The House has a Constitutional duty to start impeachment proceedings with an investigation if there is a reasonable presentation that the president has misused his powers and failed to fulfill his duties in ways that have caused harm and threaten further harm. But the 25th also creates a duty to appoint a body to suspend the president if there is a reasonable presentation that he is unable to discharge those powers and duties. The cabinet and VP have failed to suspend an apparently disabled president, so that responsibility falls on Congress, and a Congressional investigation is the first step, as it is with impeachment.
However you come down on the question of the political advantages and disadvantages for 2020 of starting vs avoiding impeachment proceedings, it seems to me that similar reasons apply to starting vs avoiding House hearings into Trump’s mental competence, only the latter is less risky of the downside consequences, and more likely to produce the buyers’ remorse in 2016 Trump voters that we need to defeat him in 2020.
In addition to these same, but reduced/enhanced, 2020 risks/benefits as impeachment, looking into his competence has an entire dimension of benefits not created by impeachment inquiries.
Looking into Trump’s ability to discharge the powers and duties would cover pretty much the same ground as looking into whether or not he has actually been discharging those powers and duties the past 2+ years, whether he has actually understood any of the pieces of paper his handlers have put his name to during his administration. Quite aside from causing buyers’ remorse in 2020 among his former supporters, that would yield more immediate dividends in the form of challenges to the validity of what would have to be considered pretended acts of this president.
While Trump is quite unlikely to be removed from office by either conviction on impeachment (because that would require 2/3 of the Senate) or a vote of this “other body” appointed by law to decide on his disability (because there won’t ever be such other body established in law unless we get 2/3 of both chambers to override the veto it would be certain to attract), there is the possibility that in his dementia he will order things so obviously and immediately catastrophic that his handlers would have him carted off for the 48-96 hour involuntary confinement for psych evaluation that is a pretty standard feature in all jurisdictions. Making that call is never going to be easy for his handlers, but it would be much more likely that they would get it right and decide that the Trump behavior in question threatened immediate harm to self or others, if there was already an ongoing Congressional investigation into his mental competence. The existence of such an investigation would also make it much more likely that Pence and the cabinet would suspend Trump for at least the duration of his confinement for the psych evaluation, and then not agree with Trump after the 48-96 hours is up that he is able to resume the powers and duties.
Lastly, evidence that Trump should be suspended for mental incompetence indicts the VP for his ongoing collusion in the pretense that Trump is some sort of stable genius. That’s impeachable behavior far more clearly than failure to call on Trump to resign over Trump-Russia. Not that Pence is any more likely to be impeached than Trump, but he would be far more discredited as a Trump successor for their nomination in 2020 for pretending for 2+ years that a demented person was actually making decisions that he patently was not, than for pretending that Trump shouldn’t resign over his criminal and ethical lapses. Almost all potential Trump replacements to be their candidate in 2020 suffer from the same handicap, years of pretending that the demented guy is a stable genius.
Two final points about dementia.
Most people have an unbalanced idea of the disease, because its sufferers are not usually diagnosed until quite late in its course. Trump does not have late dementia. He can still recognize his children, and he doesn’t think it’s 1997. But he patently cannot understand his powers and duties well enough to discharge them. He has arguably the most complicated and difficult job on the planet, and inability to understand its complexities and nuances would be expected much earlier in the course of dementia than inability to recognize one’s children.
Lastly, stop thinking of dementia as an abstruse and technical diagnosis. Its criteria are simple. The patient must exhibit functional impairment in going about his daily life that has no reasonable explanation besides an ongoing cognitive impairment. We already have these criteria on Trump. He doesn’t just make the mistakes and missteps in the daily performance of this job that any president will of course make because of its impossible complexity. He goes much further and gives almost daily evidence that he doesn’t understand even its basic parameters. Most of the things he says that are amazingly divorced from reality can indeed be explained by the usual BS and lies that our system, in its metaphorical dementia, allows and even encourages in our politicians. But only literal dementia can explain a clear residuum of Trump’s word and deed.