In less than two weeks, a petition calling for Congress to censure President Donald Trump for misconduct and misdeeds has attracted more than 20,00 signatures.
One of the initiators of the petition is Richard Painter, a lifelong Republican, professor of corporate law at the University of Minnesota, and chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush between 2005 and 2007. Discussing the petition, Painter said:
The Constitution of the United States protects every citizen’s right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. And Congress has the right to censure its own members as well as presidents. The behavior of President Trump in his first six months in office, as specified in our Petition, clearly warrants his immediate censure by Congress. I urge our fellow citizens to join us in our effort, and I implore every member of Congress to exercise his or her authority to censure President Trump for his gross misconduct in office as specified in our Petition.
A growing number of other prominent Americans have endorsed the petition, including former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, legal and human rights scholar and Tufts University Professor John Shattuck, political theorist Michael Walzer, and attorney and writer Richard North Patterson.
The petition, which can be found on its website, asks both the Senate and the House of Representatives to censure Trump and sets forth a description of misconduct and misdeeds that have occurred since Trump’s inauguration, including:
- Firing FBI Director James Comey for his refusal to terminate the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election and his investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn;
- Disclosing classified information to Russian representatives in the Oval Office on May 10, 2017;
- Disgracing the Office of President by repeatedly and knowingly making false statements to the press and public;
- Wrongfully admonishing Attorney General Sessions for recusing himself from the Russian election interference investigation;
- Continuing to receive profits and Emoluments from foreign governments in violation of Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution;
- Ridiculing women on the basis of their looks and insinuating that they lack intelligence;
- Withdrawing from the Paris climate accords;
- Refusing to release his income tax returns;
- Defending the improper effort by his son, son-in-law and Campaign Chairman to obtain damaging information from Russian sources about Hillary Clinton.
The petitioners plan to collect more signatures and then present them to every member of Congress for appropriate action.
Censure is a condemnation while impeachment involves a trial, starting with the House adopting “articles of impeachment” and the Senate holding the trial. In the case of the impeachment of a president, the chief justice of the United States presides over the trial.
“While many of our grounds for censure may support President Trump’s Impeachment,” Jules Bernstein, a veteran Washington, D.C. labor lawyer who helped start the petition drive, “at a minimum they warrant his immediate censure by both Houses of Congress.”
The petition “is a simple and easy way for people to be heard and fight back,” explained Bernstein. “It would serve to combat Trump’s normalization, let Congress know how people feel, and remind the press and public of all the terrible things he’s done.”
Throughout American history, Congress has censured its own members as well as the president at least 40 times. In 1834, for example, the Senate censured President Andrew Jackson for removing government deposits from the Bank of the United States and refusing to give them to Congress. In 1954, the Senate censured Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisc) for, among other things, bringing the Senate into “dishonor and disrepute.”
Peter Dreier is the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books).