The following question is inspired by the events of Season 2 of House of Cards. While the original inspiration is a television show, the question is firmly about real-world politics. Apologies if mentioning TV shows is a bit gauche. Oh, and SPOILER WARNING, obviously.

In House of Cards, Garrett Walker resigns as President of the United States, leaving the presidency to Vice President Frank Underwood. This follows from the announcement of intended impeachment hearings, and the perception that he would be impeached and removed from office were he not to resign. The whole process felt a bit rushed to me, and seemed to stem from three primary accusations against the President:

  1. He participated in a scheme to launder Chinese money into US campaign funds
  2. He was going through marriage counseling with his wife
  3. He was taking medication to help with unnamed mental concerns, likely anxiety

Clearly, only the first of the three is a violation of the law, but it wasn't until the second and third were publicly revealed that sentiment turned toward impeachment. Further, several political opponents are shown questioning the President's ability to lead not as a result of the first accusation, but rather because of the latter two, chiefly the third.

Personally, I would view the first as a grave source of concern, but the second and third as immaterial. Who cares if the President is having marriage troubles? About half of all marriages end in divorce, I might view a President more highly if I knew they were willing to see someone about it. Why does it matter that the President takes medication? Life is stressful.

Is it realistic that public perception would turn against a sitting President to the point of impeachment due to taking medication for mental health? I realize that the other two accusations muddy the waters significantly, but I'm really asking why the medication is a factor at all, and if it would be in a real-life presidency.

  • 1
    To be clear, you're asking about the public opinion side of this, not the impeachment side?
    – user29681
    Oct 30 '20 at 1:33
  • Yes, to be absolutely clear, the opinion of the public and the other members of the government, as I can’t imagine it’s illegal to be on medication Oct 30 '20 at 1:57
  • That might be a reference to Thomas Eagleton who was briefly George McGovern’s running mate until he was forced to withdraw when it came out that he had been suffering from undisclosed depression.
    – divibisan
    Oct 30 '20 at 2:12
  • I think this is ultimately opinion based/speculative, since there’s no one answer. Obviously, we know from experience that there’s a level of mental instability that many people will tolerate in their President, but how much it’s tolerated will depend on the issues, the candidates other values, and who their base is (I would posit that a Democrat could not get away with some of the stuff Trump does, since the expectations are different)
    – divibisan
    Oct 30 '20 at 2:16

Impeachment is a political process, not a legal one.

The House impeaches if a majority of its members think that they are politically advantaged in doing so.

The Senate convicts if 2/3 of its members think that they are politically advantaged in doing so. Generally members of the President's own party would only impeach/convict if they felt that they would significantly harmed (politically) by the President remaining in power, more so than the harm that would be done by removing him/her: In the Nixon era, it was clear that supporting a President who had been caught breaking the law could have such severe political implications that many in Nixon's own party were willing to dump him for fear of being tainted by association.

Would political opponents use the fact that the President was on medication against them if they thought it would help them? Certainly. We've seen no end of mudslinging in the last 4 24 400 4000 years of politics. Would it help their case, that depends a lot on how they sling the mud, and how it is reported and perceived.


As far as impeachment goes, public opinion doesn't really matter. Power over federal impeachments are granted solely to the House of Representatives (a.k.a. Congress). As Wikipedia says about impeachments:

There are several provisions in the United States Constitution relating to impeachment:

Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 provides:

The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

So the answer to your question:

Is it realistic that public perception would turn against a sitting President to the point of impeachment due to taking medication for mental health?

is kind of moot. Public opinion has no voice in impeachments. It would need to change the opinion of Congress, which, given how partisan impeachments have become in recent times, is unlikely.

Now, with that said, I haven't seen House of Cards, but based on your description of what's going on in the show, I'd imagine it's less about the medication as it is the type of medication.

If the president were taking medicine for something mild like a cold, that's not super concerning. Obviously, the President's health itself is a concern, but that certainly doesn't mean the President wouldn't be able to run the country.

On the other hand, if the President were taking medication for say a mental issue, that's a different story--and it could be a cause of concern. Mental issues obviously could potentially affect the mental state of the President and, by extension, their ability to run the country effectively.

So really, it depends. It depends on what it going on.

In this case, you have said that the medication is for mental health reasons. So I'd imagine that'd be a cause for concern.

As for real life, it is hard to say based on a hypothetical set of facts what would happen. If something like this ever were to happen in real life, there would likely be so much going on that it's just impossible to say how this would affect the public opinion of the President.

Not that this would affect an impeachment proceeding. Again, federal impeachments only come from Congress.

Of course, that's not to say it wouldn't affect an election. That is based on public opinion (to a degree--I don't want to get sidetracked into a discussion about the Electoral College, so I'll just leave it at a link so the curious reader can study up on that if they desire), and could affect the election. However, to what degree it would affect either is, as before, impossible to answer.

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