Congress

House Republicans aim to force vote on Schiff censure

Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs is leading the effort, with GOP leadership backing

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., backed by House Republicans, will attempt to force a vote on a censure of House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff.

Rep. Andy Biggs will attempt to force a vote on his resolution to censure House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff on the House floor this week, having initiated the process Wednesday.

Biggs’ censure effort has the backing of House Republican leaders — an uncommon alliance between the party’s establishment and the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.

The censure resolution includes allegations that Schiff purposely misled the public in his comments on the Intelligence Committee’s interactions with a whistleblower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry.

“Whereas these actions of Chairman Schiff misled the American people, bring disrepute upon the House of Representatives, and make a mockery of the impeachment process, one of this chamber’s most solemn constitutional duties,” reads the resolution.

Biggs brought up his proposal Wednesday as a privileged resolution, a procedural move that gives the measure precedence over the regular order of business and allows a resolution to leapfrog or interrupt other pending matters before the chamber.

The House has two legislative days to decide when the chamber would debate and vote on Biggs’ privileged censure resolution. Democrats are expected to offer a motion to table the resolution.

The proposal alleges what Republicans say is a pattern of misleading and concealed information on the impeachment inquiry from the public and other members of Congress.

“Whereas, according to a New York Times article on October 2, 2019, Chairman Schiff’s committee staff met with the whistleblower prior to the filing of his complaint, and staff members communicated the content of the complaint to Chairman Schiff,” the resolution reads.

“Whereas Chairman Schiff concealed his dealings with the whistleblower from the rest of the Intelligence Committee, and when asked directly in a television interview whether he had any contact with the whistleblower, he lied to the American people and said, ‘We have not spoken directly with the whistleblower.’”

The resolution also takes aim at Schiff’s characterization of a phone call between President Donald Trump and the Ukrainian president during a recent Intelligence Committee hearing.

A censure is a formal, majority vote in the House on a resolution disapproving of a member’s conduct, generally with the additional requirement that the member stand in the well of the chamber and receive a verbal rebuke and reading of the resolution by the speaker.

A total of 23 members have been censured in the House for misconduct ranging from using insulting language on the floor to assaulting other lawmakers. More recently, censures have stemmed from behavior such as payroll fraud, sexual misconduct and financial improprieties.

Technically, there are no express consequences in the House rules after a member has been censured.

Storming the SCIF

Biggs, off the floor Wednesday, also criticized how the impeachment inquiry is being carried out. He led a group of House Republicans down to the secure area where the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees are conducting depositions and interviews for the impeachment inquiry.

“He’s taken this to a Soviet style inquiry. That is to say, everything’s behind closed doors. There’s absolutely no transparency,” Biggs said of Schiff’s leadership of the inquiry. 

Biggs, along with Republicans Louie Gohmert, Debbie Lesko, and John Ratcliffe, none of whom are on the three committees of jurisdiction, were denied access to transcripts and the ongoing deposition of George Kent, who is the State Department's deputy assistant secretary in the European and Eurasian Bureau, responsible for six countries, including Ukraine.

GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney said Wednesday that Republican members had previously  requested to read the transcripts of testimony in the impeachment inquiry but were denied access. Biggs said that he personally has requested to read former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker’s testimony and was denied. Biggs sits on the Judiciary Committee, but not the three committees taking the lead on the impeachment inquiry.

“This is an utter absence of due process, utter absence of fairness,” said Biggs.

Gohmert said that staffers barred the members from entering the deposition, but could not tell him who specifically had given the order to keep them out.

“They got orders from another staff member and because staff members are ordering members of Congress out of these hearings, that’s the official ruling and they’ve got the Capitol Police being ordered to keep us out,” said Gohmert.

He said that staffers got on the phone with the House parliamentarian, who confirmed that members not on the three committees of jurisdiction were not permitted in the room.

“Well, that is garbage,” said Gohmert.

Schiff on Tuesday evening addressed Republican complaints that the investigation has been held behind closed doors and that Republicans aren't getting equal chance to participate.

He said that because there is no special counsel investigation into the Trump relationship with Ukraine, it is especially important that witnesses cannot see other witness' testimony and alter their own statements to lawmakers.

Schiff promised that there is more transparency ahead and asserted that Republicans have the same amount of time to question witnesses as Democrats.

"At each of these committee interviews and depositions and when we get to open hearings — and we will get open hearings — the Republicans are completely represented," he said. "We go until the questions are exhausted."

Witnesses in recent days have given testimony and taken questions for seven, eight and even ten hours in the secure room where depositions are taking place.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.