Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution states that, “Each House [of Congress] may determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.” Censure is a less severe form of disciplinary action that does not remove a Senator or Congressman from office but is a serious black mark on their standing and career. A vote for censure requires a simple majority to pass.
The Rules adopted by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct provide simply that:
“With respect to the sanctions that the Committee may recommend, reprimand is appropriate for serious violations, censure is appropriate for more serious violations, and expulsion of a Member or dismissal of an officer or employee is appropriate for the most serious violations. A recommendation of a fine is appropriate in a case in which it is likely that the violation was committed to secure a personal financial benefit; and a recommendation of a denial or limitation of a right, power, privilege, or immunity of a Member is appropriate when the violation bears upon the exercise or holding of such right, power, privilege, or immunity.”
In the history of the United States there have been 31 censured Members of Congress, 22 in the House and 9 in the Senate. Senator Timothy Pickering (Federalist MA) was the first to be censured in 1811, when he read correspondence which had been submitted to the Senate by President Jefferson but never been made public, in violation of standing Senate rules and guidelines. Pickering remained unrepentant but his fate was sealed by Senator Henry Clay (Republican KY) and the Senate voted 20/7 in favor of the censure.
Since then there have been censures for insulting the Speaker of the House (Rep. William Stanberry, 1832), assaulting another member or brawling on the floor of the House or Senate (Rep. Lawrence Keitt, 1856; Rep. Lovell Rousseau, 1866; Sen. Benjamin Tillman and Sen. John McLaurin, 1902) introducing legislation proposing that a group of slaves had a natural right to liberty (Rep. Joshua Giddings, 1842), using unparliamentary language either in a speech or in legislation (6 members, 4 incidents), selling military academy appointments and bribery (two instances, two separate members) and two members for treasonous conduct by recommending the recognition of the Confederacy and failing to support the subjugation of the South (17 members were expelled). In 1879 two Members of the House, Oakes Ames (R MA) and James Brooks (D NY) were censured for bribery in the “Credit Mobilier” scandal.
This list brings us to the 20th Century and some notable censures. Sen. Hiram Bingaman (R CT) was censured in 1929 for employing an assistant who was simultaneously employed by the Manufacturer’s Association of Connecticut. In 1956 Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R WI) was censured for abuse and non-cooperation with the Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections during an investigation into his conduct.
In 1967, Sen. Thomas Dodd (D CT) was censured for using his congressional office to convert campaign funds for his personal benefit. Perhaps graft and corruption is genetic considering the performance of Thomas’ son, Christopher, also a Senator from Connecticut.
1979 saw Rep. Charles Diggs (D MI)for being convicted of payroll fraud and Sen. Herman Talmadge (D GA) for improper financial conduct and improper reporting of campaign receipts and expenditures.
1980 brought Rep. Charles H. Wilson (D CA) for receiving improper gifts; “ghost employees”; and improper use of campaign funds and 1983 Rep. Gerry Studds (D MA) and Rep. Daniel Crane (R IL) for sexual misconduct with House pages.
We end the list in 1990 when Sen. David Durenberger (R MN) was censured for unethical conduct including acceptance of prohibited gifts, converting campaign contributions to personal use, illegal use of a condominium, and the structuring of a real estate deal.
The latter 20th Century seems to have brought about a change in the reasons for censure. Gone are the minor infractions of “unparliamentary language” and brawling on the floor of the Senate only to replace them with graft, bribes, misuse of funds, and sweetheart real estate deals. Until now that is. Now the calls to censure Rep Joe Wilson (R SC) are coming from the likes of Benedict Arlen, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D SC), Rep. Steny Hoyer (D MD) and the Progressive Change Campaign has reportedly collected 30.000 signatures and $10,000 as well. Benedict Arlen had this to say on the Bill Press radio show:
“I’m not saying the guy should be kicked out of the House. … But there ought to be some rebuke, reprimand, censure — something that will discourage that kind of conduct in the future. If you do that to the president, it’s open season.” (emphasis mine)
I guess the open season that Democrats opened in 2004 when they boo’d President Bush over the Patriot Act and continued in 2005 when the Dems again boo’d and shouted “NO” when President Bush mentioned Social Security Reform during the State of the Union Address, is now closed. In any season you are only allowed to boo a Republican President and that season was only open to Democrats, kind of like the lottery for a “doe tag” in deer hunting or only shooting the male mallards (greenheads) while duck hunting.
The season the Democrats are opening now allows graft, corruption, tax evasion, sweetheart mortgage deals, bribery, influence peddling, and earmarking for your favorite DOD contractor, once again only if you are a Democrat and apparently without a bag limit. Nancy Pelosi has been touted by the lame stream media for her attempts to quash the calls for censure, but considering her announcement that Charlie Rangel (D Tax Evader) will keep his Chairmanship in the House Ways and Means Committee, her acts can hardly be viewed a magnanimous. William “The Freezer” Jefferson (D “you can’t buy a politician, but you can rent them”) was defended by his party until finally losing to Joseph Cao, Chris Dodd (D Countrywide), following his own family tradition, is remaining the Senate Banking Committee Chairman, John “F the Marines” Murtha (D Earmarker Extraordinaire) still sits in the Chair of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee while he and many of his friends (Moran and Visclosky among most of the other members of the committee), from both parties, await the conclusion of an FBI probe involving earmarks to PMA Group and campaign contributions back to themselves. Dianne Feinstein (D Contract Profiteer) steered $25 billion to the FDIC just in time for her husband’s company to win a contract to sell foreclosed homes for the FDIC. Don’t forget Jesse Jackson Jr. (D How much for that Senate Seat in the window?) and Jane Harmon (D spies go free for a Committee Chair). Five members of the Black Caucus are under investigation for privately sponsored trips to the Caribbean and a few more investigations of unknown house members are still being conducted by the slow coach House Office of Congressional Ethics.
Representative Wilson has raised over $700,000 since shouting to the Nation a cleaned up version of what I had shouted 30 times at my AM Radio that very night. He should take a cue from Obama’s speech and go all in. Take the floor of the House and tell the defenders of corruption he has issued his one and only apology. Dare them to do their best and serve notice that he will not be censured alone. Debate the questionable ethics of the Democrat Party for all of America to see and hear. Debate his wrongdoing and contrast it with tax evasion, sweetheart real estate deals and the current pay to play wheeling, dealing and earmarking that has become business as usual for the most morally and ethically corrupt Congress in the history of The United States. Worst case scenario, he is censured and can wear it as a badge of honor when he welcomes the new GOP majority to Congress in 2010.
Go for it Joe, I’ll donate again.
Contributor to The Minority Report