A censure effort led by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins would bar former President Donald Trump from holding the office again while avoiding an impeachment trial, a Democrat drafting it with her said on Wednesday.
The proposal from Collins and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, was criticized by some as toothless after it was first reported by Axios on Tuesday. But it was fleshed out in interviews over the course of Wednesday in which Democrats pitched the effort as a bid to disqualify the president from running again — perhaps without a trial.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, told reporters in Washington that Collins and Kaine’s censure will “include the elements of the 14th Amendment” — a response to the Civil War that says those who have engaged in insurrection against the country cannot serve in federal office and allows Congress to enforce that provision — “that lead to disqualification from future office.”
“This is an alternative that would impose, in my view, a similar consequence but it does not require a trial and it does not require a two-thirds vote,” Kaine told CNN on Wednesday. “That’s what I have drafted.”
The wording has not been finalized and the legal theory is questionable. It is also unclear whether it would gain enough support to move forward with Democrats looking to try the former president and his fellow Republicans generally resisting it. But the development could mark a major escalation from Collins, a Republican who opposed House Democrats’ first attempt to remove the former president from office last year and has not said how she would vote in the second impeachment trial against Trump to begin next month.
Trump is accused by Democrats this time of inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. A Senate trial is set to begin in February. Collins has been one of the former president’s harshest critics within the party and was one of only five Republicans to join Democrats in a Tuesday vote on letting that trial proceed.
That vote, opposed by 45 Republicans, showed the impeachment effort is doomed to fail. Two-thirds of senators must vote to remove Trump from office — even though President Joe Biden has already taken over — to trigger a majority vote to disqualify him from running again.
Courts may not agree with Kaine’s untested legal theory on disqualifying a president with majority votes in both houses of Congress, given the established two-thirds threshold for removing a president after an impeachment trial. Any vote in the Senate would likely be subject to the 60-vote threshold needed to break the filibuster, requiring 10 Republicans.
Collins’ office did not directly answer questions on the 14th Amendment part of the censure or whether she agreed with Kaine’s view that it allowed for disqualification. Kaine said the measure could be introduced by next week.
In Washington on Wednesday, Collins also did not answer a reporter’s question about the 14th Amendment portion, according to a readout provided by her office, saying “we’re still going through language” but saying the measure would be “in lieu of a trial.” She added that it was being advanced as an acknowledgement of a political reality that Trump is unlikely to be convicted.
“Senator Collins and Senator Kaine are working on language, which is not final and will not be released until they have reached agreement,” Collins spokesperson Annie Clark said in a statement late Wednesday.