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Letter: Congresswoman explains decision in censure vote

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan says her “present” vote has to do with her position in Congress.

An abridged version of this article was originally published in the Reading Eagle

Written by Rep. Chrissy Houlahan

As members of both the U.S. House and Senate return to our respective communities across the country, it’s time to reflect on the year. Over the past year, very little of any real substance has been accomplished in the U.S. House under the fractured and chaotic Republican leadership. Funding the government into the next fiscal year; re-authorizing the Farm Bill or the FAA; further aid to Ukraine and Israel; and support to our border are all needs that have gone unmet.

But what has been “done” are multiple votes on the behavior of my colleagues – both Republican and Democratic. My votes on both Representatives Santos and Bowman deserve an in-depth look because I hope they elucidate how I approach all votes in service of my community and country.

Expelling a fellow member of Congress should be a rare and grave vote. The constituents and voters of each district are the ones who should determine who represents them with very, very few exceptions. For that reason, I was extremely deliberate with my votes regarding the expulsion of Representative Santos (R-NY).

The first opportunity to vote on his situation was a Motion - more concisely a vote to either send his case back to the Ethics Committee (Y) or effectively to expel him (N). To be honest, the Ethics Committee has disappointed me in its speed and intent, especially in this Congress. Indeed the first revelations about Representative Santos are more than a year old. I felt that a predominance of Yes votes would ensure these serious charges would further languish in Committee. I felt a No vote was premature. I wanted the courts to work. Neither choice was optimal nor reflected what outcome I thought my community would want, so I voted Present. (221-204-7, Y/N/P)

The second floor vote in the Santos case was 6 months later. This vote simply asked Members whether or not to expel him – thumbs up or down so to speak. I chose to vote “Present“ for a different reason this time. Specifically, the Ethics Committee then assured the body that their final report was imminent. I wanted to wait for that report rather than take a vote without that more perfect information. That 56 page report was in fact finally released days later, and it was damning.

On that next and final vote regarding Mr. Santos’ expulsion, I joined my colleagues in voting Yes. It was a resoundingly bipartisan rebuke. (311-114-2, Y/N/P)

Mr. Santos is no longer a member of Congress.

A vote to censure a member of Congress is also an important one not to be taken lightly. It should be a rare and severe condemnation of the actions of a colleague.

Representative Bowman (D, NY) has been accused and has pled guilty to pulling a fire alarm. Do not get me wrong, this is a serious offense. The vote before the body was to condemn that behavior. In this case, I voted “Present“ for a third reason. I am now a formal Member of the Investigative Subcommittee, basically part of the jury pool of the Ethics Committee, and it is possible that there may be future work by that Committee on the Bowman case. I believe it is my responsibility to remain neutral in my vote so that I can be relied upon as an open-minded jurist if so called.

The 118th Congress has been enormously unproductive and disappointing thus far. But it is essential to the people whom I serve that my votes - no matter the topic or substance - are deliberate and intentional. My community demands and deserves nothing less.

Houlahan is an Air Force veteran, an engineer, a serial entrepreneur, an educator, and a nonprofit leader. She represents Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, which encompasses Chester County and southern Berks County. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.