Tag Archives: Gerald Ford

And then there’s the 25th Amendment

The United States of America functioned for nearly two centuries before it ratified a constitutional amendment dealing with presidential succession and the appointment of a vice president.

The 25th Amendment was ratified in February 1967. It came in reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. The new president, Lyndon Johnson, served the remainder of JFK’s term without a vice president. LBJ got elected in 1964 and Hubert Humphrey joined the administration as vice president. President Truman took office in April 1945 after Franklin Roosevelt died just a month into his fourth term; Truman served nearly a full term, therefore, without a vice president.

The amendment has been used exactly once. Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973 and President Nixon appointed House Minority Leader Gerald Ford to become vice president. The new VP then settled into the Oval Office Big Chair when Nixon resigned in August 1974.

I mention this today because the 25th Amendment is getting some attention these days. It allows for a temporary replacement of the president if a majority of the Cabinet determines he is unable to continue doing his presidential duties.

Donald John Trump is in trouble. A special counsel is examining whether his campaign colluded with Russian hackers seeking to meddle in our 2016 election. There might be some issues relating to Trump’s myriad business holdings, too. Oh, and then the president declares that “both sides” were at fault in the Charlottesville riot, causing a serious rift between the White House and members of Congress of both political parties.

There have been some questions about the president state of mind, his ability to actually govern and, yes, his mental competence.

I’m not qualified to offer a psychological diagnosis, let alone from half a continent away. So I won’t go there.

The 25th Amendment is meant to ensure the executive branch continues to function even in these difficult times. Just how difficult will they become? I guess that depends on how the president responds to the mounting pressure.

I keep hearing about how angry he is getting. He’s been cutting people loose all over the place: national security adviser, gone; press secretary, gone; communications director, gone; chief of staff, gone; FBI director, gone; senior strategist, gone.

Trump popped off about neo-Nazis and Klansmen. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have effectively rebuked the commander in chief, although not by name. Congressional leaders are starting to weigh in. There might be some diehard Trumpkins among them, but the vast majority of public response has been highly critical.

Republican leaders are aghast. Never mind what Democrats think; it’s a given that they detest the president already.

In the meantime, the 25th Amendment looms as a serious talking point among the chattering class in Washington, D.C. Don’t for a single moment believe that the president is ignoring the chatter.

‘The Constitution works’

The hour is late, but I cannot let this day pass without commenting briefly on a monumental event in our nation’s political history.

This single-sentence document is President Nixon’s resignation letter to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. As someone noted on social media, it could fit into tweet.

The Watergate scandal came to a conclusion with this note. The president said goodbye to the White House staff, shook hands with the new president, Gerald Ford, then boarded Marine One with his wife, Pat, and flew off into political oblivion.

It’s worth mentioning yet again, I suppose, because of the current president’s troubles. There’s been no shortage of comparison to what doomed the 37th president’s tenure to what we’re witnessing today in real time.

I am not going to predict a similar end to Donald Trump’s tenure.

I merely want to recall what President Ford said shortly after taking the oath of office 43 years ago today.

“The Constitution works,” the president reminded us.

Yes, that governing document gives me great comfort as we watch the current drama play out … no matter how it all ends.

GOP: the party of diversity in thought, philosophy

I want to toss a bouquet or two at the Republican Party.

The Grand Old Party has become the organization filled with diverse thoughts, philosophies, competing ideas. It is being revealed yet again as the GOP struggles over how to enact a bill that would overhaul the Affordable Care Act.

It wasn’t always this way.

A couple of generations ago, those of us of a certain age remember when the Democratic Party exemplified turmoil, tumult and tempest. The Vietnam War tore Democrats apart, had them ripping out the throats of their brethren. Republicans stood firm in support of that war.

The GOP would split in 1976 when conservative champion Ronald Reagan challenged President Ford’s election effort, only to lose narrowly at the party’s political convention.

Now we see Democrats standing as one in opposition to the GOP plan to dismantle the ACA and replace it with something else.

Republican moderates dislike the GOP alternative because it takes too much money from Medicaid. Republican conservatives hate it because they call it a “light” version of the ACA and are pushing for a more drastic departure from President Barack Obama’s landmark domestic legislative achievement.

Frankly, I find the intraparty debate refreshing and healthy for Republicans. There might be a purging after it’s all over. Whichever sides wins the argument will likely have to heal the rift that has developed with the other side, and vice versa.

I’ve always like diversity of thought. Democrats’ divisions in the 1960s and early 1970s cost them dearly over the course of many presidential election cycles. They would lose six of seven presidential elections from 1968 to 1988. Democrats eventually got their act together enough to win in 1992, 1996, 2008 and 2012.

It remains to be seen whether the current Republican political divide will cost that party as dearly as it did the Democrats. I believe, though, that the party’s struggle over health care overhaul will be ultimately good for its long-term future — if the GOP is able to cope with all this arguing.

Watergate burglary + 45: Where has the time gone?

Forty-five years ago, some goons broke into the Democratic Party national headquarters office in a business complex in Washington, D.C.

