Trump censure faces tough odds in Senate
Senators are discussing a long-shot bipartisan effort to censure former President Trump over the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
Members of the upper chamber are pitching their colleagues on the idea as it becomes increasingly clear that Trump’s impeachment trial will hand him a second acquittal after 45 GOP senators backed an effort this week to declare it unconstitutional because the former president is no longer in office.
But the idea is facing both political and procedural roadblocks, with the Senate currently locked into holding an impeachment trial and few GOP senators openly interested.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters that the resolution would be “in lieu” of holding the trial.
“It seems to me that there is some value in looking at an alternative to proceeding with the trial. … I realize the two leaders have already locked in a schedule. But it seems to me there is benefit in looking at an alternative that might be able to garner bipartisan support. I don’t know whether it would or not,” said Collins, who is working with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
A censure resolution, unlike impeachment, would require only 60 votes to pass the Senate, and it would amount to a historic rebuke of Trump. The Senate has censured only one president previously — Andrew Jackson — a decision it reversed three years later.
“I have been talking with a handful of my colleagues, a handful, not 40,” Kaine said. “I think the Paul motion yesterday was completely clarifying that we’re not going to get near 67 votes. So I think there’s maybe a little more interest in could this be an alternative.”
“To do a trial knowing you’ll get 55 votes at the max seems to me to be not the right prioritization of our time right now,” Kaine added.
But Democratic leadership is showing no public interest in backing down from the impeachment trial, even though it likely doesn’t have the votes to ultimately convict Trump despite Republicans expressing broad frustration following the Jan. 6 attack.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is vowing to move forward with the trial, wanting to put Republicans on the record about Trump’s rhetoric.
“I would simply say to all of my colleagues: Make no mistake, there will be a trial, and the evidence against the former president will be presented, in living color, for the nation and every one of us to see,” Schumer said.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he agreed “completely” with Schumer.
“We have a constitutional responsibility to accept this impeach article and hold a trial,” Durbin said.
Durbin, however, did acknowledge that Democrats will discuss a censure if they fail to convict Trump. Several senators have suggested the GOP support for conviction is likely capped at five — the number who voted against a bid by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to declare the trial unconstitutional.
“We’re going to talk about it,” Durbin said about the censure measure. “I hope enough Republicans join us to impeach this president. If they don’t, perhaps we’ll consider some alternatives.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) also appeared to signal that he didn’t think a censure resolution was a strong enough response to the Capitol attack.
“I thought the censure was definitely the way to go back on Ukraine. … This is much, much more serious than anything we’ve ever seen in our lifetime, and it’s really the purpose of having articles of impeachment in the Constitution,” Manchin said.
Speaking to a crowd near the White House on Jan. 6, Trump repeated his false claims that the election was “rigged” and urged his supporters to march to the Capitol. A mob subsequently breached the building as former Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers were counting the Electoral College votes.
The language of the censure is still being finalized, but Kaine told CNN that it would mirror language from the 14th Amendment. Democrats, including Kaine, have floated using Section 3 to try to bar Trump from holding future office.
“Here’s what it does: It declares that the attack on the Capitol was an insurrection against the Constitution of the United States. … It then finds that President Trump gave aid and comfort to those who carried out the insurrection by repeatedly lying about the election, slandering election officials, pressuring others to come to Washington for a wild event and encouraging them to come up to Congress,” Kaine said.
“Those two findings, that it was an insurrection and that President Trump gave aid and comfort to the insurrectionists, is language pulled right out of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution,” he added.
But it’s unclear if censure would get much support beyond the five Republicans who voted against an effort to declare Trump’s trial unconstitutional. If there aren’t 10 Republican votes for a censure resolution, Kaine indicated that there would be a “strong desire” among Democrats to not move forward with it at all.
“I just think it’s so hypothetical at this point. … I’ve heard some rumblings but not serious discussion that had support from enough Democrats or Republicans for that matter to make this a realistic option,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.
In addition to Collins, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who was also one of the five to vote against declaring the trial unconstitutional, said she would be “interested” in looking at what the language of the censure would be. A spokeswoman for Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who also opposed the Paul effort, said he would be looking at the resolution.
But other Republicans argued that the time to discuss a censure would have been before the House moved forward with its impeachment article and the Senate was locked in to start a trial in less than two weeks.
“I appreciate their thinking outside the box. We’re past that point,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).
Asked about a censure resolution after a trial, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) replied, “I don’t know why in the world we would do that.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) floated that if a censure resolution had been brought up before the House moved forward with impeachment, “there probably would have been a lot of support for it, but at this point I don’t know why we would bail them out.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) noted that censure was also discussed during the Clinton impeachment trial as well as the first Trump impeachment trial but went nowhere.
“I think it’s unlikely that you can unspool one thing and reel another thing out there,” Blunt added. “But we’ll see.”
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