Both chambers have been willing to exercise the least drastic power without much hesitation. During the 19th century, there were numerous censures in the House of Representatives when decorum broke down—ranging from physical acts of violence to unruly language. William Stanberry was censured in 1832 for insulting the speaker; Lovell Rousseau was censured in 1866 for assaulting a member. The Senate famously censured Joseph McCarthy in 1954. Democratic Senator Thomas Dodd was censured in 1967 for having used campaign funds for his own personal benefit. In 1979, Georgia’s Herman Talmadge had to face the badge of shame as a result of his misconduct using campaign monies. In 1979, the House censured Michigan Representative Charles Diggs, who had to stand in the well as Speaker Tip O’Neill rebuked him, when he was convicted for payroll fraud and kickbacks. Representatives Dan Crane and Gerry Studds were censured for improper sexual relations with pages in 1983. More recently, the House reprimanded South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson after he shouted “you lie” at former President Obama while he addressed Congress.

The other form of congressional punishment against a member that only requires a majority vote is exclusion. In 1929, the Senate excluded William Vare from taking his seat as a result of allegations of election fraud. The most famous example of exclusion, however, took place when the House voted to exclude New York Representative Adam Clayton Powell from his seat in 1967, a case that actually ended up reducing the interest of either chamber in ever doing it again.