House condemns Trump ‘racist’ remarks, but some Dems want to go further

Leadership pushes back against censure, impeachment suggestions

Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, is set to push for impeaching President Donald Trump, saying the House condemnation of the president is not enough. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, is set to push for impeaching President Donald Trump, saying the House condemnation of the president is not enough. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 16, 2019 at 2:54pm

House Democrats were unanimous in condemning President Donald Trump for his “racist” remarks attacking four of their freshman members, but some caucus members want to do more to fight back.

The House voted Tuesday evening, 240-187, on a nonbinding resolution that affirms support for immigrants and condemns Trump’s comments from Sunday, when he said Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” (Only Omar, a refugee from Somalia, was born outside the United States.) 

The resolution says that the House “strongly condemns” Trump’s “racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”  

Four Republicans — Susan Brooks of Indiana, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Will Hurd of Texas and Fred Upton of Michigan — and independent Justin Amash of Michigan voted with all Democrats to pass the resolution.

Brooks is retiring, and the other three Republicans are considered vulnerable for reelection in 2020. 

Despite the unanimous vote among Democrats, some don’t think the measure goes far enough. At least a few dozen Democrats think that censuring or impeaching the president would be a more appropriate response to what they describe as a pattern of racist and xenophobic rhetoric.

“This sends a very, very clear message,” New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. said of the condemnation resolution. “But a censure … is more forceful.”

Some Democrats want to go even further than that and impeach the president or at least open an impeachment inquiry. Omar and Tlaib both reiterated their calls for impeachment during a press conference Monday evening

And Texas Rep. Al Green announced Monday that he plans to file articles of impeachment against Trump as a privileged resolution to force a floor vote on the matter before the end of the month. On Tuesday, he did just that, right after the vote on the condemnation resolution, reading his privileged articles of impeachment on the floor. The move, called giving notice, triggers a two-day time clock in which leadership must consider or dispense with the resolution by tabling it or referring it to the Judiciary Committee.

“It just seems to me that these things are in tandem with each other,” he said. “I believe that condemnation is appropriate. But I also believe that it won’t be enough to deter or to put guardrails up for this president, who seems to have little respect for the courts, little respect for committees that are performing proper oversight. At some point, we have to develop the wherewithal to say to this president, enough is enough. I think this is an enough is enough resolution.”

Twice in the last Congress, Green brought privileged articles of impeachment to the floor, but Republican leaders — in the majority then — successfully moved to table them. Democratic leaders have yet to decide how to handle Green’s resolution, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told CQ Roll Call Tuesday evening after he left the floor after listening to Green introduce his measure. Earlier in the day, Hoyer told reporters he would not try to talk Green out of offering it.

“I am not going to try to discourage him. He has to do what he thinks is right,” the Maryland Democrat said. 

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Censure resolution

Rep. Steve Cohen on Monday introduced a resolution to censure Trump with nine co-sponsors, including the four progressive Democrats who were the targets of the president’s attacks.

“Censure would put him in a class with Andrew Jackson, which is where he wants to be,” the Tennessee Democrat told reporters Tuesday. “And we should put him where he wants to be, with a president who was racist, who had slaves and who led the Trail of Tears against Native American Indians.”

Jackson in 1834 became the first and only U.S. president to be censured by Congress. Members of Congress have introduced censure resolutions against at least 12 sitting presidents since 1800, but the one against Jackson was the only one adopted that included final language to censure, according to a 2018 Congressional Research Service report.

Cohen spoke with reporters following a Democratic Caucus meeting where he made the case for censuring Trump. He said seven or eight members came up to him that morning saying they want to sign on to his resolution. 

But Cohen is not expecting it to get a vote, since Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposes censure. She communicated her preference for the condemnation resolution over censure Monday evening during a Democratic Steering and Policy Committee meeting.

“It’s hard when the speaker is not for something to rally support,” Cohen said.

