State GOP votes to censure Burr over Trump vote
Posted February 15, 2021 2:21 p.m. EST
Updated February 15, 2021 11:34 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — In a unanimous vote Monday night, North Carolina Republican Party leaders censured U.S. Sen. Richard Burr for voting to convict former President Donald Trump over the weekend in his impeachment trial.
"The NCGOP agrees with the strong majority of Republicans in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate that the Democrat-led attempt to impeach a former president lies outside the United States Constitution," party leadership said in a statement issued shortly before 8:30 p.m., less than half an hour after the party's central committee began its meeting on the issue.
County level parties across the state will likely reprimand Burr, one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict Trump, as well. The Wake County Republican Party said on its Facebook page Monday night that it did so Sunday, voting not just to censure Burr, but to ban the Winston-Salem Republican from the party's Raleigh office.
Well before the state party meeting Monday, committee members said they expected a lopsided vote.
"I really can't imagine any other outcome," Charles Hellwig, a Wake County Republican and vice chairman for the state party's 2nd Congressional District, said Monday afternoon.
"I would hope that it would be a unanimous vote," Republican National Committeewoman Kyshia Lineberger said. "Something that can be done, and then we can move past this."
The state party's censure announcement ran three paragraphs, with one dedicated to calling on Democrats to "set aside their divisive partisan agenda and focus on the American priorities of tackling the coronavirus pandemic, safely reopening schools and restarting the economy."
That statement was what central committee members voted on. There was no further censure resolution.
Burr, a three-term senator and former member of the U.S. House, said in his own brief written statement that this is, "truly a sad day for North Carolina Republicans."
"My party's leadership has chosen loyalty to one man over the core principles of the Republican Party and the founders of our great nation," he said.
It's not simply Burr's vote Saturday to convict former President Donald Trump on impeachment that drew the ire of party loyalists, though indeed that angered many. It's that Burr initially said the U.S. Senate's proceedings were unconstitutional, then voted to convict anyway as those proceedings closed.
"That really, I think, gets under the skin of everybody," Hellwig said.
North Carolina's other senator, Republican Thom Tillis, voted to acquit.
"Richard Burr is a great friend and a great senator who has a distinguished record of serving the people of North Carolina," Tillis said in a statement before Monday's censure vote. "He voted his conscience."
The censure is a formal reprimand and little else. It will not prevent Burr from running for office, though he has already said he won't seek re-election when his term ends next year. He explained his vote on impeachment in a statement released Saturday, saying he believed it was unconstitutional to impeach a president after he's left office, but since a majority of the Senate voted to proceed, "the question of constitutionality is now established precedent."
"As an impartial juror, my role is now to determine whether House managers have sufficiently made the case for the article of impeachment against President Trump," Burr said in his statement.
“The President promoted unfounded conspiracy theories to cast doubt on the integrity of a free and fair election because he did not like the results," Burr said. "As Congress met to certify the election results, the President directed his supporters to go to the Capitol to disrupt the lawful proceedings required by the Constitution. When the crowd became violent, the President used his office to first inflame the situation instead of immediately calling for an end to the assault."
Censures are rare at the state party level. WRAL News requested from the state party, but did not receive, a list of past censures. The most recent censure appears to be of former party chairman Hasan Harnett, who was reprimanded, then removed, from the party chairmanship in 2016.
Some have noted that immediate past chairman Robin Hayes, who is a former member of Congress, was not censured when he was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice or when he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in that case. Hayes was accused of laundering bribe money through the state party, and Trump pardoned him last month.
Lineberger said censure is "not an easy thing to do," and it's not a decision party leaders are making lightly. Asked whether Trump bore responsibility for the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol – a key question in his impeachment trial and one Burr answered with a yes – Lineberger said that's for the former president to decide.
"I think that that is up to the president," she said. "I think that that's personal for him."
Tina Forsberg, another voting member of the state party's central committee, said it's the people who breached the Capitol who bear the responsibility.
The Wake County GOP's resolution says Burr violated "the sacred trust placed in him" by voting to convict Trump on "unsubstantiated and discredited allegations of promoting conspiracy theories and of inciting an insurrection."
It's not clear which conspiracy theories the resolution refers to. The president and his legal team have, at various times over the last three months, pressed a number of them.