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John Feehery: Censure could give Democrats a way out of no-win impeachment

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Censure is a better option than pursuing impeachment for House Democrats. Here are five reasons.

Possibly bipartisan: There is a chance, however small, that censure could attract some Republican votes. In some Congressional districts currently held by the GOP, voting for censure would be the right political vote, especially in heavily suburban areas. President Trump is not widely beloved in wealthier communities that dot the outskirts of major metropolitan areas, but the economic disruption that could flow from impeachment is not popular either. Censuring the president could thread that needle.

Censure would be a victory; acquittal would be a defeat: If congressional Democrats successfully win a vote to censure the president, Trump would be hard-pressed to claim he was victorious. If, on the other hand, the Senate acquits the president, he will have a field day claiming he was innocent all along. We know that to be case, because that is precisely what Bill Clinton did in 1999, and he left office with impossibly high approval ratings.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi would fully control a censure resolution: When the House passes articles of impeachment, it passes the baton over to the Senate majority leader. Do Democrats really believe that Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) or Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have their best interests at heart? 

McConnell has already hinted at a long, drawn-out trial that could complicate the Democratic primary process. Graham has insisted that he would call Hunter Biden and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) to testify. How do they think that will play out in the court of public opinion?

Censure would allow the Democrats to move on: Obviously, the Speaker wants to send a strong message to her base that she hears their concerns and is acting on them. But every day that Democrats are not talking about health care is a day that they are slowly but steadily losing the election. The media has a limited attention span, and right now impeachment is king. While impeachment might excite the partisan bases on both sides of the aisle, to the vast middle that isn't paying attention to the latest revelations that are dripping forth on the front pages of The New York Times, this is time not well spent making the case for their reelections.

Censure would be better for the country than impeachment: What the president did with his Ukrainian call is clearly not impeachable. But it wasn't a perfect call either. We all know that partisan Democrats have wanted Trump removed from office since the very day he entered it and have come up with a variety of theories as to why he should be thrown out, from invoking the 25th Amendment to the current impeachment imbroglio. 

But the American people, in their collective wisdom, through a process designed by the Constitution, put him there, and they have the right to have their voices heard to replace him, should they decide that is the correct path to pursue. Short-circuiting the people is a very bad precedent and would needlessly divide the country for generations.

In 1998, some congressional Republicans and Democrats floated censure as a possible alternative to impeachment and when I worked for the House GOP Leadership, I thought that would have been a more prudent approach.

Part of the challenge with censure is it's not outlined in the Constitution as a way to punish the president for actions that fall short of high crimes and misdemeanors. And indeed, the only president to be clearly censured by the Congress was Trump's hero, Andrew Jackson. He was censured by the Senate because he defunded the Second Bank of the United States. That censure was later expunged from the record by Jackson's Whig allies late in his second term in office.

I would vote against censure of this president, if I were in either the House or the Senate, because I think this has been a partisan exercise not worthy of the Congress. But if I were a congressional Democrat, I would prefer censure to impeachment. Impeachment would be bad for the country but probably good for the president. Censure wouldn't be nearly as bad for the country nor nearly as good for the president.

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).

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