What it Means to Censure a President


President Donald Trump’s vulgar characterization of Haiti and African nations has prompted the Congressional Black Caucus to announce it plans to introduce a measure to censure him.

Jeremy Mayer, a presidential scholar at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, said a censure, while a strong statement of disapproval, “has no legal meaning or consequence” as it is not mentioned in the Constitution.

In other words, George Mason political science professor Jennifer Victor said, censuring Trump would be “purely symbolic politics for Democrats.”

According to the National Constitution Center, the constitutional precedent for a censure motion comes from Article 1, Section 5, Clause 2, which says that “each House (of government) may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.”

The center notes that there also is nothing in the Constitution about Congress’ ability to censure a member of another branch of government.

Even so, in 1834, the Senate censured President Andrew Jackson for refusing to turn over a banking document. The House threatened to censure presidents James Polk, John Tyler and Bill Clinton, but did not.

The most recent censure threat comes from Democratic House member James Clyburn of South Carolina, who told CNN that the Congressional Black Caucus, of which he is a member, is pursuing a censure resolution against Trump because of the president’s reported vulgar remarks about immigrants.

“Democrats would like to score some political points by publicly emphasizing Trump’s racism, and hold their Republican colleagues’ feet to the fire as enablers,” Victor said.

That said, “A censure is unlikely to change Trump nor would it hurt him much,” Mayer said. “Congress is really unpopular right now.”

Jeremy Mayer can be reached at 703-993-8223 or jmayer4@gmu.edu.

Jennifer Victor can be reached at 703-993-3202 or jvictor3@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Buzz McClain at 703-727-0230 or bmcclai2@gmu.edu.