Senate GOP drives stake through talk of Trump censure

Senate GOP drives stake through talk of Trump censure
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are quickly shutting down talk of censuring President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE over his decision to delay military aid to Ukraine and ask Kyiv to help with investigations into Democrats.

The idea of a censure was floated by Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinHillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court cancels shutdown of Dakota Access Pipeline | US could avoid 4.5M early deaths by fighting climate change, study finds | Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic MORE (W.Va.), a red-state Democrat who has not said how he will vote Wednesday on two House-passed articles of impeachment.

Manchin, speaking from the Senate floor Monday, predicted a “bipartisan majority” of the chamber would support a resolution that publicly scolded Trump over his behavior.

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But the proposal soon ran into a buzz saw as Republican senator after Republican senator quickly shot down the idea, arguing that Democrats should have tried a censure, if that’s what they wanted, before starting down the path of impeachment.

“I think there’s some people that just want to tarnish what I expect will occur, which is the president will be acquitted,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal Republicans uncomfortably playing defense Negotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks Overnight Health Care: Ohio governor tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of Trump's visit | US shows signs of coronavirus peak, but difficult days lie ahead | Trump: COVID-19 vaccine may be ready 'right around' Election Day MORE (R-Ky.). “So, I don’t think there’s any support for a censure.”

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal GOP expects Senate to be in session next week without coronavirus deal House Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections MORE (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, added that “censure has a potential place in the sequence, but I don’t think it’s after impeachment.”

The discussion about a censure comes as Republicans are poised to hand Trump an acquittal on the two articles: the first accuses the president of abusing his power and the second of obstructing Congress’s investigations into those actions.

Though a few GOP senators have criticized Trump’s behavior — Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns MORE (Alaska) called it “shameful and wrong” and Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderTrump-backed Hagerty wins Tennessee GOP Senate primary The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill MORE (Tenn.) termed it “inappropriate” — most have been unwilling to publicly break with the president, who has maintained a viselike grip on Republican voters.

Manchin is one of the caucus’ most centrist Democrats, voting with Trump more than any other member of his party serving in the Senate.

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A censure resolution could give a political out to a handful of senators in both parties who are viewed as swing votes by letting them support a measure that formally rebukes Trump for his behavior while also voting against conviction.

Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), also viewed as a potential swing vote, threw his support behind the idea.

Jones has not yet said how he will vote on the articles of impeachment but called censure “an appropriate thing to do” given the pre-baked nature of the Senate trial.

It’s unlikely, however, that Democrats would be able to successfully force a vote without Republican buy-in.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's 12:30 Report: White House, Dems debate coronavirus relief package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal Trump dismisses legal questions on GOP nomination speech at White House MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, said Tuesday that he thinks a censure resolution might be privileged, meaning Democrats could try to force an initial procedural vote, but added, “my guess is it’s unlikely that would happen.”

“I think probably the time to do that would have been before rather than after they went through with an impeachment process,” Thune said.

But Manchin and Congress’s in-house think tank say they do not believe the resolution would be privileged, meaning Democrats would not be able to force the vote.

According to a Congressional Research Service report, resolutions that “censure, condemn, disapprove of, or express a loss of confidence in an executive or judicial branch official are not privileged and do not enjoy a special parliamentary status.” The Senate last successfully voted to censure a president in 1912 over then-President William Howard Taft’s alleged interference in a Senate election.

Blunt predicted that, if introduced, it would get to a committee — potentially the Rules Committee, which he oversees. 

Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal Negotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts Lawmakers aim for COVID-19 relief deal this week MORE (R-Ind.), asked if there was an appetite for a potential censure, said, “No. Zero.”

A spokesman for McConnell declined to answer a question about the resolution. McConnell didn’t directly address the idea of censuring Trump during a floor speech on Tuesday but upbraided House Democrats calling the articles of impeachment “constitutionally incoherent” and “dangerous.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he interpreted McConnell’s comments as closing the door on any talk of censuring Trump.

“Speaking very realistically I think anybody talking about impeachment ought to review the remarks made by Leader McConnell just a short time ago on the floor which strike me as driving a stake pretty well through the heart of any censure, I feel,” Blumenthal said.

Manchin’s resolution would directly criticize Trump, putting any Republicans who would support it at odds with the White House as the country increasingly turns its attention to the 2020 election.

The censure would find that Trump “abused the trust of the American people,” “brought dishonor to himself, the nation, and the office of the President” and engaged in behavior that “does demean” his office and “creates disrespect for laws of the land.”

The Senate voted on a censure resolution after the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial. But, unlike now, the measure was offered by senators of Clinton’s own party. Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing Democrats want Biden to debate Trump despite risks MORE (D-Calif.), who was in the Senate at the time, said in February of that year that a censure would show Clinton that his behavior was “inappropriate, intolerable and unacceptable.”

But Manchin’s proposal, so far, does not have the support of any Republican senator.

Alexander, who was critical of Trump in his statement last week even as he voted against additional witnesses in the trial, reiterated Tuesday that he believes Americans should decide Trump’s fate. He added that he’s “said what I’ve had to say, and I don’t need to express myself any further on it.”

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A spokeswoman for Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans NRCC poll finds McBath ahead of Handel in Georgia Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions MORE (R-Utah) didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday about whether he would support a censure. Romney was one of two GOP senators who voted to allow witnesses as part of the trial.

Meanwhile, Murkowski, in her floor speech this week, indicated that the House could have explored censuring the president before they decided to pursue an impeachment inquiry.

Asked specifically about Manchin’s proposal, she sidestepped but noted they had discussed the idea.

“I think both of us recognize that had the House done what I believe they should have begun, this would have been very, very different,” Murkowski told reporters, referring to her talks with Manchin. “They chose to go the nuclear option.”

“I don’t know the full story behind the effort after the Clinton trial, but it’s my understanding that there was an effort to advance a censure motion after that,” she added. “I don’t know enough about that to comment on whether or not that’s a well thought out idea.”

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus New polls show tight races for Graham, McConnell McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill MORE (R-Maine), who announced Tuesday that she will vote to acquit Trump, signaled that she would not support a censure resolution by noting that Trump was already being publicly reprimanded.

“I considered censure, and if the House had started with a censure resolution instead of leaping to impeachment ... it’s something that I would have looked at,” she said. “At this point, the fact is the president has been impeached ... and both Republican senators such as myself and Democratic senators have criticized his conduct strikes me as a reprimand.”

Alexander Bolton contributed.