The terrible incident at the Capitol Building in Washington last Wednesday was a brutal day for this country, and it demands a response.
A mob stormed the building with the aim of preventing the Electoral College certification of Joe Biden’s presidential election victory over Donald Trump two months ago. The rioters stormed the building after attending a rally a few blocks away during which Trump and others incited the crowd with talk of stolen elections and, as Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani declared, “combat” justice. Once inside, the mob defaced property, occupied the Senate chamber and various offices, and generally humiliated this nation in what amounted to an insurrection against America that was spurred on by the president himself. As of this writing, at least five deaths are connected to the incident.
In the aftermath, Trump has faced withering criticism from many sources — left and right, Democrat and Republican — and demands that he either resign, be removed from office via the incapacity clause in the 25th Amendment or be impeached. As of this writing, the first two seem unlikely.
Meanwhile, impeachment looms as a real possibility but would likely not remove Trump before his term expires next week. However, it’s possible that impeachment charges could be pursued even after he leaves office, which has been mentioned by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina).
Some Republicans are warning that impeachment would only further divide the nation. However, many of these same people have spent the last two months embracing unproven accusations of fraud in an effort to undo the presidential election. Also, in their claims that impeachment would anger a segment of Trump supporters, they fail to recognize the anger that many Americans already feel after seeing last week’s nightmare unfold, and these people are demanding justice in defense of our democracy.
But, an argument could also be made that impeachment may be impractical at this point not only because of the short time left in Trump’s term but also because of the enormous workload lawmakers face with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout.
There is, then, another option, which is an admittedly weak gesture but could still provide some value.
Perhaps the president should be censured by both the House and Senate. If it is overwhelming and bipartisan, it would be a notable rebuke. If it is contested by lawmakers, the exercise would prove illuminating.
No matter what happens between now and Jan. 20, Trump may reportedly not be off the hook for last week’s events. If a federal probe of the incident (and there will likely be several) finds wrongdoing or criminality on his part, he could still face legal accountability. A vote to censure would not change that.
In the shorter term, a censure would make a statement of disapproval which, admittedly, Trump would probably dismiss. But it would always be shackled to his record and his legacy.
It also might serve a broader purpose. If the censure is brought before Congress, every lawmaker in the House and Senate would be required to voice either their support of or opposition to the move. That would give all Americans a clearer idea of where these lawmakers stand on this matter.
In the meantime, the wheels of judicial response will continue in other areas, with many of those involved in the insurrection — people labeled by Trump as “patriots” — now being arrested. This process may go on for some time.
Without question, the absolute worst thing we can do is nothing, for that would set an awful precedent that may well embolden others in the future, and it would certainly be viewed as a dangerous abdication of duty. An attack on America’s democratic process demands action.
Would a censure response fit the action? No. But it may be the most practical short-term option at this extraordinary moment.