President Donald Trump’s comments on Tuesday — in which he equated white nationalists with counter-protesters at the “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville, Virginia, and blamed “both sides” for the violence — drew criticism from both sides of the aisle. Now, three Democratic House members have said they plan to introduce a resolution to censure the president over his “inadequate” remarks.
Though Congress is in recess until Labor Day, Reps. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y, Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., have indicated they will introduce the resolution during a brief session on Friday.
What is a censure?
Largely symbolic, a vote to censure does not carry legal weight and cannot result in expulsion from office. More or less, it is comparable to a “strongly-worded letter.” The president, members of Congress and Cabinet members can all be censured this way. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton was the first government official to be censured for mishandling loans. The last politician to be censured by the House was former Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., in 2010. The House Ethics Committee found him guilty for ethics violations, including failing to pay income taxes.
Has a president been censured?
Although Congress has tried to censure many presidents, only a few of those attempts have actually been successful. In 1834, Andrew Jackson became the first president to be censured following his refusal to turn over a document to the Senate, and the House censured James Polk in 1848 for the “unnecessary” Mexican-American War.
More recently, the Senate introduced a censure resolution over Bill Clinton’s affair and subsequent perjury. In 2006, then-Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., called to censure George W. Bush over his administration’s domestic surveillance program, however, it failed to pass the Judiciary Committee.
Why is there now a resolution to censure the President?
Politicians across the aisle have criticized Trump’s response to the white nationalist rally and subsequent violence. On Saturday, he spoke out against the violence from “many sides,” which was largely interpreted as a moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and the counter protesters. Speaking from the White House on Monday, the President delivered a more forceful statement, calling racism “evil.”
However, when taking questions following a short introduction to an infrastructure plan on Tuesday in the lobby of Trump Tower, Trump caused controversy again by equating the white nationalist’s violence with the counter protesters and saying he believes “there’s blame on both sides” and that there “were very fine people on both sides.”
The resolution to censure Trump is specifically aimed at his Tuesday comments.
Will this censure pass?
It’s too soon to tell. Few presidents have been censured in the past. But lawmakers use censures, at the least, as a tool to make political statements — in this case, against the president’s handling of the violence in Charlottesville and other race overall.
This article has been updated to reflect Feingold’s affiliation.