Talking with members of Congress, one hears the same refrain: “I know Bush and Cheney have committed impeachable crimes, but impeachment is a bad idea.”
The rationales offered are many, but all are either specious or based upon flawed reasoning. Let’s consider them separately:
Excuse one, offered by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is that impeachment would be a diversion from Democrats’ main goals of ending the Iraq War, and passing important legislation. The reality, of course, is that many of the administration’s impeachable acts relate directly to the war, so hearings would only build support for ending it. Meanwhile, with the slim majorities in both houses, Democrats cannot pass any significant progressive legislation that could survive a veto (or a presidential signing statement) and the record shows it.
Excuse two is that impeachment is divisive. This seems the height of absurdity. When voters handed Congress to the Democrats, they knew they were setting the stage for divided government. That was the whole point. Moreover, divisiveness in Washington has largely emanated from the White House, not from Congress. Anyhow, given administration intransigence on all the issues that matter to Democrats, they have no alternative but to take a stand.
Excuse three is a claim that the public opposes impeachment. This is simply wrong. The few straightforward scientific polls done on impeachment, such as one published by Newsweek last October, show a majority of Americans to want it. Furthermore, if Bush has committed impeachable acts, it is inappropriate for House members, all of whom swore to uphold and defend the Constitution, not to act.
Excuse four is that old canard that impeaching Bush would mean making Cheney president—a deliberately scary prospect but one which any politician in Washington knows is garbage. Firstly, if Cheney were to become president because of a Bush impeachment or resignation, it would only be for a few months, and given his stunning lack of support among the public—currently about 9 percent and falling—he would be the lamest of lame ducks, unable to do anything. But more importantly, his own party would be certain to remove him before any removal of Bush, and for exactly that reason—they would not want to be going into the 2008 election with Cheney as party leader. This is exactly what happened to Spiro Agnew, whom a Republican attorney general managed to indict and remove before the collapse of Nixon’s presidency. The same thing can be expected to happen to Cheney, who would surely face either a sudden health crisis, or an indictment for corruption.
Finally, excuse five is that the president’s crimes and abuses of power need to be proven before any impeachment bill. This is completely backwards. An impeachment bill can be filed by any member of Congress who believes the president has violated the Constitution. At that point, it is up to the House Judiciary Committee to consider the bill’s merits and decide whether to ask the full House to authorize impeachment hearings. It is at an impeachment hearing where investigations should proceed. After all, only after the Judiciary Committee votes out an impeachment article can the full House consider whether to actually impeach. Calling for investigations before an impeachment hearing is like asking for an investigation before a grand jury investigation. It’s redundant, simply a dodge.
Besides, some of this president’s high crimes are self-evident. Take the case of Bush’s ordering the National Security Agency to spy on Americans’ communications without a warrant. A federal judge has already labeled this violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act a felony. There is no denying this felony occurred, or that Bush is responsible. The only question the House needs to vote on is whether the felony is a “high crime” warranting impeachment.
The same applies Bush’s refusal to enact over 1200 laws or parts of laws duly passed by Congress. Bush doesn’t deny that he has usurped the power of the Congress, as laid down in Article I of the Constitution. Rather, he asserts—with no basis in the wording of that document—that as commander in chief in the war on terror, he has the “unitary executive” authority to ignore acts of Congress. Again, there is no need for an “investigation” to establish whether this happened. What Congress must do is decide whether this usurpation of its Constitutional role is an impeachable abuse of power.
Likewise the president’s authorization of kidnap and torture. We know the president okayed torture. We know too, that he used his “unitary executive” claim to refuse to accept a law passed overwhelmingly by the last Congress outlawing torture. Finally, we know the president did not, as required by US and international law, act to halt torture and punish those up the chain of command who oversaw systematic, widespread torture.
There are many impeachable crimes by this president (and vice president), such as obstruction of justice in the Valeria Plame outing case, conspiracy (or treason) in the Niger “yellowcake” document forgery scandal, conspiracy to engage in election fraud, lying to Congress, criminal negligence in responding to the Katrina disaster, bribery and war profiteering, etc., which would require Judiciary Committee investigations.
In the meantime, though, Democrats need to step up to their responsibility.
If this president is not to be impeached, Congress may as well the Constitution to remove the impeachment clause. It will, in that case, have become as much an anachronism as prohibition.
<i>About the author: Philadelphia journalist Dave Lindorff is co-author, with Barbara Olshansky, of “The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net.</i>