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Why Kevin McCarthy's censure offer isn't being taken seriously

If McCarthy is serious about an alternative to impeachment, he should present his Democratic counterparts with a serious proposal.
Image: House Republican Leadership Speaks To The Media After Conference Meeting
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy at the Capitol on July 21, 2020.Samuel Corum / Getty Images

With a vote on Donald Trump's impeachment likely to come tomorrow, House Republicans hadn't received much in the way of guidance from their leaders. That changed late yesterday, when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) held a conference call with his members, and said some things he hadn't said publicly.

The leader of the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives told colleagues Monday that President Donald Trump bears some responsibility for Wednesday's riot at the Capitol, two sources told NBC News. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California also did not rule out supporting a motion to censure Trump for his actions, according to the report.

Around the same time, the House GOP leader sent a letter to his Republican colleagues, criticizing impeachment, but laying out four responses to last week's attack on the Capitol that he'd accept. At the top of the list: a congressional censure designed to ensure that the riot is "rightfully denounced."

McCarthy didn't say who, exactly, would be censured. In fact, the word "Trump" didn't come up at all.

Nevertheless, assuming the House minority leader was referring to a possible censure of Trump, it didn't take long for Democrats to dismiss the idea out of hand. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said to accept a congressional censure as an alternative to presidential impeachment would be an "abdication of our responsibility."

This was the obvious response. A non-binding censure -- in effect, nothing more than a formal legislative reprimand -- wouldn't be much of a punishment for inciting an insurrectionist riot. It assumes Trump cares what Congress thinks of him, which he clearly does not.

Complicating matters, McCarthy's letter also called for "reforming" the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and new legislation to improve "voter confidence" in future elections. This is, of course, bonkers: the House GOP leader wants to respond to the attack on the Capitol by making it easier for lawmakers to reject votes they don't like and making it harder for Americans to cast ballots.

The word "non-starter" keeps coming to mind.

But McCarthy's offer -- to the extent that it can be fairly characterized as an "offer" -- is nevertheless interesting to the extent that it suggests he's looking for some kind of compromise. In other words, the top House Republican wants to prevent Trump's second impeachment, and he's looking for ways to make that happen.

In all likelihood, the effort is pointless: Democrats appear to have the votes to impeach Trump, perhaps with some bipartisan support. The propriety of such a response is obvious.

That said, if McCarthy is serious about an alternative to impeachment, he should present his Democratic counterparts with a serious proposal. He could, for example, tell Pelosi that if she pulls back on impeachment, he'd endorse a vote to bar Trump from ever holding another federal office and expulsion for right-wing members of Congress who contributed to last week's crisis.

I have no idea how such an offer would be received, but if McCarthy is determined to explore alternatives to impeachment, he could probably craft an offer that would give Dems at least some pause.