The House of Representatives censured Reps. Daniel B. Crane (R-Ill.) and Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.) yesterday for sexual misconduct with House pages, after voting overwhelmingly to substitute this harsher punishment for the reprimands recommended by the House ethics committee.
The House previously had censured only three members during the 20th century and only 21 throughout its history.
Studds automatically loses his chairmanship of the House Merchant Marine subcommittee on the Coast Guard because of the censure, under the rules of the House Democratic Caucus. A reprimand does not carry this penalty.
Because Crane is a member of the minority party, he holds no chairmanships.
Immediately after the votes against them, Crane and Studds each was called into the well of the House floor to listen as Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) read the resolutions of censure. This procedure is the only other difference between censure and reprimand, which does not require a member to be present.
Crane has admitted having sex with a 17-year-old female page several times in 1980. Studds has admitted having sex with a 17-year-old male page in 1973 and making sexual advances to two others.
Before the vote on his censure, Crane apologized in a quavering voice to the House "for the shame I have brought down on this institution."
"We pay for our sins in life, and in making my peace I take comfort that our Lord promised me forgiveness 70 times seven," he said. " . . . Regardless of the action this body takes, I want the members to know that I am sorry and that I apologize to one and all."
Studds did not speak during the debate on the separate resolution for his censure, but later calmly read a statement to reporters reaffirming his statement on the House floor last week in which he said the voluntary, private nature of his relationship with the page did not warrant the attention or action of the House.
"All members of Congress are in need of humbling experiences from time to time," Studds said. He said the friendship and trust of his constituents "have strengthened me and have, I hope, helped me to emerge from the present situation a wiser, a more tolerant and a more complete human being."
Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who had said earlier he would move for expulsion of both members in September after constituents had had time to contemplate the nature of the misconduct, said after yesterday's votes that he was weighing the options.
"My personal view is that they should be expelled," Gingrich said. "But I think the House came a very long way today" in voting the harsher punishment, particularly since it requires the loss of the subcommittee chairmanship for Studds, he said. "If the mood in the country and in the House won't sustain it a motion to expel , there's no point in the self-flagellation."
The House has expelled only one member in modern times, former Rep. Michael Myers (D-Pa.) who was convicted after the FBI's Abscam investigation. Three members of Congress were expelled for treason in 1861.
The censure motions were made by House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-Ill.), who said he thought the reprimand recommendations were "good and sound," but that he sensed a desire on the part of other members to take stronger action.
"I'd rather have this matter taken care of on the spot," instead of being referred back to committee, he said.
The House first voted 289 to 136 for censure rather than reprimand for Crane, and then approved the censure resolution 421 to 3. Crane voted present on the first vote and yes on the second.
The motion to censure rather than reprimand Studds, which followed calls by several members to treat Crane and Studds equally, passed 338 to 87. The Studds censure resolution was approved 420 to 3. Studds voted "present" on all the motions.
House ethics committee Chairman Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) and other panel members had tried to convince their colleagues that a reprimand was harsh enough.
"The release of this information has cast a stain on the public record that these members will have to live with for the rest of their lives," Stokes argued. "They must live with their shame."
"We must punish them for misconduct . . . but let's not cannibalize them," said Rep. Parren Mitchell (D-Md.).
"I could get mad at Dan Crane. He attacked me for almost four hours when I brought the District of Columbia sexual assault bill to the floor," said Rep. Stuart McKinney (R-Conn.), but he said reprimand was the appropriate action for both Crane and Studds.
"When the Washington, D.C., Council legalizes homosexual conduct and the seduction of children and decreases the penalty for forcible rape, we have lost sight of the moral codes for a God-fearing society," Crane said during the debate on that bill.
Rep. George O'Brien (R-Ill.) said that if the House applies the most lenient penalty for sexual misconduct with a minor, the people of his district "are not going to understand that."