The House censure of U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, the long-tenured Harlem Democrat, was the first in 27 years and just the 23rd against a congressman in the history of the House, notes the Christian Science Monitor. Censure is the strongest congressional disciplinary action short of expulsion. It has been used in the past to sanction members for assault on another member (1856), treasonous conduct (1864), selling military academy appointments (1870), bribery (1973), payroll fraud (1979) and, most recently, sexual misconduct with House pages (1983).
Rangel urged House members to reject censure in favor of the lesser punishment of a reprimand, which could have been delivered privately or in a letter. Supporters, including many in the Congressional Black Caucus and New York delegation, backed that call. “Censure is an extremely severe penalty,” said Rep. Peter King of New York, one of two Republicans to vote against censure. But tolerance for corruption has dropped in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi came into office pledging to “drain the swamp,” and the Rangel affair was an embarrassment leading up to the 2010 vote, which flipped control of the House back to Republicans.