Pelosi Rules Out Censure As Alternative to Impeachment

Pelosi says it’s either/or on impeachment. Photo: J Scott Applewhite/AP/Shutterstock

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi still stands squarely across the path leading to a potential impeachment of Donald Trump, saying nay. But she may have just marginally increased the likelihood of this course of action by dismissing a possible safety-valve for impeachment sentiment, as Roll Call reports:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday made her strongest comments on impeachment to date in rejecting an idea some House Democrats have floated to censure President Donald Trump. 

“No. I think censure is just a way out,” the California Democrat said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, when asked if she would support a censure resolution against Trump. “If you want to go, you have to go. In other words, if the goods are there, you must impeach.”

“Censure is nice but is not commensurate with the violations of the Constitution, should we decide that’s the way to go,” she said. “That’s a day at the beach for the president — or his golf club, wherever he goes.” 

This way of phrasing the matter increases the already-strong perception that Pelosi thinks impeachment is warranted but politically imprudent and unnecessary. And that in turn will increase pressure on her to give way to impeachment sentiment on grounds that it’s a matter of constitutional duty that outstrips any political considerations. Obviously, if public opinion turns in favor of impeachment, that too could move Pelosi to go along.

Censure had been a quick-and-easy option for the House (with or without the Senate) to formally condemn Trump’s behavior without the controversial and time-consuming rituals of impeachment, as I explained earlier this year:

Unlike impeachment, a presidential censure has no specific constitutional authorization. Censure has been more customarily meted out by Congress to its own members (most famously Joe McCarthy in 1954) as a disciplinary measure short of the constitutionally sanctioned remedy of expulsion …

Democrats could almost certainly pass a censure resolution in the House, without the kind of ponderous preparations impeachment would involve. If skillfully framed to condemn presidential behavior that no one condones, it might put some Republican members from swing districts on the spot. The Senate’s another matter; the power to filibuster a censure resolution means it would take 60 votes to pass it. Senators who are particularly vulnerable in 2020, like Susan Collins and Cory Gardner, would be hard-pressed to vote against it. And it’s possible even more GOP senators could go on record condemning their own president, creating a potent 2020 talking point against Trump himself.

Trump’s hero Andrew Jackson was censured by a Congress controlled by the opposition Whigs, and conversely, Bill Clinton’s Democratic allies unsuccessfully sought to censure him over the Lewinsky scandal as a substitute for impeachment. But perhaps because it would anger impeachment fans without really damaging Trump, Pelosi appears to have decided censure is not an option. So it’s all or nothing.

Pelosi Won’t Censure Trump As Alternative to Impeachment