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Trump censure resolution challenges the GOP to do more than talk

Aside from vague tweets, a congressional censure resolution is the least congressional Republicans can do in response to Donald Trump's defense of bigots.
Image: US President Trump addresses Joint Session of Congress in Washington
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives iin Washington, U.S.,...

In the wake of Donald Trump's public defense of racist activists, plenty of Republicans have registered their dissatisfaction. They've tweeted, they've criticized, they've wrung their hands and furrowed their brow. They have not, however, been willing to go any further.

Perhaps what they need is an opportunity to do something more meaningful. As Rachel noted on the show last night, three House Democrats -- Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) -- will introduce a congressional censure resolution tomorrow, condemning the president's response to the violence in Charlottesville.

The editorial board of USA Today makes a compelling case that it should pass. The editorial read in part:

Expressing disapproval in 140 characters or fewer is insufficient when the president angrily asserts that there were some "very fine people" among the bigots waving Confederate battle flags and swastika banners; when torch-bearing marchers chanted "Jews will not replace us"; and when police said one Nazi sympathizer rammed a sports car into a crowd, killing an innocent counterprotester. The victim, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was remembered Wednesday at a heartbreaking memorial service.When these things happen in the United States, and the president blames "both sides," more formal condemnation is necessary. This is a moment of reckoning for members of the Party of Lincoln: Do they want to stand up for American values, or do they want to keep enabling a president whose understanding of right and wrong has slipped dangerously off the rails?If congressional Republicans choose the former -- and history will be watching -- they should join together with Democrats to censure Trump.

Don't assume the argument will necessarily fall along partisan or ideological lines. Steve Schmidt, a longtime GOP strategist and former aide to John McCain, said on Tuesday's show that congressional Republican leaders "have to censure him, or they risk sliding into a moral abyss with him."

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative Washington Post writer, echoed the sentiment, arguing yesterday, "Any Republican not willing to sign on [to the censure resolution] should be voted out. Period. It's the only litmus test that matters."

For the record, a censure resolution would be a symbolic condemnation, which should matter to lawmakers. It's not impeachment, and the measure wouldn't carry any practical consequences. This would simply be Congress' way of adding formality to their criticism, making clear to the public, the world, and future generations that Americans in 2017 can't and won't accept a president's defense of bigots.

Aside from vague tweets, this is the least Republicans can do. Plenty of GOP officials have been eager to say they aren't pleased with the president's behavior, but this censure resolution offers a chance to put those concerns on the record. Decency demands that Republicans take full advantage of this opportunity.

Postscript: In case anyone's curious, there's some precedent for presidential censures, but not recently. James Polk was censured by the House in 1848, and John Tyler was censured by the Senate in 1842.

Perhaps the most dramatic example was the Senate censuring Andrew Jackson in 1834, when the Whig majority in the Senate, outraged over the then-president's efforts to end the national bank, formally rebuked him. Three years later, Jackson's Democrats had the Senate majority, and they expunged the censure from the record.