If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
And that’s exactly what freshman Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., intends to do in the coming days. Luna is intent on compelling the House of Representatives to censure Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
Most Republicans have nothing but enmity for Schiff following his role leading up to and through the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
"You had Adam Schiff, who was chairman of the Intel Committee, lying day after day to the American public that he had proof (of collusion) by former President Trump with Russia," said House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Fox last month. "Now it’s time that people have consequences for their actions."
In the spring, Luna prepped a resolution to expel Schiff. The House referred that measure to the Ethics Committee. It’s doubtful that plan was ever going anywhere. The House has only expelled five Members in history. And the Constitution dictates a two-thirds vote.
So, Luna settled on censure.
Censure is one of the three formal modes of discipline in the House – right between reprimand and expulsion. A reprimand is exactly what it sounds like. If the House votes to reprimand a Member, they stand in the well of the House chamber before the entire body and the Speaker admonishes the offender for their conduct. Censure looks exactly the same – only the Speaker castigates you with a little more soul.
Consider the dynamic: McCarthy and his personal level of antipathy toward Schiff, standing atop the dais, glaring down at Schiff in the well, awaiting a scolding from the Speaker.
Luna attempted to arrange that political stagecraft in the House chamber last week when she prepared what the House calls a "privileged" resolution to censure Schiff. The House must consider such specialized measures right away or within two days. If the House adopted Luna’s resolution, lawmakers would require Schiff to present himself to McCarthy for reproval and also face an additional inquiry by the Ethics Committee. However, approval of the resolution would also slap the California Democrat with a staggering $16 million fine. That’s what Luna’s office estimates to be half the cost of the Russia probe for former President Trump.
But that plan to fine Schiff killed the censure resolution in the House last Wednesday. The House never even got a straight, up or down vote on censure. The House voted to table – or lay aside – Luna’s plan, 225-196. Twenty Republicans joined all Democrats to euthanize that censure effort.
Fox spoke with several of those GOPers who voted to table the measure. One noted that Republicans are always touting getting the House back to "regular order." That GOPer observed that Luna’s resolution never went before a committee first. Second, the Republican pointed out that such "privileged" resolutions are typically the province of the minority. The House majority controls the floor. So that member questioned why Luna didn’t bring the resolution before the House Republican Conference and talk it through first. That said, any Member may craft a privileged resolution and bring it to the floor if they see fit.
Most of the Republicans who voted to table the original plan didn’t like the $16 million fine. Granted, there aren’t many House GOPers who get along with Adam Schiff. But they worried that approval of such a fine could open Pandora’s Box.
"You wait until Democrats are back in the majority," said one of the 20 GOPers who voted present. "If we pass that, they will stick it to us."
There is also the concern that levying such a stiff fine on a lawmaker could force them to leave Congress to find other work. One lawmaker worried that a fine of that magnitude – imposed by a simple majority – didn’t match the spirit of the Constitutional bar, requiring a two-thirds vote for expulsion. Therefore, this resolution effectively lowered the bar for expulsion.
Undaunted, Luna went back to work and tweaked her censure plan for Schiff.
"He knowingly used his position as chairman of House Intelligence to lie to the American people. To lie to his fellow colleagues," said Luna on Fox Business. "So he will be held accountable."
The updated censure plan basically has the same goal of the first: censure Schiff and refer him to the Ethics Committee for further adjudication. However, it drops the fine. That said, a couple of Republicans with whom Fox spoke wondered why the House would vote to censure Schiff – a serious sanction unto itself – and then send the California Democrat to the ethics panel for further investigation. One source familiar with the resolution said there were other alleged transgressions involving Schiff which could merit further inquiry by the Ethics Committee.
The source also indicated the ethics panel also has the ability to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department. But the chances of that are slim. That’s because the Ethics Committee is split five to five between Democrats and Republicans. Moreover, Republicans don’t like Schiff because of some of his activities related to Congress. The "Speech or Debate" clause of the Constitution in Article I, Section 6 mostly inoculates lawmakers from prosecution related to their official duties in Congress.
So, the new resolution to censure Schiff likely comes up by mid-week in the House. It’s doubtful the House would vote to table or set aside the new resolution if Luna worked things out with her GOP colleagues. This vote would likely mean an up or down vote on censure for Schiff.
The House has only censured 25 members in history. The last was Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., in 2021. The Democratic-led House censured Gosar after he shared an edited, animated video on social media which looked like he was killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. The House also voted to censure former Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., in late 2010 for a host of offenses, including using House resources for personal benefit.
After the House voted to sidestep the initial resolution, Schiff embraced becoming a target of the GOP.
"It’s a badge of honor when you take on the MAGA crowd. They clearly think I am effective in holding the former President accountable," said Schiff to colleague Hillary Vaughn.
But Luna accused Schiff of flaunting his reprieve.
"It brings me joy to see that he thinks that," said Luna.
The Florida Republican said that Schiff "was singing a different tune" after she informed him of her mulligan.
However, Schiff could reap political benefit of censure. He’s running to succeed Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in the Senate next year. Feinstein isn’t seeking re-election. Schiff’s toughest challenge at the ballot box comes from two Democrats: Reps. Katie Porter, D-Calif., and Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
"It’s an in-kind contribution to Adam Schiff’s campaign," said Los Angeles Times political columnist Mark Barabak of Luna’s attempt to censure Schiff. "Any hour that we’re talking about House Republicans going after Adam Schiff is a good day for his Senate campaign."
Still, Democrats say censure is retribution.
"This is the new normal," observed Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill. "Be careful how well you do your job or you might be on the outside looking in."
There is concern about the weaponization of censure. A tit-for-tat. But Luna will try to sanction Schiff this week. No one wants the ignominy of becoming only the 26th member in House history to face censure. However, the political reality for Schiff is the house is penalizing him for going to the mat with former President Trump. That’s an achievement of which Schiff’s Senate opponents can only dream.