Asked what reason Pelosi gave him for opposing censure, Cohen said, “To be honest, it made no sense. So it’s hardly worth — it’s not, to me, worth repeating.”

Hoyer told reporters there’s not really much difference between condemning Trump’s remarks and censuring him. According to the aforementioned CRS report, he’s right. 

“While member censure is a disciplinary measure that is sanctioned by the Constitution (Article 1, Section 5), nonmember censure is not,” CRS wrote. “Rather, it is a formal expression or ‘sense of’ one or both houses of Congress.”

Pelosi wants GOP support

Pelosi has previously spoken out against censuring Trump in the context of his alleged obstruction of justice and misdeeds outlined in former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report. 

“I think censure is just a way out,” the California Democrat said last month during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. “If you want to go, you have to go. In other words, if the goods are there, you must impeach.”

During the Democratic Caucus meeting Tuesday, Pelosi called the resolution condemning Trump “a recognition of the unacceptability of what his goals were” and acknowledged that “other people will have other manifestations of their concern,” according to an aide in the room.

The speaker made clear that part of the goal in taking the condemnation route over other legislative options was to draw support from Republicans.

“This is, I hope, one where we will get Republican support,” Pelosi told her caucus, according to the aide. “If they can’t support condemning the words of the president, well, that’s a message in and of itself.”

But Cohen said he doesn’t think the Democratic response should be rooted in what Republicans will or won’t do.

“We ought to do what’s right and what is [the] moral and ethically right thing to do,” he said. “What [Trump] has done is reprehensible. And I don’t think we should try to lessen, water down what we do to try to get a handful of Republicans.”

Cohen still plans to vote for the condemnation resolution. Other Democrats who have signed on to his censure resolution, such as Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Pramila Jayapal, are also supporting leadership in their chosen response.

“I think it’s a very important response and it will be a unified response,” said Jayapal, a Washington Democrat. “And I think most importantly it will put these silent Republicans on the record, one way or another.”

‘Con game’

Trump in a tweet Tuesday called the planned vote to condemn his remarks a “con game.”

“Republicans should not show ‘weakness’ and fall into their trap,” the president said.

Trump later tweeted out remarks House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy made to reporters Tuesday in which he said he doesn’t think the president’s comments were racist.

“I’ll be voting against this resolution,” the California Republican said after a GOP conference meeting, noting that he is encouraging his members to do the same.

“It’s all politics,” McCarthy added. He pointed to the references the four Democratic freshmen made to impeachment during their Monday press conference as evidence that their priority is attacking Trump.

McCarthy repeated a frequent refrain of Republicans when under pressure in discussions of race or racism, citing the president in history best known for emancipating American slaves. 

“I think this party has been very clear. We are the party of Lincoln,” he said. 

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney said the GOP opposition to the freshman progressives is not personal. 

“I want to make absolutely clear that our opposition to our socialist colleagues has absolutely nothing to do with their gender, with their religion or with their race. It has to do with the content of their policies,” the Wyoming Republican said, noting that their ideas would “destroy America.”

Cheney also accused the progressive freshmen of racism, pointing to comments this weekend from Pressley at the Netroots Nation conference in which she said that people of color or other marginalized communities have a responsibility to speak up for those communities.

“We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice. If you’re worried about being marginalized and stereotyped, please don’t even show up because we need you to represent that voice,” Pressley told the Philadelphia crowd.

Cheney said it was wrong to suggest “that any individual seat at the table is only valuable, only legitimate, if that person espouses some preapproved set of beliefs deemed appropriate, based on their religion, or their gender or their race.”

“When they say that, that is racist,” she said.

Responding to Cheney, Pressley spokeswoman Kalina Francis said the congresswoman “strongly believes that representation matters.”

“She has frequently stated that a diversity in thought and opinion leads to more innovative and enduring solutions,” Francis said . “Without black voices or queer voices or Muslim voices or survivor voices or the like, we cannot achieve diversity in policy.”

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.