As House moves on impeaching Trump, some push censure instead. Here's what that means

Lawmakers who say impeachment is too divisive have pushed to censure. But what is censure? Let us explain.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
4 min read
National Guard troops in front of the US Capitol

Members of the National Guard walk outside of the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC as the House of Representatives prepares to vote on a second impeachment of Donald Trump.

Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Update, Feb. 9: Trump's second impeachment trial is happening in the Senate now. Here's how to watch the hearing live

As members of the House of Representatives begin the process to impeach President Donald Trump for a second time, some lawmakers are calling for a less divisive punishment in the wake of the violent attack last week on the US Capitol: censure. (Here's how to watch the House impeachment vote live.)

On Tuesday, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy indicated he is open to censure of the president, according to news reports citing an unnamed aide familiar with McCarthy's thinking. He has indicated that he opposes impeachment. 

Some Democrats have also supported that idea, arguing that it would be less divisive than a second impeachment. Still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said that censure simply isn't a heavy enough punishment for President Trump's role in last week's insurrection and attack, which resulted in the death of 5 people.

A group of six House Republicans, led by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, introduced a resolution Tuesday night to censure Trump over his role in disputing the results of the 2020 presidential election and stoking the violent riots that aimed to overturn the results of the election. 

These Republicans argued that censure would be a more effective way to punish Trump, since many believe that the Republican-controlled Senate will not convict him even though Democrats' impeachment efforts are expected to pass. On Tuesday night, the House also attempted a different route to removal, passing a separate resolution to formally appeal to Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment. Hours before the vote, Pence said he would not.

"President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government," the resolution to censure Trump reads.

To help break down what this means, we've put together this FAQ.

Read more: 14th Amendment enters Trump impeachment conversation. What it is, how it works

What is censure?

Censure is a formal statement of disapproval. It's considered nonbinding, which means there is no legal consequence. A censure doesn't remove an official from office, nor does it deny them any of the rights and privileges of their position.

But it is a formal mode of disciplining a public official, such as a US president. It can also be used to discipline senators and members of the House. In essence, it's a public shaming for officials by lawmakers and peers. 

The process for censure is outlined in Article I, section 5, of the US Constitution

How does censure differ from impeachment?  

To be clear, censure is a much lighter punishment than impeachment. There is no real action taken against an individual who has been censured. It's simply a formal statement of disapproval. 

The process to censure also differs from impeaching. A resolution to censure can be introduced in either the House or the Senate or both. And an affirmative vote only requires a simple majority. This differs from impeachment, which must be voted on in the House and requires a two-thirds vote affirming in the US Senate to convict.

Also, unlike with impeachment, the House of Representatives and the Senate can censure their own members. (The equivalent to impeachment for members of Congress is a vote to expel, which requires a two-thirds majority vote.)

Has a US President ever been censured? 

Yes. In fact, movements to censure have been brought against 14 presidents, with four of those efforts passing, according to a 2019 report by the Congressional Research Service.

The most famous censure is that of President Andrew Jackson, who was censured in 1834 for refusing to provide documents related to the removal of deposits from the Second Bank of the United States. William Howard Taft in 1912 was the last US president to be censured, in his case for trying to influence a disputed Senate election.

Since then, movements have been brought against several presidents, including Richard Nixon, who had several resolutions of censure brought against him, as well as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Each of these efforts failed. Trump has had two censures brought against him during his term. If this censure were to occur, he'd be the first US president to be censured in more than 100 years. 

Given that Congress is moving forward on Trump's impeachment, how likely is it that he will also be censured?

Democrats and now at least five Republican members of the House of Representatives have said they'd vote for impeachment. The measure is assured to pass the House by the end of today. It's still unclear whether the Senate would convict him. There would need to be two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 votes, to convict. 

That is why there's been a push toward censure, since it's more likely to be accepted by Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. But the reality is that now that the impeachment process has begun, censure for the president is likely off the table. 

What about members of Congress? Is censure being considered for any of them?

Yes, censure may be considered for members of Congress who supported Trump's false claim that he had won the election. Members of Congress who also attended the rally at the White House that preceded the attack on the Capitol may face censure, and some critics have suggested Congress may also consider expulsion for their role in inciting the crowd.