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Stuart Taylor Jr.: Congress Should Censure Gonzales

[Stuart Taylor Jr. is a senior writer and columnist for National Journal and a contributing editor at Newsweek. This column appears every week in National Journal, a weekly magazine covering politics and government published in Washington, D.C.]

What's Congress to do when the president insists on keeping an attorney general who is so manifestly unequal to the demands of his job and so incapable of giving accurate answers to simple questions that even the president's partisans want him out?

Impeaching Alberto Gonzales, as some are starting to suggest, would be overkill. It would make no sense to put the nation through the agony of an impeachment trial to get rid of one ineffectual, hopelessly uninformed presidential lapdog. But this does not mean that members are powerless to do anything beyond groaning at a Bush spokeswoman's fantastic claim that Gonzales is "doing a fantastic job" and looking for reasons to skip town to avoid the next installment of his cloddish testimony.

The House or Senate—or, better, both—should adopt a resolution censuring Gonzales, or (as Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has suggested) stating its lack of confidence in him.

Although unusual, a vote censuring an executive branch official would be both constitutional and supported by precedent. To be sure, the Republican House leadership argued in December 1998 that it would be unconstitutional to take a floor vote censuring President Clinton. But this was just a pretext for a politically driven determination to deny moderate Republicans any less-drastic alternative to voting for impeachment.

Both houses pass resolutions all the time applauding various flowers, fruits, animals, vegetables, and perhaps minerals. They can censure a senator, a representative, a hurricane, or a ham sandwich if they want. And they have censured high-level executive branch officials in the past. The best-known case was the Whig-controlled Senate's censure of President Andrew Jackson in 1834 for refusing to hand over a document concerning his 1832 veto of a bill to recharter the Bank of the United States. (A newly elected Democratic majority expunged the censure in 1837.) Others who have been censured or denounced include President James Buchanan in 1860; a custom-house collector in 1867; the attorney general in 1886; an ambassador in 1896; and the Navy secretary in 1924.
Read entire article at Atlantic