Republicans ignore an impeachment escape hatch

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said he didn’t think censure would get “many, if any, Republican votes,” adding, “It would be an admission that they did something terribly wrong. I just don’t see it.”

It’s a significant shift from two decades ago, when some Democrats contemplated a censure of Clinton for his conduct in office, including lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. But this time, the idea of censuring the president is seen as a near-impossibility in the Republican Party, and it’s gained little steam among House Democrats. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) floated the idea last week before reinforcing her support for impeachment.

With Clinton there was some consensus on his misconduct, if not the punishment. But for Trump, views split almost neatly down party lines.

“There was an agreed upon set of facts. It was very clear [Clinton] lied under oath and it became a whole different issue. But the phone call is a whole different conversation,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), referring to Trump’s call asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for an investigation into Joe Biden. “Everybody can read the transcript, and everybody’s got two different versions of what it was.”

“The sides are in their bunkers, and I don’t see that as a likely outcome,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said of the GOP endorsing a reprimand short of impeachment.

For now, Republicans say it’s House Democrats who should consider censure given the potential political risks of impeachment. But some Democrats predict the GOP is going to reach for a middle ground in the coming weeks as impeachment moves toward reality rather than a hypothetical.

“I personally think they will eventually find themselves desperate for a third option,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said.

Andrew Jackson was censured in 1834 by the Whig Party in the Senate, but it was later expunged by Democrats. No other president has been censured, so many Republicans view that path as more than a slap on the wrist.

“In effect, nobody’s ever been censured. So it’s serious. You could argue it’s even more rare than impeachment,” said one Republican senator who has studied the issue. “So people who just pass it off as, ‘let’s just censure and it won’t mean anything’, I think it does mean a lot.”

Despite a pile of evidence unearthed in the impeachment probe, House Republicans have not budged. Every single GOP lawmaker voted against beginning the impeachment inquiry on the House floor and House Republicans’ report on impeachment released this week essentially concluded that the president hasn’t erred in any way.

“There’s no point in censuring because [Trump] didn’t do anything wrong,” Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas) said.

Still, some Republicans acknowledge privately that it would be a much tougher choice for them if it was censure on the table rather than impeachment.

Outgoing Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said a couple GOP senators could support it “depending on what it says.” But the topic did not come up at a Senate lunch with White House officials on Wednesday, according to an attendee.