Little did they know that they would change history.

The Watergate scandal gave birth to a new name for political scandals. They attach the “gate” suffix on every transgression. There’s only one scandal worthy of the “gate” identifier.

The “third-rate burglary” — which occurred June 17, 1972 — became swallowed up by what would come afterward. That would be the cover-up orchestrated by President Richard Nixon.

Two dogged Washington Post reporters — Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward — were turned loose eventually to follow the leads they got suggesting that the White House was involved in the burglary. They hit pay dirt and opened up a new wave of interest in investigative journalism. They lured a generation of young reporters into the craft; I happened to be one of them.

Forty-five years later, the memory of that earlier time is coming back to the fore as another president flails about while a special counsel examines whether he and/or his campaign colluded with Russian hackers seeking to influence the 2016 election outcome.

There won’t be a “gate” attached to this matter — even if it explodes into a scandal that rivals the granddaddy of political scandals.

Cable news networks are going to look back at that break-in. They’ll examine the journey upon which the nation embarked in the weeks and months to follow. We’ll get to relive that “long, national nightmare” referred to by yet another president, Gerald R. Ford, who took office when President Nixon resigned as a result of the Watergate cover-up.

Yes, it was a dark time. However, as President Ford noted, “The Constitution works.” Watergate put the Constitution to its supreme test and in the process, the scandal delivered to Americans a shining illustration of the founding fathers’ brilliance in crafting a government.

Chaos need not be the new White House norm

As I watch Donald J. Trump’s chaotic first few weeks as president of the United States, I have to keep reminding myself: Does it really need to be this way?

Of course it doesn’t. We’re watching Trump stumble-bum his way through controversy after controversy and his ridiculous rants and riffs with foreign leaders.

Now we’re watching an potentially unfolding major-league scandal involving the president’s former national security adviser, who quit this week in the wake of reports that he had inappropriate — and possibly illegal — discussions with Russian government officials prior to Trump taking office.

Two presidents in my lifetime have taken office amid terrible tragedy and tumult. In both cases, these men grabbed the reins of power and assumed the role of president as if they’d been there all along.

Example one: Lyndon Baines Johnson took the oath of office on a jetliner sitting on a tarmac at Love Field in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. His predecessor’s body was in a casket in the back of the plane and the nation was in utter shock over what had happened earlier that day when a gunman murdered President John F. Kennedy.

LBJ flew back to Washington and asked the nation to pray for him. We did. He convened his team and got to work immediately.

The nation buried JFK a few days later, President Johnson went to Congress and declared “all that I have I would surrender” to avoid standing before the nation in that moment.

The nation marched forward.

Example two: Gerald Rudolph Ford became president on Aug. 9, 1974 as his predecessor resigned in disgrace. The House of Representatives stood poised to impeach Richard Nixon for high crimes and misdemeanors relating to the Watergate scandal. It took a stalwart Republican U.S. senator, Barry Goldwater, to tell the president his time was up. He had no support in the Senate, where he would stand trial after the House impeached him.

President Nixon quit. President Ford took the oath and then told us, “Our long national nightmare is over.” He told us he was “acutely aware” he hadn’t been elected vice president or president. But he was the right man for the job.

He, too, called his team together and instructed them to get back to work.

President Ford would lose his election battle in 1976 to Jimmy Carter. It was Carter who, upon taking the oath of office in January 1977, would turn to his predecessor and begin his inaugural speech by thanking the former president for “all he had done to heal our country.”

Presidents Johnson and Ford had something in common: they both had extensive government experience prior to assuming their high office. They knew how the government worked. LBJ had served as Senate majority leader before becoming vice president in 1961 and had many friends on both sides of the partisan divide. Ford had served as minority leader in the House of Representatives before Nixon tapped him to be vice president in 1973 after Spiro Agnew quit after pleading no contest to a corruption charge. Ford also had many friends on both sides of the aisle.

These men assumed the presidency under far more trying circumstances than Trump did, yet they made the transition with relative ease … compared to the madness we’re witnessing these days with the 45th president.

We are witnessing in real time, I submit, the consequences of electing someone who brought zero public service experience to the most difficult and complicated job on Planet Earth.

‘Our Constitution works …’

You want a feeling of dire straits in the greatest nation on Earth?

This 11-minute video ought to remind us all that we have a resilient nation, with a government cobbled together by a document that is as stout as ever.

I mention this because of those who insist we are about to enter an “unprecedented” era of crisis with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States.

Not so.

On Aug. 8, 1974, the nation watched one president resign and another one take office.

Gerald R. Ford ascended to the presidency after being appointed vice president less than a year earlier; the man he replaced as VP had pleaded no contest to corruption charges. Before that he was a congressman from Grand Rapids, Mich., whose No. 1 ambition was to become speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Fate would steer Gerald Ford down an entirely different path.

As president, he told us that “our long national nightmare is over.” Richard Nixon was flying off to private life in California as President Ford took the reins of power.

And as the new president told us, “Our Constitution works.”

Indeed it does.

I harbor deep reservations and concern about whether the new president is up to the job he is about to assume.

