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Caveat lector

18 December 1998

Life in this celebrity press corps: Questions not asked-and-answered

Synopsis: As anguished Republicans turned back from censure, one question was not asked-and-answered.

Many Scholars Say Censure Is an Option
Joan Biskupic, The Washington Post, 12/15/98

For some time, the analysts had suggested we present a new feature, devoted to questions CelebCorps failed to ask--an occasional listing of the endless queries that never seem to get asked-and-answered. And Tuesday morning, as we read this piece, exploring the constitutional status of censure, the scales at long last fell from our eyes, and we saw the merit in the analysts’ pleading.

House Repubs had come before Capitol Hill cameras to tell us why they would vote to impeach; and, after describing how they’d searched their consciences, and had lived out the long lonely night of the soul, to a man they’d said they’d finally decided that censure could not be an option. They’d surfed as they pondered (Bilbray); jogged the District at night (Buyer); even had chatted with two-week-old babies (Porter); but all had decided--based on constitutional readings, of course--that they could vote to impeach. Nothing else.

Whew! We sat here admiringly at DAILY HOWLER World Quarters, stunned by the solons’ ordeals. We wondered how we’d acquit ourselves if we had to face such a torment. But then one of the analysts came rushing in, waving aloft this Biskupic piece. The analysts hungrily fell on her words, and looked up when they got to this passage:

BISKUPIC (two paragraphs): Congress’s own research division recently issued two reports that concluded that a censure resolution would be constitutional. [Our emphasis]

“It is well accepted that the only instance in which Congress has censured a sitting President occurred when the Senate took such action against Andrew Jackson in 1834,” the Congressional Research Service wrote. “Less well known is that attempts were initiated in Congress to censure other sitting Presidents on at least five other occasions.”

The analysts looked up with wondering eyes, then quickly returned to their reading. Biskupic had a full head of steam:

BISKUPIC: Congress’s past handling of censure, the research service found, suggests Congress has settled the question...

Biskupic quoted the Research Service: “Censure would be an exercise of the implicit power of a deliberative body to express its views.”

Phew! We hardly knew what to say to the scholars, who were plainly confused and surprised. Because, as rep after rep had told the press of their lonely, anguished dark night of the soul, none of the reps had ever been asked to critique this contradictory finding! What a loss! The public discourse would have been richly served had the reps explained what was wrong with the finding. But, in understandable deference to the representatives’ anguish, and respecting their manly Thoreauvian ponderings, this celebrity press corps had failed to ask about what the Research Gang said!

We can understand why CelebCorps was slow to intrude on the reps’ painful journeys. No one, walking that road to Damascus, wants to ask Paul how it feels. But we couldn’t help thinking, as the analysts reeled, and asked us to account for the research finding: maybe if this celebrity press corps would throw off its scruples, and challenge even those who have suffered, maybe--if they’d just do their job, that is--we could have a real public debate.

Parsings: Biskupic went on to give us an insight into Henry Hyde’s views on censure:

BISKUPIC: Congress is prohibited from passing what is known as a “bill of attainder,” which is a law that assesses an individual’s guilt and metes out a punishment. Hyde (R-Ill.) has said he considers censure a bill of attainder.

We puzzled. This week, we’ve heard that impeachment of Clinton is really censure; and that censure is really a bill of attainder. Man! When it comes to making words mean what you want, Bill Clinton may have a few soul-mates.