On Tuesday night, the Democratic-controlled House did something very rare: They voted to condemn President Donald Trump for his Sunday tweets in which he urged four Democratic congresswomen to return to the countries they came from.
It’s been more than 100 years since Congress offered a formal rebuke of a sitting President and so the vote, in and of itself, is newsworthy and noteworthy. But don’t fool yourself: There’s no next step, no further action that Congress can or will take against Trump. And even the House vote, while historic, has no real-world implications for the President.
See, the resolution of rebuke is non-binding, which means that there will be no actual penalties paid by Trump for the House’s determination that he used racist language in attacking Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York), Ayanna Pressley (Massachusetts), Ilhan Omar (Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (Michigan) over the weekend. And the Senate remains in the hands of Republicans, who have shown zero willingness to cross Trump in any meaningful way – much less bring up and vote on a measure that condemns him.
Which means, almost certainly, that the issue dies here. That Trump’s tweets, like so many abnormal things he has done since 2015, will simply be fed into the partisan meat grinder – producing predictable results. Democratic elected officials (and their bases) will paint Trump’s comments as part of a broader view – repeatedly expressed by the President – that quite clearly is animated by racist sentiment. Republicans will insist this is all partisan politics fueled by ill-intentioned Democrats who simply hate the President and are willing to say and do whatever it takes to remove him from office.
We’ve already seen that exact dynamic play out – on the floor of the House during Tuesday night’s debate before the condemnation vote. Republicans demanded that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s words be “taken down” – a fancy way of asking that she be formally scolded – because she said that the words Trump used to describe the quartet of female lawmakers – known collectively as the “Squad” – were racist. The Democratic majority rejected that parliamentary tactic but not before Democratic Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, in a fit of frustration, abandoned his post overseeing the the House. After the vote, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (California) called it a “sad day” for the institution, according to The Washington Post, and added: “Our rules of order and decency were broken today.”
Now, simply because the House vote to rebuke Trump is purely symbolic doesn’t mean it is meaningless. Symbols matter – and there’s no question that this was a moment in history, one that will merit a line (or a few) when the books about Trump are written. Pelosi knew full well that this vote would go nowhere once it passed and she did it anyway – because she believed that it was the right thing for the country (and knew it would appeal to the Democratic base that she wants to ensure are properly revved up to beat Trump in 2020.)
One potential downside of the vote for Democrats, as noted by Politico’s Melanie Zanona: Moderate Democrats sitting in swing district were forced to go on the record – for symbolic reasons only – to condemn a President who may well be popular in their seats.
The truth here, however, is that the actual, real-world effects of the House vote on Tuesday are minimal – particularly as it relates to any sort of punitive effect for the President. Trump will go right on Trumping – and his base will eat it up.
“So great to see how unified the Republican Party was on today’s vote concerning statements I made about four Democrat Congresswomen,” tweeted Trump on Monday night after the House rebuke. “If you really want to see statements, look at the horrible things they said about our Country, Israel, and much more. They are now the top, most visible members of the House Democrats, who are now wedded to this bitterness and hate. The Republican vote was 187-4. Wow! Also, this was the first time since 1984 that the Speaker of the House was ruled Out of Order and broke the Rules of the House. Quite a day!”
That about sums it up.