The Case For A Trump Censure

As we wait for the impeachment of the President for a second time, I wanted to share what I considered to be the better path not taken by the House.  We had an opportunity to speak with one voice in a bicameral, bipartisan resolution. That moment will soon pass.

Here is my column in the Hill:

Congress is poised to prove Abraham Maslow’s “Law of the Hammer.”

The American psychologist articulated a “law of the instrument,” which held that “if the only tool you have is a hammer,” then you tend “to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Similarly, if impeachment is your only tool, then every problem is treated as an impeachable offense.

Over the last four years, Democrats have called for the impeachment of President Trump for acts ranging from his criticism of NFL kneelers to his inflammatory tweets. After previously impeaching him, they now are pushing through a dangerous “snap” impeachment — an impeachment that effectively would go to a vote without the deliberation or inquiries of a traditional hearing.

There is another tool that could avoid creating the harmful precedent of a snap impeachment. It is called censure.

Democratic leaders are actually wielding two hammers with the addition of the 25th Amendment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she would prefer to see Trump removed under that amendment, but she also issued an ultimatum: Declare Trump incompetent under it, or she would seek his impeachment. The 25th Amendment, however, concerns physical or mental incapacity; it is not interchangeable with impeachment, which addresses a different problem with a vastly different standard. Thus, the sole focus of Democrats seems to be on the remedy, not on the basis for these actions.

Both “hammers” would do more harm than good. By ignoring traditional impeachment standards, the use of these provisions would create a type of “no confidence” vote used to remove prime ministers in the United Kingdom. Moreover, a snap impeachment based on Trump’s speech would allow any president to be removed for using language deemed inflammatory to violent third parties. In his speech to a massive rally on Jan. 6, Trump did not call for violence; rather, he called on his supporters to go “peacefully” to Capitol Hill to show support for senators backing an electoral-vote challenge and opposition to those who opposed it. Such protests are common in capitals, from statehouses to Congress, during legislative sessions.

Pelosi admits that the current interest in impeachment is to bar Trump from running for the presidency in 2024. Yet, such a move would further inflame the political divisions in our country. Trump’s future should be left to history and the voters to decide — not canceled by congressional fiat.

Many of us have denounced Trump’s speech as reckless and wrong. Indeed, I was tweeting my objections to the speech as it was being given. Moreover, I opposed the congressional challenges to the electoral votes from the outset, rejected Trump’s claim that the electoral votes could be “sent back,” and praised Vice President Pence for defying Trump. Yet, none of this is license for Congress to rampage through the Constitution with the same abandon as last week’s rioters did in the Capitol.

I testified against the first Trump impeachment — and I stand by that testimony today. I believe, however, that he warrants congressional condemnation, and that a censure resolution could help repair some of the damage that he has caused in this national tragedy.

Such a joint statement of condemnation by the two houses could be based on three grounds.

First, Trump — as well as his son, Donald Jr., and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani — whipped the Jan. 6 crowd into a frenzy before the rioting in the Capitol. While Trump’s speech would not constitute criminal incitement, it was inciteful and unpresidential. Before that, on Twitter, he called thousands to the city for a “wild time,” and then worked some into a frothing mob.

Second, Trump repeated clearly false statements about the constitutional process and made the unconscionable demand that Pence should usurp that process by “sending back” electoral votes. As many of us said repeatedly for weeks, Pence had no such authority and could not unilaterally act as Trump demanded. Yet, Trump continued to tell his followers that such authority existed — leading many of them to launch a hashtag campaign to “#hangmikepence.”

Third, Trump was conspicuously silent as this riot engulfed the Congress. It was not until the next day that he clearly denounced all of the violence and called for the prosecution of those responsible. On the day in question, he gave a widely ridiculed statement thanking his supporters and saying he understood their anger. It may not have been criminal incitement — but it was an outrageous failure to denounce the violence, immediately and unequivocally.

