Dec 7, 2023 - Politics & Policy

The House's punishment factory is working overtime

Illustration of the US Capitol and Washington Monument with abstract stars.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The holidays are approaching, but Congress isn't sending good tidings: Fresh off censuring Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), House Republicans are set to vote next week on formalizing an impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

Why it matters: Personal animus has defined the first year of the House GOP's majority, with rank-and-file lawmakers forcing votes on censures, impeachment and a historic expulsion — often without the support of leadership.

Driving the news: The House voted 214-191 on Thursday to censure Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) for pulling a Capitol Hill fire alarm ahead of a vote in September to head off a government shutdown.

  • Just three Democrats joined Republicans in voting for censure, making it essentially a partisan maneuver.
  • Bowman is the third lawmaker to face the symbolic rebuke this year: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) was censured last month for her criticism of Israel and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) was censured in June for his promotion of Trump-Russia allegations.

The House also voted to expel former GOP Rep. George Santos this month after a bombshell Ethics Committee report accused him of a "complex web" of criminal wrongdoing.

  • It was the first successful expulsion vote since 2002 and made Santos only the sixth House member in U.S. history to be expelled.
  • And who could forget the unprecedented ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from his post? He announced this week he will resign from Congress at the end of the month.

What's next: The House is slated to vote next week on formally authorizing an impeachment inquiry into Biden, a move that once-reticent moderate Republicans have warmed to.

  • The move is geared toward bolstering House committees in court battles at they try to subpoena Biden family members about their finances.
  • The House has already voted on several impeachment resolutions forced to a vote by individual members, including against Biden in June and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last month — both of which were tabled.
Data: Quorum; Chart: Axios Visuals.
Data: Quorum; Chart: Axios Visuals.

The big picture: The rise in punitive actions this congressional session doesn't exist in a vacuum — it's part of a years-long trend of Congress devolving into a vessel for open partisan warfare.

  • The 118th Congress in particular has been a powerhouse for these fights, with 2023 seeing easily the most censure, impeachment, expulsion and contempt resolutions of any year at least since 1989, according to data from Quorum.
  • The number of these measures has risen precipitously since several high-profile fights over impeachment and censure in June.

What we're hearing: Lawmakers in both parties who want to work across the aisle and pass legislation are growing impatient with the continued dominance of partisan fights on the House floor.

  • "We should be focused on getting stuff done," said one House Republican. "We are hopeful the deck has been cleared and we return to our regular broadcast."
  • "All they do is vacate the chair, expulsions, censures, reprimands, impeachment," said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).
  • "There is no positive agenda for America. They don't even pretend that they have one anymore," Raskin continued. "It's a politics of spectacle that they got from Donald Trump. ... "Every day we walk in here it's just another version of 'The Apprentice.'"

Between the lines: Democrats have accused Republicans of pursuing things like censure and impeachment to distract from their difficulties in passing spending bills and other substantive legislation.

  • "This censure vote is a Republican attempt to continue chaos that they hope will disguise their incompetence," Bowman said in a note to Democrats ahead of the vote on him Tuesday morning, a copy of which was obtained by Axios.
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