Column: For Adam Schiff, censure is a gift from House Republicans

Rep. Adam B. Schiff walking down a stairway outside the U.S. Capitol, talking with three reporters as they walk with him.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff has reason to smile after being formally censured by House Republicans. The move gives a big boost to the Burbank Democrat’s bid for the U.S. Senate.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
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On Thursday, Rep. Adam B. Schiff turned 63. His birthday present arrived a day early, courtesy of vengeful House Republicans.

Schiff was formally censured Wednesday for his role in holding to account the most immoral, self-centered, self-dealing, insurrectionist president in modern American history.

The only thing missing was wrapping paper, a shiny red bow and a greeting card dotted with Xs and O‘s.


Former President Trump has described Schiff as “shifty,” “sick” and “corrupt.” He has also made the congressman what he is today: a political household name and prosecutorial hero to millions of Democrats nationwide.

The rebuke from the House GOP boosted Schiff’s political stock even further, edging the Burbank Democrat closer to his goal of besting a handful of party rivals and succeeding Dianne Feinstein as the next U.S. senator from California.

“I would call it an advertisement for Adam Schiff,” Bob Shrum, a veteran Democratic strategist who teaches political science at USC, said following the party-line censure vote. “Brought to you by the MAGA caucus in the Republican House.”

In today’s nihilistic political climate, what a candidate accomplishes is increasingly less important to partisans than whom they antagonize along the way.

With enemies like Trump and his acolytes, Schiff might well ask, who needs friends?

House Republicans voted Wednesday to censure Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank, a decision that could ultimately aid the Democrat in his run for the Senate seat held by Dianne Feinstein.

June 21, 2023

The vote Wednesday was a monumental exercise in political self-gratification. The move had no practical impact — it was purely symbolic — save for cheapening the already degraded image of the inmate-run House asylum.

Censure, which has occurred only 25 times in the House, is a punishment usually reserved for criminal conduct, ethics violations or serious breaches of conduct.


Schiff, who led the prosecution in Trump’s first impeachment — the one involving attempted bribery and Ukraine — was reprimanded for, among other things, helping bring to light secret Russian interference in the 2016 election in support of Trump’s campaign.

Contrary to the assertions of Trump and others, an investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III did not exonerate Trump or campaign strategists of charges that they had encouraged Russian meddling, though it found no evidence of criminal conspiracy.

Mueller made a strong case for obstruction of justice, but said that under Justice Department policy a sitting president could not be criminally prosecuted.

None of that, however, mattered in the GOP’s show-trial proceeding, where the verdict was preordained and all that mattered was sating the animal spirit of the Republican base.

Schiff’s actions “ripped apart American families across the country,” the censure’s lead sponsor, Florida Republican Anna Paulina Luna, proclaimed with no lack of hyperbole. He was “permanently destroying family relationships.”

And you thought fighting over the remote was a problem.

When it came time for Schiff’s formal reprimand — as he stood at the front of the House chamber, having the censure resolution read aloud by Speaker Kevin McCarthy — he was swarmed by fellow Democrats, who clapped him on the back.


“Shame,” they chanted, and their catcalls — “Disgrace,” “What about George Santos?” — caused a frustrated McCarthy to repeatedly start and stop.

Meantime, a fundraising solicitation from Schiff ricocheted across the internet.

Last week, an attempt to censure Schiff failed because some in the GOP objected to a proposed $16-million fine.

“Once more, I have to be on the House floor to listen to MAGA Republicans push false and defamatory lies about me,” Schiff lamented in his fundraising email.

But after the proceeding, the freshly admonished lawmaker was all smiles.

House members like Adam Schiff and Katie Porter used to toil in relative anonymity. But viral videos and countless social media clicks have changed that for some celebrity lawmakers.

March 1, 2023

Before Trump came along, Schiff was scarcely known outside his Southern California district.

His claim to fame, if you’d call it that, was being elected in 2000 in what was once the costliest House race in U.S. history.

Then Congress launched its investigation — separate from the Mueller probe — into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign. As the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, the studious Schiff became the pursed-lip face of the congressional inquisition — and a Trump target.


He was elevated by a slew of insult-laden presidential tweets and became a television staple, which in turn vaulted Schiff into strong contention in the 2024 race for Feinstein’s Senate seat. His two main Democratic competitors are Reps. Katie Porter of Irvine and Barbara Lee of Oakland.

The substantive differences among the three are relatively small. But Porter and Lee have been running hard to the left, aiming at the party’s liberal base by suggesting Schiff — a favorite of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others in the party establishment — is somehow less of a Democrat.

That becomes harder when Republicans treat him as Public Enemy No. 1.

Katha Hartley, a Bay Area Democratic activist, was positively effusive in the hours after the censure vote.

She is a former president of the Democrats of Rossmoor Club, a must-stop for political hopefuls; Schiff, Porter and Lee have all made the trek to audition before hundreds of members in the 55-and-older community.

“He is a symbol of what stands between the MAGAs and our democracy,” Hartley said of Schiff. “He takes it to them. He points out what they’re doing. It’s honorable that he was censured.”

She declared Wednesday “a victory day” for the sanctioned congressman, and despite her wish to see a woman take Feinstein’s place, said: “My gut is telling me I’m going to vote for Adam Schiff.”


He can thank House Republicans for that.