By The Post’s count, at least 10 Senate Republicans have spoken similarly. But few, if any, are expected to vote for conviction.
I am on the record supporting conviction and removal, but I also am on the record as feeling uncomfortable about it.
There is something to the Republicans’ argument that conviction overturns the 2016 election. In our democracy, that’s a job for voters.
Censure is a defensible middle ground. Here are its main virtues.
It is a serious reprimand, not just a “slap on the wrist.”
During its history, the Senate has censured only nine of its members, according to the Senate’s website. The most famous was the censure of Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.). By a 67-to-22 vote on Dec. 2, 1954, the Senate condemned him for abusive behavior toward the committee investigating him and others.
One president, Andrew Jackson, has been censured. The censure occurred on March 28, 1834, as part of Jackson’s running feud with the Bank of the United States, whose re-chartering Jackson had vetoed. Jackson ordered his treasury secretary to transfer the government’s deposits from the Bank of the United States to state-controlled banks.
The treasury secretary refused on the grounds that he lacked the constitutional power to do so. Jackson fired him and appointed a new treasury secretary more to his liking. The Senate then censured Jackson. The measure was so controversial that Jackson’s allies worked for three years to have it expunged. Congress did so in 1837 after a new election had changed the balance of power in Congress.
Censure dispenses with the Trump defense that, whatever his mistakes, he did no wrong.
Impeachment thus acted as a shield protecting Trump’s congressional allies. The choice was binary: Either he should be convicted and removed from office, or he should be found innocent. There was no middle ground.
Republicans could argue that they were put in the difficult spot of having to turn against their own party or fiddle with the truth. Again: Whatever he did wrong, it did not rise to the level of a conviction. The lack of a third choice put them in an impossible position.
A third choice — censure — destroys this defense. Republicans can now express their official disapproval without requiring conviction. So we can now see whether they are tied to Trump at the hip, regardless of what he does — or can show some independence.
Finally — and most important — censure completely breaks the connection between firing the president and voting to reprimand Trump.
This has always been the strongest argument against impeachment and conviction. Voting is the most visible symbol of democracy, and taking it away from people should be done with only the greatest reluctance. The argument for doing just that rests on a fear that the president presents a clear and present danger to the country he presumably governs.
The absence of any sanctions for Trump’s erratic behavior poses dangers that he will conclude, as he seems to have done, that he can do almost anything and get away with it. The case for censure is strong. We should take it, though we probably won’t.
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