and is practically equivalent to "the President serves at the pleasure of Congress." The exclusion of "maladministration" was a conscious choice. – cpast Aug 15 '16 at 18:50
  • Constitutional law scholars often give some weight to wording and ideas that don't make it into the final Constitution. That the word was replaced in the final draft is important, but the original word choice tells us something about their intent too. – indigochild Aug 15 '16 at 19:05
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    Everything I've read about it gives the most importance to the fact that "maladministration" didn't make it in (by the way, it wasn't just replaced in the last draft; according to that page, "maladministration" was replaced the very same day it was proposed), as a sign that they specifically did not intend to allow for general "you're bad at your job" impeachment. – cpast Aug 15 '16 at 19:15
  • All the examples given on that site by UMKC are examples of intentionally mismanaging the state. I don't know if a generic "you suck at being President" falls under their idea of maladministration. Also, the final sentence of their page indicates that there was broad disagreement over most of the details of impeachment. Which is why I provide two sides to that argument. – indigochild Aug 15 '16 at 19:25
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    @cpast while it is true they probably did not intend to allow that form of impeachment. The Supreme Court has held that congress has the sole power of impeachment and the judicial branch could not interfere. In that sense the reasons for impeachment are inherently political and the wording has little practical effect. – Viktor Aug 16 '16 at 16:28

As you said, According to the constitution:

The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

"Gross Incompetence" definitely does not imply treason, nor does it imply bribery. "other high crimes and misdemeanors" is somewhat of an umbrella term, but in order for that to apply, the specific crime needs to be defined beforehand, and the President would need to be convicted with the same care and rigor that the constitution provides for all citizens.


as a matter of practicality, however, someone has to decide whether the President committed a high crime or misdemeanor, and it is Congress, who has the authority to make that judgement call. So, If congress as a whole wants to impeach the President, they can.

  • Wasn't there a president not long ago who almost got impeached for not wanting to admit that he cheated on his wife? – Philipp Aug 16 '16 at 9:20
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    @Philipp That was Perjury. – Sam I am Aug 16 '16 at 13:40
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    @Philipp He did get impeached, which is the process of holding a trial in the Senate. He was not removed from office because the Senate did not vote to remove him on the conclusion of the trial. – jalynn2 Aug 16 '16 at 19:21
  • @Philipp - "Impeaching" is the equivalent of being charged/indicted. If he simply lied about the affair, no problem. He did so under oath during court testimony (the judge later ruled that she should never have allowed the question to be asked/answered, but that does not excuse or undo what he did). – PoloHoleSet Jun 13 '17 at 18:45
  • The phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" is widely understood (even at the time of its writing) to describe abuses and misuses of office that may or may not be actual violations of law, so no, "the specific crime needs to be defined beforehand" is not correct. Neither is the process subject to any of the normal rules of criminal trials in the judicial branch. – BradC Oct 1 at 15:38

IMO, there are two ways around this:

  • Incapacitation by the cabinet (VP and a majority of the Cabinet): See the rules of succession of the VPOTUS

  • Impeachment: "Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from treason". The rules for impeachment are lax enough to allow for a wide range of accusations to be levied. And it has been used sparingly enough that there are not many precedents to force it to be implemented either way. Also, it is mainly a political process (so there is no need to find the actual reasons of his behavior, only to agree that they are bad for the country).

I would say that the way to go is the first one. The POTUS is elected by the people directly, so to remove him/her for office you need a very cut & clear case that crosses partisan lines and to make clear that it is not Rep vs Dem or Dem vs Rep issue.

If that is the case, the cabinet declaring the president unfit seems the shorter and simpler way that all the proceedings and debates related to an impeachment.

And, if the cabinet and VP does not agree with that, it is very probable that your case is not cut & clear enough to develop into an impeachment (and even if you get the impeachment, you can get a very sharp electoral punishment if you are seeing by the public as having unjustly impeached the POTUS).

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    Any comment on the downvote? – SJuan76 Aug 15 '16 at 17:28
  • The XXV amendment doesn't deal with impeachment at all. It deals with cases where the President is unable to execute the duties of office. The answer seems off topic to me. – indigochild Aug 16 '16 at 17:32
  • @indigochild I agree it does not cover impeachment. That said, if the POTUS begins proposing the craziest ideas, none of them passing a reality check as the OP said, a far easier alternative to impeachment is to declare the President unfit. And, if his policies are not crazy enough to declare him unfit, it is unlikely that you can impeach him anyway (you would need a wide support from his own party congressmen). – SJuan76 Aug 16 '16 at 19:14

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