How much damage could a crazy POTUS do?

This still raises an interesting question. Only Congress can declare war, but is there anything preventing the President plus a co-conspirator or two from committing an overt act of war?

Nope. Even the War Powers Resolution only requires him to tell Congress after doing so.

Don’t tempt me.:wink:

Wow. So, “Just a heads up guys, I nuked Canada over the weekend.” That’s scary.

Doesn’t the Secretary of Defense serve at the President’s pleasure, though? If the SecDef doesn’t greenlight the President’s order, couldn’t he just fire the SecDef until he gets an acting secretary who will?

Also, there are clearly some situations where the President would be allowed to launch nukes, or we wouldn’t have the blasted things to begin with. If a President really wanted them launched, he could lie about the intelligence situation, and claim that such a situation had occurred.

I’m not sure if it’s a precise precedent,but firing your way down to compliance has been done before.

ETA: Richard Nixon’s final days are a good historical example. I hope both the historicity and the respectful tone will allow everyone to understand there’s no political-jabby intent here. Since we are discussing a political issue, I think the only way to avoid moderation opprobrium is to treat the subject respecfully.

No problem with this approach. As long as people stick to facts it’s OK.

The Saturday Night Massacre was slightly different because it involved law officers. They have - at least in theory - slightly broader obligations because they are attorneys as well as government functionaries. Though I don’t doubt that DOD appointees would resign rather than execute a ridiculous order too.

Andrew Johnson might be the best historical example of a US president out of control. He made rambling and combative speeches, fought with Congress continuously, and was frequently drunk. He was impeached and then acquitted at the subsequent trial by a single vote. He was kept in check often by others in government who opposed his actions.

I think that’s not far off from what would happen today; Congress and others in government (possibly the Supreme Court for unconstitutional actions) will undercut or prevent as much as they can until impeachment happens. Until then, there’s no legal way to usurp authority unless you can prove a medical reason (the president is diagnosed with dementia, delusion, or has something like a stroke, etc.).

I often wonder in these conspiracy paranoia movies (“the CIA has gone rogue!”). Not everyone is a robot like the gestapo or the KGB. (Nor are the robot killers remarkable efficient and competent). There are plenty of people up and down the chain of command that honestly believe in the basics of the constitution.

After all, something like the Iran-Contra scandal, for example, was all about providing guns to the guys who were “on our side”. it didn’t ask anyone to murder US citizens or cover up mass murder, etc. I doubt that any command that requires blind cooperation through a chain of command to do something obviously illegal and evil would actually succeed.

As I read the 25th Amendment, I don’t think you need a medical reason. You just need the VP and a majority of the Cabinet to sign the paper, and whatever they think constitutes “unable to discharge the powers and duties” is sufficient. If they think some presidential action is too far “out there,” then they can declare him/her unable, and Congress acts as the judge of the merits of their action.

Yes, it is basically a legal coup, and the ultimate safeguard against a rogue president.

While it is scary in one sense, it’s also necessary in another sense. You don’t want those Canadians thinking “Congress will take at least three days to reconvene, eh? This allows us to douse the entire US in mayonnaise before anyone can possibly get authorization to respond, eh?”

Any clause that says “The Pres can only launch nukes in a serious emergency” then begs the question of how one defines those terms and you’re back to the same discussion of just what constitutes reason for impeachment by Congress or removal by the Cabinet.

In the case of nuking a country without provocation, military officers would have grounds to refuse, though. They’re only obligated to follow lawful orders. The crazier the order, the more likely they are to conclude that it is not lawful.

The last time Congress declared a state of war was in 1942, so there’s a little leeway for violence in the system.

The President could keep firing people until he found someone willing to pass along his orders–drone strike or nuke strike or what have you. I don’t know though what the process is for communicating nuclear launch codes to a new SecDef–if there would be any delay there that would enable other people to intervene.

The rogue president in question wouldn’t need to issue orders to the military, because drones wouldn’t be necessary. Unless the president was truly crazy and not just evil, why use a drone domestically when he/she could just use an assassin with a rifle?

Because i don’t believe in crazy cabals and handily available assasins. Who would he ask? The CIA head? He could at his leisure remind the Prez that the CIA does not do domestic operations. And even if it could be pulled together, the CIA head himself would be wary and has to make illegal arrangements.

Think about Watergate or the trouble Marion Barry got into. I don’t believe in crack squads available at a moments notice.

If he can mobilize military drones, then he can mobilize military soldiers just as easily. Assassin is not a job that requires special training: Anyone with a gun can do it.

I think that like the “high crimes and misdemeanors” referred to in the case of impeachment, “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” would be (and probably should be) seen as essentially a political question rather than a strictly legal question (let alone a medical question).

Of course one issue with the Twenty-Fifth Amendment is that it is the person who agreed to serve as President Crazypants’ running mate and the Cabinet secretaries who were personally nominated by President Crazypants who will be making the determination that the President is in fact nucking futz and therefore “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”. It’s an obvious possibility that all the key members of the Crazypants Administration may think that nuking Canada is an absolutely swell idea and exactly the sort of thing The American People elected the Crazypants Administration to do.

Right, but the really loyal-at-all costs staffers are the political types. Cabinet members and VPs have ambitions of their own, and all want to be remembered well by history. It’s why they all write books. Not to mention any scruples they may feel about a president acting in a wildly illegal/immoral manner. Some Cabinet members may feel an intense personal loyalty to the president or to each other, but the Cabinet and VP aren’t composed of the President’s 16 best buds.

The president is not a one-man-band. While he may have the authority and power, he doesn’t have the actual capability to do much of anything. That’s left up to the civilian and military bureaucracies to effect his actions. While not perfect, those bureaucracies do have the ability to impede a crazy president’s wishes. They only need to impede at a level for legitimate power brokers to sop the president.