Don’t Impeach President Trump, Censure Him
How Democrats can hold Trump accountable and take the high road.
- Democrats in the US House of Representatives should consider censure of the President rather than impeachment.
- Many Republicans find the President’s words and actions repugnant, but very few would vote for an impeachment no matter how great the crime.
- In today’s faith-based, not fact-based, US political culture, it appears that only half of the American people agree with impeaching Trump.
- For Democrats, censure would not overshadow their important nominating process for the 2020 elections.
Let’s be clear: President Trump’s efforts to extort a foreign power, in this case Ukraine, to dig up dirt on his presumed key rival in the Democratic Party, Joe Biden, appear to be in violation of his oath of office. They might therefore constitute an impeachable offense.
Let’s also be clear that, in today’s faith-based, not fact-based, U.S. political culture, it appears that only half of the American people agree with that.
And let us further remind ourselves that – unless something even more extraordinary is discovered – Articles of Impeachment based on the President’s violation of the Constitution will fail to garner the necessary 20 Republican votes that, in addition to all 47 Democrats in the U.S. Senate, would actually result in Mr. Trump’s removal from office.
Both parties at risk
In addition, there are risks to the impeachment inquiry for both parties. Most have focused on the potential harm the inquiry could cause Democratic prospects in the 2020 elections.
But it is equally true that depending on the course of that inquiry, support for Republicans may erode beyond their 2018 election debacle. The electoral impact is entirely unpredictable.
Finally, the timing of this inquiry is most unfortunate. It falls into the ramp-up period of the race for the Democratic nomination for President.
Promises by the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, to proceed thoroughly but expeditiously in this matter are probably largely wishful thinking. Most likely the process will last well into 2020 overshadowing the elections.
Censure: A way out
All of that is why Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives should consider censure of the President rather than impeachment.
To be sure, only one sitting President, Andrew Jackson, was censured back in 1834. While resolutions of censure were introduced against, among others, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and already against Donald Trump, they all failed either by never reaching the floor of the House or being rejected (a simple majority is required).
Censure by the House (or by the Senate, which can also introduce such a resolution) is therefore a uniquely effective way of public shaming, especially for a U.S. President, because it is an absolute rarity. There are no legal consequences for a censured President, but the shaming would deeply hurt.
Not just about Ukraine
Moreover, the censure could go beyond the Ukraine affair. It could include the President’s possible violation of Article II of the Constitution, the so-called emolument clause.
President Trump has publicly made every effort to enrich himself from his presidency. Since the President speaks and tweets without a filter, the evidence is in plain sight.
A Resolution of Censure could also include calling out the President’s public support for white Supremacists and many of his public utterances that are – if not in violation of the Constitution – incompatible with the decency that the Office of President of the United States requires of its occupant.
The lesser evil
There is an additional advantage to censure. Censure, as the lesser evil, may actually get greater bipartisan support. More Republicans might be willing to join Democrats on censure. This would allow them to save face, while not participating in impeachment efforts, which President Trump has called a “coup.”
Many Republicans find the President’s words and actions repugnant, but very few would vote for an impeachment no matter how great the crime. But censure might be seen as a win-win by some of them.
No drawn-out process
For Democrats, the benefit would be that the process is short. The burden of proof is lower and censure would not overshadow their important nominating process for the 2020 elections.
At the same time, Democrats could claim that they have stood up for the principles and values of the Constitution and possibly even for getting some support from Republicans.
They could claim the mantle of bipartisanship in declaring President Trump unfit for office and yet show restraint by not trying to remove him from the White House but allowing the electorate to be the ultimate judge.
Finally, Democrats could also introduce a Resolution of Censure in the U.S. Senate. They may actually get four Republican senators to support such a measure.
The only President ever censured?
Trump would actually become the only President ever censured, because Andrew Jackson’s censure in the House was expunged in 1837 – a political favor that is highly unlikely to be repeated for the current President.
Trump could also become the only President ever censured by the House and the Senate. That would be a heavy burden for him during his re-election campaign.
Focus on the Independents
A few moderate Republican and many independent voters might find solace in the fact that Democrats, by pursuing “only” censure, showed restraint for the good of the country.
These independents and moderate Republicans could make the difference in 2020 not just in the swing states, but also by delivering other states to a Democratic nominee that might seem out-of-reach today.