Is censure the appropriate centrist middle ground, or does it amount to a “get out of jail free” card?
“After doing my due diligence in reviewing the 658-page impeachment report, I came to the conclusion that I could not in good conscience vote either yes or no,” Rep. Gabbard explained in a video message. “I am standing in the center and decided to vote present.”
“I could not in good conscience vote against impeachment, because I believe President Trump is guilty of wrongdoing,” Rep. Gabbard continued. “I also could not in good conscience vote for impeachment, because removal of a sitting president must not be the culmination of a partisan process, fueled by tribal animosities that have so gravely divided our country.”
What the resolution does
What’s the middle ground option between impeachment and acquittal? Some say it’s censure, a rarely-used congressional option which officially expressed disapproval of a person’s conduct or behavior, while still allowing them to retain their political office.
Rep. Gabbard introduced two censure resolutions on back-to-back days: House Resolution 766 on December 17 and House Resolution 771 on December 18. The resolutions do not appear to have official titles, as most pieces of congressional legislation usually do.
What supporters say
Rep. Gabbard argues that censure splits the difference and creates a middle ground, officially condemning Trump on the one hand but leaving his final status up to voters, rather than Congress.
Censure “will send a strong message to this president and future presidents that their abuses of power will not go unchecked, while leaving the question of removing Trump from office to the voters to decide,” Rep. Gabbard said in a video message.
“I am confident that the American people will decide to deliver a resounding rebuke of President Trump’s innumerable improprieties and abuses. And they will express that judgment at the ballot box,” Rep. Gabbard continued. “That’s the way real and lasting change has always occurred in this great country, through the forcefully expressed will of the people.”
What opponents say
Many Republicans disapproved of Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine, but don’t feel those actions rose to the level of impeachment or removal from office. In theory, censure could provide an acceptable alternative to impeachment for GOP members.
In practice, no Republicans — even those who have publicly criticized Trump’s actions — have favored censure. As Politico noted, “That antipathy for even a symbolic reprimand of Trump underscores how the president has transformed the Republican Party, in which any break with him can be seen as a personal slight.”
“No, I wouldn’t be happy with that at all,” Trump answered when asked by a reporter about the censure possibility. “No. That’s — to me, it’s unacceptable. I did nothing wrong. You don’t censure somebody when they did nothing wrong.”
Odds of passage
Considering that almost every congressional Democrat has either voted for or advocates Trump’s impeachment / removal from office, censure is unlikely to find favor with that party. It’s also unlikely to find favor with the Republican Party, which is unlikely to do anything Trump opposes.
Neither House resolution has yet attracted any cosponsors. They both await a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee.