Opinion

OPINION

Censure, don’t impeach Trump

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could rightly say that with the election less than a year away, members decided to leave the decision to remove Trump from office to the American people, at the ballot box.

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Th House is set to take a vote Wednesday on whether to impeach President Donald Trump.

For the sake of our republic, President Trump should be removed from office.

Impeachment, however, is not the right route. It won’t further that imperative — and may well hinder it.

One can hear a host of pundits and scholars opine that Trump’s abuses of power leave House Democrats with no choice but to vote to impeach. That, however, is more a rhetorical formulation than a carefully reasoned argument.

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Others argue that even if the Senate fails to remove Trump, as will almost certainly be the case, it is nevertheless essential to send this president down in history with a scarlet "I" affixed to his name. But that elevates the desire to subject Trump to a historical rebuke above the far more important need to deny him a second term and thereby prevent the damage four more years of his presidency would bring.

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One can easily predict what will happen if the House votes to impeach Trump over abuses that roughly half the nation doesn’t consider serious enough to merit his removal. Some Democrats will certainly vote against impeachment in the House. In all likelihood, no Republican will vote for conviction in the Senate.

This shameless president and a coterie of Senate hacks and hyper-partisans will insist he did nothing wrong. More electorally vulnerable GOP senators will verbally admonish the president, but maintain his misdeeds aren’t grave enough to justify removing him from office.

If past is prologue, Trump will then claim victory. He will argue that the fact that some House Democrats voted no is an acknowledgment this was just another politically driven witch hunt. He will claim the same of the (probable) failure of the pro-impeachment forces to muster even a bare Senate majority, let alone the two-thirds needed to remove him. He will add that his Senate acquittal means he has been completely exonerated.

Contrary to another pro-impeachment argument, a House vote for impeachment that then fails in the Senate won’t deter future Trumpian abuses of power. Trump will understand that, having failed once to remove him, Democrats will be unlikely to try again.

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The far better course is for the House to vote to censure Trump for his misdeeds. House Democrats could vote without defections for such a censure. Democrats could stress the extensive evidence that Trump and his team tried to use the prospect of a White House meeting and desperately needed foreign aid to get Ukraine to announce an unwarranted investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could rightly say that though the House believed Trump’s misdeeds warranted his removal, with the election less than a year away, they had decided to leave that decision to the American people, at the ballot box.

By sending censure, rather than impeachment, to the Senate, the House would change the terms of the debate. A Republican Senate that shows no inclination to treat impeachment seriously might not even take up censure; if they did, GOP senators would likely vote it down.

Either action, however, would leave Republican senators exposed as sycophants, cowards, or apologists. How? By stripping them of the argument that though they disapproved of Trump’s actions, his misdeeds didn’t rise to the threshold of removal. Censure, after all, would condemn his behavior without removing him from office.

Such a Republican failure would underscore Democrats’ solemn declaration that it was up to the American people themselves to protect our precious democratic norms from further debasement. Trump’s democracy-eroding abuses could then become one of the central thrusts of the 2020 presidential campaign.

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The president would likely argue that the Democrats retreated on impeachment because they knew the Senate would defeat it.

That, however, would open him to a two-pronged rejoinder.

Pointing to statements indicating Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham had no intention of treating impeachment seriously, they could correctly counter that the real fault there lay with the Republican-controlled Senate.

But it’s the other, larger, response that be both righteous and resonant:

Safeguarding a democracy ultimately depends on the concern, vigilance, and resolution of the voters. And for those reasons, Democrats were putting their faith not in the Republican Senate, but in the American citizenry.

scot.lehigh@globe.com@GlobeScotLehigh