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GOP blocked from punishing Schiff for going after Trump

Bloc of 20 Republicans join Democrats in tabling measure

The House voted on Wednesday to table a measure to censure California Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff.
The House voted on Wednesday to table a measure to censure California Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A group of 20 House Republicans voted with Democrats on Wednesday to table a resolution that would have censured California Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff for his criticism of former President Donald Trump.

The resolution, sponsored by Florida Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, sought to censure Schiff, the former chair of the House Intelligence Committee and a candidate for California’s open Senate seat, and fine him $16 million. It said Trump’s first impeachment, in which Schiff was a prosecutor, was premised on false allegations.

The motion was tabled in a 225-196 vote, with two Republicans and five Democrats voting present.

The resolution stated that Schiff “purposely deceived his Committee, Congress, and the American people” and “behaved dishonestly and dishonorably on many other occasions, including by falsely denying that his staff coordinated with a whistleblower to launch the first impeachment of President Trump.”

It added that if an Ethics Committee investigation finds that Schiff “lied, made misrepresentations, and abused sensitive information,” he should be fined $16 million and be censured in the well of the House. 

By Tuesday evening, Schiff, a favorite foil of conservatives, was already fundraising off the potential vote. He sent another appeal on Wednesday afternoon, just before the vote.

“While the national media and political pundits focus their attention today on disgraced, twice-impeached ex-president Donald Trump’s arraignment in downtown Miami on 37 federal counts returned by the grand jury, MAGA Republicans are out for revenge against me personally,” he wrote in an email to supporters, asking for a $10 contribution “or whatever you can spare.”

‘I’m flattered’

In a CNN interview on Wednesday, Schiff called the resolution a “grab bag of Fox attacks,” referring to the conservative news network. 

“This is really an effort at the end of the day to distract from Donald Trump’s legal problems, to gratify Donald Trump by going after someone they feel was his most effective adversary. I’m flattered by it,” he said. “But the fact that Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy would take up this MAGA resolution when we have so many pressing challenges before the country is really a terrible abuse of House resources.”

Since the measure is a privileged resolution, the House was obligated to take it up within two legislative days of Luna offering it. 

Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie said that Schiff acted “unethically,” but that he would vote with Democrats to table the resolution because of the fine. The fine would violate the Eighth and 27th amendments, he said, citing a dispute Republicans had in the last Congress with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. 

“I’m still litigating a federal lawsuit against Pelosi over a salary reduction she imposed on me for my refusal to wear a mask,” he said in a tweet.

Josh Chafetz, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, said the House has a long history of using fines to discipline its members, one that has been upheld by the courts. House Republicans have tested that power in court, challenging a House rule from last Congress mandating masks on the House floor.

A trio of House Republicans, including Massie and Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Ralph Norman of South Carolina, sued to challenge fines levied against them for flouting the rule.

A district judge dismissed their case and the trio appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a case that is still pending. The group argued that fines violate the 27th Amendment to the Constitution because they reduce members’ pay.

Removed from committee

Speaker Kevin McCarthy earlier this year removed Schiff from the Intelligence Committee, citing what he said were national security concerns. Schiff called the action “political retribution.”

The last time the House voted to censure someone was in 2021, when Democrats controlled the chamber. The sanction, which also included removal from committees, was imposed on Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., for posting an animated video that depicted him killing New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Two Republicans — Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illiniois — joined all Democrats in the 223-207 vote, while one Republican voted “present.”  

Gosar was the 24th House member ever censured, according to the Congressional Research Service, and the first since 2010, when Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York was sanctioned for offenses including using official letterhead in fundraising and filing inaccurate financial disclosure forms and tax returns.

Michael Macagnone contributed to this report.

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