Following a weekend phone call between President Donald Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, where the president tried to coerce the state official to “find” him votes in the state that didn’t exist to overturn Georgia’s presidential race results, Democrats in Congress are divided on how to proceed.
There appears to be consensus among members of the Democratic caucus that something should be done to condemn Trump’s actions, but there is a considerable split between whether the president should be impeached or censured.
During the call that took place on Saturday, the president pleaded with Raffensperger to declare that he had “recalculated” the vote count and say that Trump had won in Georgia. At times during the call, Trump issued vague threats of legal action against the Georgia secretary of state if such action wasn’t taken.
“That’s a criminal offense,” Trump said to Raffensperger in the call, alluding to a false conspiracy theory alleging ballots had been destroyed in order to help President-elect Joe Biden win. “And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan [Germany], your lawyer.”
At least 90 Democrats in the House of Representatives have signed a censure resolution condemning Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential race’s outcome.
The text of the resolution, introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Georgia, states that the House of Representatives supports “the finalized and verified vote totals in the November 2020 presidential election in the State of Georgia, which recognize Joseph R. Biden as the President-elect and Kamala D. Harris as Vice President-elect of the United States.” It further states that the House “censures and condemns” Trump for his call to Raffensperger “to overturn the results of a freely and fairly administered election in the state of Georgia.”
The resolution adds that Trump’s actions compromise “the very foundation of our Constitution,” and demands Trump to “retract and disavow this unlawful and unconstitutional behavior,” as well as recognize Biden and Harris as the rightful winners of the 2020 presidential race.
In announcing his plans to introduce the censure resolution earlier in the week, Johnson argued that Trump’s words indicated he had acted in an illegal manner.
“[Trump’s] call to the [Georgia Secretary of State] was far from ‘perfect.’ In fact, it is a violation of state and federal law,” Johnson wrote in a tweet.
Progressive members of the party, however, have stated that Trump deserves to be impeached for his words, arguing that an expedited process to issue articles of impeachment before he leaves office later this month should be brought to the House floor.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), for instance, said that impeachment is necessary because not holding Trump and his allies responsible for his conduct over the weekend would allow them to become “more emboldened” in the remaining days of his presidency.
“The Constitution does not make exceptions for the amount of time the president has left in office, or the popular support they have. And we cannot either,” Omar said.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) expressed similar sentiments earlier in the week. “I absolutely think it’s an impeachable offense and if it was up to me, there would be articles on the floor, quite quickly,” she said.
But while many Democrats recognize the illegality of Trump’s words, some have noted that pushing for impeachment so close to the end of his term may not be practical. Instead, these members of the caucus say that criminal charges should be brought against Trump after he departs from the White House.
“We’re not happy, but we’ll leave it to other officials” to decide how to handle Trump’s conduct in a legal way, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said.
Georgia law states that it’s a crime for anyone who “solicits, requests or commands or otherwise attempts to encourage somebody to commit election fraud,” Georgia State University law professor Anthony Michael Kreis said earlier this week while speaking to Politico. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis announced that she plans to investigate, and later determine, whether criminal charges should be brought against the president.
While Democrats grapple with how best to proceed against Trump, Republicans do not appear to be too worried. In fact, while a small handful of Republican lawmakers have expressed disdain for the president’s words, many more are lining up to support Trump during this tumultuous week, which will also see at least 140 GOP members of Congress challenging the outcome of the Electoral College.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) justified the call by describing it as an expression of “enormous frustration.” And Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) blasted the media for even reporting on the call.
“I got no concern. But you guys in the press and the Democrats are always going to make a big issue of it just like you did with the call to Zelensky,” Jordan said, referencing Trump’s phone call to the president of Ukraine in 2019 that resulted in the president’s impeachment in the House just over a year ago.
Because Democrats control the House of Representatives, it seems more likely that a censure resolution will come about. Such a resolution usually has the backing of both houses of Congress, but it isn’t necessary. Censures also do not have any legal ramifications for the individuals being censured.
Only four presidents in U.S. history have been censured — Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln and William Howard Taft. Arguably, the reasons for which all four prior presidents were censured were far less severe than what Trump is alleged to have done this past weekend in Johnson’s resolution.