Censure is not a substitute for impeachment. It is not even mentioned in the Constitution. However, it would serve a greater purpose in this instance: It would allow both parties to speak as one in condemnation of the actions — and the omissions — of the president. It would be a unifying act that allows us to state our expectations of a president, a statement made all the more important with the approaching inauguration of a new president.

Indeed, this is where President-elect Biden can prove he is a unifying leader. He should call on his party to stand down and join in a bipartisan censure resolution. In doing so, he would pass the very test that Trump failed on Jan. 6. Rather than seek to use this moment for political advantage, Biden could use it to help heal these divisions by getting a majority to speak as one voice. It is an opportunity he should not allow to pass.

What happened on Jan. 6 was a crisis of faith. As a nation, we are losing faith not just in the Constitution but in each other. We need leadership — real leaders to step forward and say “enough” to the reckless rhetoric of the president, to the reckless response of his critics of rushing to impeach, and to the politics of division. It is time we speak with one voice. It is time to censure the president.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.

31 thoughts on “The Case For A Trump Censure”

  1. There’s no need for impeachment or censure. Trump will be out in a few days, and that is enough.

    Dems aren’t satisfied with winning. They want their boot on Trump’s face forever, and on the face of every Deplorable who had the audacity to vote for and support the candidate of their choice, despite all the SCIENCE! that proved them wrong.

  2. No he did not and his the wording of his speech proved it. No one was armed.Two factions of the far left showed up. Period.

  3. While Trump’s speech would not constitute criminal incitement, it was inciteful and unpresidential.

    Unpresidential…hmmm. What does that even mean? What good has a nice suit and eloquent speeches done for our lives, liberty and property? Do we say people are behaving uncongressionally, or unjudicially? Donald Trump ran openly as what you would consider an unpresidential candidate. And he won. He maintained that character for 4 years and 74+ million voters said that’s how we define our president. Of course our constitutional scholar isn’t arguing our president violated his oath of office or did anything warranting impeachment. No, he’s arguing our president didn’t behave in a manner he expects from a president. And that in a nutshell is exactly why we have this weaponized, bureaucratic state. More people are concerned about the appearance of constitutional governance, than actually care whether it’s real. It’s not.

  4. Remember when the Bernie supporter shot up the Republicans at the baseball field and how the Republicans rushed to absolve Bernie and anyone else that had promoted violence of being remotely responsible? Republican politicians fell over each other trying to be the first to give the Democrats absolution even though they had no intention of asking for it in the first place. I suspect that there are actors afoot that don’t think being tied up AND punched in the stomach at the same time, they don’t think that’s the America way.

  5. I have to ask, where is the line of compromise with people who opine about taking any American children away from their parents using DHS force and putting them in re-education camps?

    At what point does it become absurd to watch public opinion directed by barking mad media be permitted to engage in continual, unmistakable, violent speech towards other Americans with impunity and the opposite side have a narrative directed at them that magnifies and reinterprets any action in the most egregious stretch of the imagination and fed to a peanut gallery of chimps waiting to roar their mob indignation?

    There is no point any longer Professor Turley in capitulating and conceding to the left in pursuit of some imaginary goal of unity. We are divided for strong ideological reasons, nobody should be forced to surrender by the opposing side.

    The problem arises when an entity tries to filch power to themselves in order to press their ideology on their opponents by force or coercion.

    The only solution to the current situation is to promote the “live and let live” values that come only with SMALL GOVERNMENT. Then let the ideologues stand on the street corners on their own time. They are wasting the time of the vast number of America citizens that are able to live side by side with each other every day without having their neighbors agree to what is a matter of individual freedoms.

    I only see one party that wants to use government to impose it’s theology on the rest of America and at this point, regarding the rampage in the Capitol, let the cards fall where they may. I genuinely feel sorry for you today, Professor, because your calls for civility have fallen on deaf ears, and Trump was not the worst perpetrator by any means.

    Today, Trump has more credibility when he farts than any Democrat who starts their screed with the phrase “putting aside politics”.

