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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 TrumpNYT: Rep. Perry played role in alleged Trump plan to oust acting AG Arizona GOP censures top state Republicans McCain, Flake and Ducey Biden and UK prime minister discuss NATO, multilateralism during call 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) ManchinOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden EPA asks Justice Dept. to pause defense of Trump-era rules | Company appeals rejection of Pebble Mine | Energy pick Granholm to get hearing Wednesday Nomination hearing for Biden Energy pick Granholm set for Wednesday Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief 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 CornynTrump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Limbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Top Texas Democratic Party staffers to step down after underwhelming election results MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Kentucky Republican committee rejects resolution urging McConnell to condemn Trump impeachment Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack MORE (R-Ky.). “So, I don’t think there’s any support for a censure.”

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntTrump impeachment article being sent to Senate Monday The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda 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 MurkowskiTrump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Murkowski didn't vote for Trump, won't join Democrats Trump impeachment article being sent to Senate Monday MORE (Alaska) called it “shameful and wrong” and Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes 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 Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda NRSC chair says he'll back GOP incumbents against Trump primary challengers 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 BraunBiden signals he's willing to delay Trump trial McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' 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 FeinsteinHillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader 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 RomneySunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump 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 Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief 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.