Finally, after the Senate Republicans voted against calling any witnesses, the defense of some GOP members was that, while Trump’s behavior was inappropriate, the President’s removal was not warranted. According to Sen. Lamar Alexander, the House managers proved their charges.
The underlying reasoning was that even with Trump’s bad behavior, the binary choice of acquittal versus removal made it impossible for Republicans to side with the Democrats.
But in those shifting rationales, the Republicans have raised a third option they may not have anticipated. The Senate on Thursday can and should move to censure the President and use the Republicans’ own public statements and floor speeches as the basis for the language condemning Trump’s behavior.
For Democrats, in addition to gaining a measure of revenge on the Republicans in the Senate, it also gives them an organizing moment to frame the narrative going into the election of a President who is corrupt and abuses his power.
You can just see the ads now with pictures of Trump with the word “impeached” and “censured” over him. The censure vote is also much easier for voters to understand, easier than a vote to block the testimony of witnesses and the production of documents.
For Republicans, especially those senators who oppose removal from office and are running in swing states this year, censure plausibly allows them to go on the record condemning the President’s misconduct — short of removal. Doing so would allow them to appeal to independents and the small number of persuadable Democrats who may accept the Republican argument of not overturning the 2016 election and allowing voters to render final judgment in November 2020.
When the articles of impeachment were delivered to the Senate, Democrats, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, drafted several versions of censure language as a companion to an impeachment acquittal. Ultimately the effort went nowhere because even among the Democratic senators, they could not agree on the appropriate language.
Some might ask if censure wasn’t appropriate for Bill Clinton, why is it appropriate for Trump. Democrats criticized the President from the moment the scandal broke and made clear throughout he had committed serious transgressions that could not be hidden by political talking points.
Trump is reacting in a completely different way. He still contends he did nothing wrong and that the call with Ukraine’s president was “perfect.” He has withheld every document Congress has requested and ordered senior aides with firsthand evidence of what happened to not testify in any Congressional setting.
He used his legal team, Alan Dershowitz most notably, to argue the President has absolute authority under Article 2 of the Constitution, something he’s said repeatedly in public. And the administration has continued stonewalling, withholding critical documents until just after the Senate voted on documents and witness testimony in the trial Friday night.
There is no reason to believe Trump will acknowledge any wrongdoing or take any personal responsibility. There is no reason to believe the Administration will become more cooperative with Congressional oversight even with the trial completed. In fact, the opposite is probably true.
Congress can take some measure of satisfaction by censuring a president who has trampled their Article One authority in multiple ways. Standards of conduct must be maintained and enforced given the President’s misconduct. Censure, although almost unprecedented against a President, is the only and best remedy for holding him to account and putting his wrongdoing on the record forever.