Assuming that someone agrees that what Donald Trump is accused of doing is wrong but not necessarily grounds for impeachment, are there, or were there, other punitive actions congress could have taken besides impeachment?

It seems that censuring the president is mostly just an official slap on the wrist and has no real negative effect besides maybe altering public opinion (but in this polarized political environment it seems like public opinion would hardly change).

  • I don't understand the downvotes. If we remove current affairs references this becomes, 'What tools short of impeachment does congress have to enforce its oversight role.' Do we need to remove all references to Trump to improve this question?
    – Jontia
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 7:13

2 Answers 2


The question explicitly says Congress.

In the system of checks and balances in the U.S. Constitution, the Congress has pretty much four major checks against the Presidency. It can …

  • … not initiate any legislation desired by the Presidency. This has a specific subset that is important in its own right:
    • … control the purse strings; withhold supply, and appropriations, until the President does as requested. Yes, this is ironic.
  • … override Presidential vetoes.
  • … refuse consent to Presidential appointments. (Senate only)
  • … impeach the President.

There are a couple of further checks that are not in the Constitution, but that are checks that Congress has in practice, derived from historic practice in the U.K. Parliamentary system. For example, it can exercise legislative oversight and summon the executive branch to testify in Congress. And yes, motions of censure exist, and have been levelled and even sometimes passed against Presidents before, but have no legal effect, given that the Constitution makes no mention of them.

You can see, not least by the existence of questions on this WWW site such as "Legal consequences of complying with a house supoena?", that some of these are also being used.

  • I think this is a good answer. But is it possible to add the support required to each action? Overriding a presidential veto takes a large majority, but not initiating legislation can be done by the majority leader by fiat possibly? It might need a separate question, but is the executive able to avoid congressional oversight? As they have done during the impeachment investigation by refusing sopenas?
    – Jontia
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 14:53
  • Congressional oversight is often explicit in statute, for the specific subject matter of the statute ("the Secretary shall report to congress...").
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 6:13

Elections come to mind. Campaigning with the candidates who oppose him would be one way. Appearing in the media to explain why his policies are less-than-advisable would be another traditional way for politicians to oppose one another.

  • 5
    Isn’t this answer basically saying that they can do nothing else, other than impeach or wait until the next election?
    – divibisan
    Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 22:29
  • 2
    @divibisan are you asking me to clarify what I said? If so, then I am sorry, but I cannot be any more clear. or are we "just chatting"? If we are "just chatting", then they can also take the President off of their Christmas card list. But let's not. Let's stick to the purpose of this site: clarifying how the government functions.
    – grovkin
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 4:25
  • No, I’m just making sure I’m understanding your post correctly. I actually agree with you here, then, so have an upvote
    – divibisan
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 4:27
  • 4
    -1 The question is about actions congress could have taken, ie what powers besides impeachment does congress have to rain in abuse of office by the president. Also, the accusations against Trump are about interfering in elections. Suggesting to use these potentially compromised elections to stop him from interfering in elections doesn't make a lot of sense. It's become a favorite right-wing talking point, but there's a reason that there is a separation of power and checks and balances.
    – tim
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 7:26
  • 2
    I honestly think elections are the worst possible way of enforcing political standards. It is like saying road accidents are the best way of dealing with drink drivers.
    – Jontia
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 15:04

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