Censure by Congress means little or nothing, according to House Ethics Committee Chairman Jim Hansen, R-Utah.
That's an interesting stance for him since censure is one of the most severe penalties his committee can recommend against House members who break rules - and members have historically fought tooth and nail to avoid it.But after years of emotional and draining battles over whether to drag members to censure (including former House Speaker Jim Wright, who resigned amid such a move), Hansen says he's concluded, "It's a slap on the wrist, that's all."
He adds, "A parking ticket may be more severe than censure - because it at least costs you $10."
And that's why when it comes to possibly censuring President Clinton for misdeeds now, he warns, "It may have a symbolic meaning, but in reality it would short-circuit the constitutionally provided course of impeachment."
Others, including some Republicans, disagree to a point.
Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, almost introduced a resolution for censure this month, saying it is important to condemn deception and immorality acknowledged by the president so that other federal officials know they cannot do similar things without punishment.
But he didn't want censure to end or sidetrack concurrent impeachment proceedings - so he said he will hold off introducing such a censure resolution this year.
Bennett has also said that because many in Congress view impeachment as the "death penalty of politics" - and may be hesitant to vote for it for the offenses involved - he says it may be wise for Congress to have another lesser option so that Clinton would not totally escape punishment.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also suggested on national TV shows that Clinton might be able to escape with just censure and could stay in office if he quits legal hairsplitting in his explanations. GOP leaders have since attacked Hatch's position.
Meanwhile, Hansen says censure really has little impact - except on a member's re-election chances - when it has been imposed on House members.
"We call them names and say they did a bad thing. Big deal," Hansen says.
He said, for example, he remembers that once during a debate with an opposing candidate on abortion-related issues, the man said, "I condemn you."
Hansen said, "So what? I was condemned. It didn't do anything to me. Sticks and stones . . . "
When a House member breaks serious rules, Hansen's committee has three penalties it can suggest to the full House: reprimand (where a member sits in the chamber while he is told he is reprimanded); censure (where he must stand in front of the House while told the same); or expulsion from membership.
Hansen notes it would be impossible even to force a president to come to Congress to hear a formal reprimand or censure. And any move for condemnation would come from a simple "sense of the Congress" resolution that, he says, "has no force of law."
Instead, Hansen says, "Congress should do what it is constitutionally required to do." The Constitution mentions only impeachment as a punishment for presidents, and not censure.
Hansen says that means the House Judiciary Committee should review evidence on whether impeachable offenses occurred. "If there are grounds for impeachment, say so. If there are, report out articles of impeachment for consideration by the (full) House."
He said impeachment leading to removal from office is true punishment for truly serious actions - and should be the route considered now.
It also has Hansen, a former Mormon bishop, quoting a part of a scripture from the Book of Mormon - where an ancient American ruler named Pahoran replied to a letter reprimanding him from a military leader, named Captain Moroni.
In the book of Alma 61:9, Hansen notes it says - even if the context is different than Clinton's situation - "You have censured me, but it mattereth not . . . "