However, I take comfort in the words that an earlier president, Gerald Ford, delivered as we sought to recover from a constitutional crisis the likes of which the nation had never before endured.

We certainly did recover. Whatever missteps the new president makes as he begins his term, I remain confident that our Constitution will continue to work just as our founders intended.

You have to keep the faith.

Is a presidential pardon out of the question?

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Donald J. Trump said many crazy things while campaigning successfully for the presidency of the United States.

Take, for instance, his statement to Hillary Rodham Clinton that “You’d be in jail” if he were president.

His crowds chanted the “Lock her up!” mantra continually at his rallies. Trump didn’t silence the madness from his followers.

The FBI director, James Comey, concluded in July that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring criminal charges against Clinton over her use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state. Then he told Congress 11 days before the election that he found more e-mails that deserved his agency’s attention; eight days after that he said, “Nope. Nothing has changed.”

Trump continued to hammer “crooked Hillary” with accusations that she broke the law.

So, here’s a nutty idea. Would the new president issue a blanket pardon, clearing his opponent of any potential future prosecution?

Trump isn’t saying. Neither is his transition staff.

Hey, this notion has precedent. President Ford granted a pardon for his immediate predecessor,  former President Nixon, a month after Nixon quit the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974, over the Watergate scandal. No criminal charges had been brought against Nixon, yet Ford sought to prevent a further political fracturing that would occur had any prosecution had been allowed to proceed.

It turned out that the pardon opened up a whole new set of fissures.

But, the nation moved on.

Might there be such an action in our nation’s immediate future?

I wouldn’t oppose such an action. How about you?

E-mail controversy rivals Watergate? Hardly

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Donald J. Trump is likely going to lose his bid to become the next president of the United States, so he is bound to say damn near anything.

Thus, the Republican nominee has declared that the Hillary Rodham Clinton e-mail controversy rivals Watergate as among the nation’s worst “political scandals.”

Umm. Let me think. No, it doesn’t even come close.

Let’s review.

Hillary Clinton used her personal e-mail server to communicate with staffers while she was secretary of state. The FBI director determined there was no credible evidence to prosecute her over suspicions that she might have let classified information fall into the wrong hands. Now comes an announcement — 11 days before an election — that he’s reopening the investigation.

What do we know about the new e-mails? Very little, other than they came from a top aide of Clinton and might include communications with her estranged husband, a former congressman who’s been disgraced because of a “sexting” escapade with underage girls. It’s disgusting in the extreme. Scandalous? Give me a break.

Now, about Watergate.

Some goons broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in June 1972. Investigators looked into it. Two newspaper sleuths at the Washington Post began snooping around. They discovered a White House connection.

Then they learned that President Nixon was involved. They found out he ordered the FBI to squash the investigation. Then came news about those infamous Oval Office tape recordings, which then revealed that the president used the power of his office to obstruct justice.

That, folks, is a serious constitutional crisis … not just a political scandal.

Nixon quit the presidency. Others went to prison. President Ford pardoned his predecessor.

I see no symmetry here. One does not match the other.

Trump takes low road while seeking high road

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Donald J. Trump sought — in yet another awkward pronouncement — to make nice with Hillary Rodham Clinton by saying he could have said something “very negative” about his opponent. He chose not to that. I guess he wanted us to believe that he is such an oh, so decent human being.

The Republican presidential nominee’s comments came during the joint appearance at Hofstra University.

Afterward, he told reporters that he was referring to Bill Clinton’s marital infidelity. He said “Chelsea was in the room” and he didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable.

So, there you have it.

Trump said during the event he showed restraint; then he told reporters later — on the record — precisely to what he was referring.

He chose not to say something, then he said it.

It reminds me of when then-Sen. Walter Mondale was asked during the 1976 presidential campaign whether Watergate would be an issue in the contest between Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican President Gerald R. Ford.

“No,” said the Democratic vice-presidential nominee with a huge smile, “I am not going to mention President Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon.”

That is the disgraceful non-denial route that Donald Trump is taking these days.

Civility, good will come back to life

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Take a good look at this picture.

It is fast becoming my favorite image from this year’s election campaign.

You know who they are: former President George W. Bush and first lady Michelle Obama. They were attending the dedication today of the African-American museum in Washington, D.C., an exhibit that tells the comprehensive story of the African-American experience in this nation.

Presidents Obama was the keynote speaker today and he took time to heap plenty of praise on the work that President Bush (whose wife, Laura, also attended the ceremony) did to make this important exhibit a reality.

There’s something quite gratifying in seeing this image, of Michelle Obama embracing her husband’s immediate predecessor as president.

It’s also interesting — to me, at least — that the image was snapped by David Hume Kennerly, who happened to be the official White House photographer during President Ford’s administration. You see, Gerald Ford served at a time when Republicans and Democrats fairly routinely worked together to solve national problems.

We’ll soon relegate this image to the back of our memories as we proceed toward the end of this contentious election campaign.

I thought I’d share it here just as a reminder that civility, good will and good manners occasionally present themselves.