    We saw them encourage a mob to burn down Mainstreet America, and we saw the cheating states, pretend they stopped counting when Trump was ahead with no explanation as to how, when they had stopped counting, Biden had taken the lead when they resumed.

    You can’t keep moving the line back AND bare your throat at the same time, it can only result in doom.

    I am consistent that I condemn the violence of the Democrats all summer as I watched an elderly, black woman watch the business that she has built stick by stick, consumed by the criminals that Nancy Pelosi encouraged from her elected position with impunity and while I condemn the violence in the Capitol, I don’t agree that we have to accept the narrative that Trump led the charge.

    To me it seems obvious from the actions and lack of actions by the Capitol Police that nobody expected it to happen from the Trump side of the aisle, because there was a long history of non-violent Trump gatherings.

    The only paradigm that shifted is that the Democrats might realize that you can’t always rely on the people that you targeted for extinction, you can’t always rely on tying the up and getting to punch them in the stomach, too.

    Sometimes they might not go along with it. However, it is easy to see why Democrats believe they would always go along with it, when you consider the quisling leadership of the Republican party.

  6. Yeah, Turley, what we need now is unification, and, according to you, the only way to achieve that is to censure Trump. Tell us, Turley, did Trump ever apologize for whipping up his disciples into a frenzy? Did he ever apologize for those of his disciples wearing shirts reading “Camp Auschwicz”, “6mne” or other racist, anti-Semitic symbols or words? Has he apologized for lying about the election being stolen even before Election Day, and all of the lying since then? Did he condemn those who spread feces and urine in the Capitol Building, those who defaced Rep. John Lewis’s memorial or who defaced the images of other patriotic Americans? Did he immediately order the flags at the White House to be lowered to honor Officer Sicknick, or contact his family to apologize and offer sympathy? No. He didn’t. He will never apologize because a narcissist can never be wrong. A milquetoast, generic condemnation of violence he fomented isn’t enough. Neither is a mere censure. Not for an assault of this magnitude promulgated by the POTUS.

    The United States cannot heal from this wound inflicted by the worst POTUS in US history until or unless Trump’s sins against America are properly addressed. Anything less is meaningless. Trump should have resigned. He refused. Pence should have invoked the 25th Amendment, to spare Congress from impeaching Trump. He refused. Turley claims that this is a “snap” impeachment. It’s been a full week now. The dead haven’t even been buried. The stench of tear gas has not fully been vented. All of the Trump sympathizers have not been arrested yet. Some members of Congress have come down with COVID because they were forced to go to a secure location with Republican Trump sympathizers who refused to wear masks. I have little doubt that some have PTSD. Trump should already be in custody, but he isn’t. What he did would be unforgivable even if he did admit he lied, apologized for his lying, and told his disciples to stop planning further assaults in his name. He refuses to do that, too. But he hasn’t admitted that he lied, that he honestly lost the election, nor has he taken any steps to try to prevent further violence.

    Congress must act to prevent Trump from ever holding office again. That is literally the least they can do. A censure, especially meaningless to a sociopathic narcissist like Trump would be immoral. It would mean he got away with it. We patriotic Americans cannot allow that to happen.

  7. So Professor, the best you have is that Trump was “unpresidential”. In your humble opinion. That amounts to a “high crime or misdemeanor”? He has always been “unpresidential”. Will always be “unpresidential”. That’s probably a big reason 75 million citizens voted for him. Be honest. The only reason they impeached Trump is because they are obsessed with blind hatred for him because he is openly contemptuous of the DC Swamp and they will do anything in their power to strike him. What he said on January 6 simply gave them another empty excuse for doing it.

