House hits reprimand milestone not seen since 1870
A trio of Democrats censured by the House this year marked a milestone not seen in more than 150 years, raising questions over whether the historically rare form of punishment is becoming weaponized in the lower chamber.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (DNY) became the 27th member in history to be censured on Thursday following earlier reprimands for his colleagues Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).
Censure resolutions have not been used frequently throughout history, with only five members being censured in the last 40 years.
The three resolutions in 2023 mark the most censures to happen in a year since 1870, when three other lawmakers were censured for selling military academy appointments. The latest string of resolutions has also become increasingly partisan over the last decade, with the measures typically passing along party lines by whichever party is in the majority. (It requires only a simple majority vote to pass a censure resolution.)
All three censures passed this year were approved with overwhelming Republican support, with only a handful of Democrats joining to reprimand their fellow party members. The first censure resolution to be brought up earlier this year was against Schiff, which passed in a 213209 vote with no Democrats voting in favor.
The other two resolutions saw a little more sway from Democrats after three members voted to censure Bowman over his admission of guilt to falsely pulling a fire alarm. The most Democrats broke with their party to censure Tlaib for “promoting false narratives” about the Oct. 7 attack against Israel by the Hamas militant group, with 22 members of her party voting in favor.
The frequent use of censure resolutions has prompted pushback from House Democrats, who have accused Republicans of seeking to weaponize the historically rare form of punishment to undermine the credibility of the opposite party.
“Extreme Republicans continue to utilize tactics such as censuring Democratic members of Congress, burying their heads in the sand with respect to unlawful or unacceptable conduct by their own members,” said Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (DNY) on Thursday. “Why are extreme Republicans wasting so much time on these efforts to target Democratic members of Congress? ... It’s because the extreme MAGA Republicans have nothing to show for their narrow, fading, and decreasing majority.”
Republicans have pushed back on those accusations, arguing the censure resolutions are being used simply to hold members accountable for their conduct.
But the House GOP is not the only party to use this form of punishment against the opposite party. Democrats voted to censure Rep. Adam Gosar (R-AZ) when they held the House majority in 2021, accusing the Arizona Republican of encouraging violence against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-cortez (D-NY) in a video he posted on social media.
Since then, Republicans and Democrats have introduced censure resolutions more frequently, even utilizing legislative tools to force votes on the measures. All three of the censure resolutions this year were filed as privileged motions, requiring House leadership to bring the bills to the floor for a vote. Any member can file their resolution as privileged, and it’s often used as a tool for members to expedite the punishment of the resolution’s target.
It’s not clear whether lawmakers will continue pushing for censures for the duration of this Congress, as the punishment itself does not do more than publicly condemn a lawmaker. It does not hold any other form of punishment unless the resolution’s author includes it in their legislative text.
Some Democrats have floated the idea of censuring Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (RGA), with one Democrat even going so far as to push for a floor vote on the matter in October. That measure was later pulled from consideration.
Greene had brushed off the threat at the time, arguing that the accusations against her were inaccurate.
“I don’t know who this freshman Democrat is,” Greene said then, referring to Rep. Becca Balint (D-VT), who introduced the measure. “They must have terrible fundraising numbers because they’re pulling some ridiculous stunt. Looks like four pages of slander because I looked at the first few lines and I was like, ‘That’s not even true.’”
The Gazette, Colorado Springs