Sunday, April 21, 2019

Censure as a viable alternative to impeachment of the president

Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty thinks that Impeachment would be a terrible thing for our country. and explains that “We have another option.”

President Trump should not be impeached. It would be a terrible thing for the country.

This is not because he doesn’t deserve it. The long-awaited report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has provided a devastating inside look at Trump’s White House, where he has created a culture of recklessness and deceit.

More than two years of admirably accurate investigative reporting on the part of the media — the same accounts that the president so often labeled “fake news” — gave the country a basic outline of how this presidency operates.

But the sworn testimony that Mueller compiled from insiders revealed that Trump has created, as my colleagues Philip Rucker and Robert Costa wrote, “an atmosphere of chaos, dishonesty and malfeasance at the top echelons of government not seen since the [Richard M.] Nixon administration.”

[snip]

[One reason she says:] Even a successful impeachment by the House would come screeching to a halt in the Republican-controlled Senate, where chances of the constitutionally mandated two-thirds vote it would take to convict are virtually zero. …

[snip]

As I’ve traveled with a number of the Democratic candidates in the early states, I have been struck by how infrequently the subject of the Mueller investigation has come up. The crowds are large and enthusiastic, eager for the contest to get underway, but seem far more interested in hearing about issues such as health care, jobs and the environment, which have a more direct impact on their own lives.

This is the debate that needs to happen — and that would be smothered if the election becomes a referendum on impeachment.

Nor would this missed opportunity be the only danger.

One of the features of Clinton’s character, both a flaw and a survival skill, was his ability to “compartmentalize” — to attend to the business of his presidency even as it was teetering on oblivion. That is one reason his job approval reached its highest point in the Gallup poll — 73 percent — the same week the House voted to impeach him in 1998. (It is also worth noting that the Republicans lost five House seats in the midterm elections that year, largely in punishment for an overreach that nearly cost them their majority.)

What we have seen from Trump is the opposite, both in his public behavior and the behind-the-scenes accounts in the Mueller report; under pressure, he becomes more erratic and reckless, prone to pushing legal boundaries and making policy pronouncements by tweet.

That the president did not succeed in his efforts to obstruct Mueller’s investigation, the special counsel wrote, was “largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.” But there are fewer and fewer of those non-sycophants around him.

None of this is to argue that Trump should not be held accountable for his actions, or that Congress — which has a constitutional duty to provide oversight of the executive — should do nothing in the wake of Mueller’s devastating report.

But there is another option: Either house, could, with a majority vote, formally censure Trump, something that has not happened to any chief executive since the Senate censured Andrew Jackson in 1834.

While this would be dismissed in some quarters as merely a symbolic act, it would be a historic rebuke of the Trump presidency — and would, properly, leave it to the voters to decide whether they have had enough of it.

A primer on the history and use of Censure

One pont I want to make here is that censure (aka condemnation or denouncement) is not just symbolic. In the rare cases where it has been applied as a punishment meted out by Congressional peers, there have been real and severe consequences to the target member of Congress - resignation, loss of re-election, and even death while in office.

Censure is attractive because it is not bound by the same constitutional shackles as is impeachment. As long as the GOPlins control the Senate, there is no chance that the Senate would vote to convict. I admit there is a small chance that the Senate would vote to censure the president, but the House can do it on its own; all it needs is a simple majority vote by its own members.

Imagine, 10 or 20 “whereas” statements in a censure document which basically lists the main findings of the Mueller report followed by “Be it therefore resolved that the House of Representatives censures the President of the United States.”

Here are some things you might want to know about censure.

Censure is a formal, and public, group condemnation of an individual, often a group member, whose actions run counter to the group’s acceptable standards for individual behavior. In the United States, governmental censure is done when a body’s members wish to publicly reprimand the President of the United States, a member of Congress, a judge or a cabinet member. It is a formal statement of disapproval. (Emphasis added.)

As you might expect, censure (and related actions like condemnation or denouncement) is very rare and is a very big deal with real political consequences.

For example, the only president to be censured was Andrew Jackson.

US Senate

In the US Senate, there have been only five instances in the last 100 years. These I pulled from the Senate records, presented with light editing and added emphasis.

November 4, 1929: Hiram Bingham (R-CT). Hired member of industrial group to assist with tariff legislation. “Condemned” for conduct tending “to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.” Defeated for reelection.

December 2, 1954: Joseph R. McCarthy (R-WI). Charged with abuse and non-cooperation with the Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections during a 1952 investigation of his conduct; for abuse of the Select Committee to Study Censure. He was “condemned.” Died in office.

June 23, 1967: Thomas J. Dodd (D-CT). Use of his office (1961–1965) to convert campaign funds to his personal benefit. Conduct unbecoming a senator. Censured. Defeated for reelection.

October 11, 1979: Herman E. Talmadge (D-GA). Improper financial conduct (1973–1978), accepting reimbursements of $43,435.83 for official expenses not incurred, and improper reporting of campaign receipts and expenditures. His conduct was “denounced” as reprehensible and tending to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. Defeated for reelection.

July 25, 1990: David F. Durenberger (R-MN). Unethical conduct “in connection with his arrangement with Piranha Press, his failure to report receipt of travel expenses in connection with his Piranha Press and Boston area appearances, his structuring of real estate transactions and receipt of Senate reimbursements in connection with his stays in his Minneapolis condominium, his pattern of prohibited communications respecting the condominium, his repeated acceptance of prohibited gifts of limousine service for personal purposes, and the conversion of a campaign contribution to his personal use.” “Denounced” for reprehensible conduct, bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. Did not run for reelection.

All these actions by the Senate were passed with a strong majority with bipartisan support. In the most recent case, for example, the vote was 96–0.

Historical digression: (also from Wiki). Hiram Bingham III was an American academic, explorer and politician. He made public the existence of the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in 1911 with the guidance of local indigenous farmers. Later, Bingham served as a member of the United States Senate for the state of Connecticut.

US House of Representatives

Also, in the House, there have been only six censures in the last 100 years (from Wiki).

1921 Thomas L. Blanton, Democratic Texas, Unparliamentary language 1979 Charles Diggs, Democratic Michigan, Payroll fraud, mail fraud 1980 Charles H. Wilson, Democratic California, Improper use of campaign funds 1983 Daniel B. Crane, Republican Illinois, Sexual misconduct with House page 1983 Gerry Studds, Democratic Massachusetts, Sexual misconduct with House page 2010 Charles B. Rangel, Democratic New York, Improper solicitation of funds, inaccurate financial disclosure statements, failure to pay taxes.

The House’s use of “reprimand”

Unlike the Senate, the House voted in 1976 in favor of a lesser action, the “reprimand.” Even so, there have been just five such actions in the last 20 years.

1990 Barney Frank, Democratic Massachusetts, Use of office to fix parking tickets on friend’s behalf 1995 Bob Dornan, Republican California, Criticism of President Bill Clinton as having “gave aid and comfort to the enemy” during the Vietnam war in a floor speech 1997 Newt Gingrich, Republican Georgia, Use of tax-exempt organization for political purposes; provided false information to House Ethics Committee 2009 Joe Wilson, Republican South Carolina, Outburst towards President Barack Obama during a speech to a joint session of Congress[5][6] 2012 Laura Richardson, Democratic California, Use of congressional office staff in 2010 election campaign

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