    1. It was less than 75 million. The “big reason” people voted for him is that they were dazzled by his alleged wealth from “the Apprentice” (the records for which he hides because he owes more than the values of his assets), his alleged powerfulness (all bluster and BS), his harkening back to the 1950’s–to bring back coal and factory jobs (which didn’t happen), but most of all, his racism. He’s going to force Mexico to pay for a wall to keep out the “criminals, rapists, murderers and animals”, his praise of White Supremacists, his lies about Obama not being an American prove he is a racist. Trump is worse than the worst swamp monster ever conceived and was impeached because he invited Russia to help him cheat, he refused to cooperate with the Mueller investigation, he tried to leverage aid to Ukraine in exchange for them announcing a false investigation against Biden, and now, for fomenting insurrection against the United States by lying that there was election fraud.

      1. The reason Trump gained in popularity and 1.5M more votes the second time around is that he delivered on his promises to Americans and Americans who voted for him got what they voted for. That must really frost the establishment that after they tarred and feathered him 24/7 and painted him as a despicable pariah, hid his many accomplishments and lied to the public about the validity of the Biden/China scandal before the election, that Trump was MORE POPULAR and today his approval rate holds steady. Face it, you all lost control of the thinking American mind and all you have left is your dangerous mob in your unventilated echo chamber, and are now left scrambling to impose censorship in the arena of ideas that you all lost a long time ago.

  8. Professor Turley makes a well-reasoned case for censure as an alternative to impeachment. There has been an unprecedented rush to judgment by Speaker Pelosi. I do not wish to trivialize the unfortunate events of January 6. However, there is ample evidence that Ms. Pelosi’s party failed to condemn the extraordinary violence that accompanied protests throughout the spring and summer months. When questioned about these issues, Ms. Pelosi replied: “They do what they do.”

    As reported in the National Law Journal today, law professors are weighing in on the events of last week, calling out lawyers who may have assisted clients in opposing election results. The New York State Bar Association is conducting an investigation into whether Rudy Giuliani should be removed as a member. I have little tolerance for these over-the-top reactions. I am struck by the extraordinary self-righteous posture assumed by the political class, especially those members of the political class who masterminded the Russia Collusion debacle and who may have had a hand in changing the election laws of certain states in unconventional ways. But wait – wasn’t “election reform” one of Nancy Pelosi’s legislative priorities in early 2019? HR-1!

    Now, anyone who wishes to even question the voting results in any state is branded. These events have had a chilling effect!

  9. Please explain how government punishment for protected speech (as Turley agrees) is not a violation of the 1A by congress?

  10. What happened on Jan. 6 was a crisis of faith. As a nation, we are losing faith not just in the Constitution but in each other. We need leadership — real leaders to step forward and say “enough” to the reckless rhetoric of the president, to the reckless response of his critics of rushing to impeach, and to the politics of division. It is time we speak with one voice. It is time to censure the president.

    From your lips to God’s ears. (Oh, can we censure the pols who make excuses for looters and rioters, starting with Kneepads Harris?).

    1. The double standard is revolting. And the worst is when the Republicans do it to themselves. They couldn’t wait to stand up and absolve every foul mouthed Democrat agitator in Congress for any and all liability when the Bernier shooter took down Scalise and shot up the Republican baseball team. And the joke was on them, the Democrats never had any intention of taking an iota or responsibility in the first place.

  11. He’s the guy that didn’t date…ugly Pamela Brown.
    Educated, well intentioned…President in our town.
    One of these days he’ll be on the sound.
    Floating by on little rubber rounds.

    1. Leo Kottke would be appalled.
      And TRUMP will rest in history as our greatest president.
      I would really like to see him take control of everything and nip this in the bud.

  12. Censure sounds like a slap on the wrist. This situation warrants a more serious situation and impeachment indicates that

    1. Chuckles. The President is not a member of the chamber, so a vote of censure is a nonsense gesture. They might as well censure you.

    2. Professor…not surprised that you think that Trump should get a slap on the wrist and the goody bag of benefits that comes from being an ex president. You have surely changed. A Republican and Trump mouthpiece you Altus find away to excuse the worst but this time it is treason and you know it. He incited an armed insurrection that left 5 people dead. I’m wondering if you should be teaching young lawyers at this point.

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