With 19 members of the House now signed on as supporters of Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich’s bill to impeach Cheney (H Res 333), a group which includes six, or more than a quarter of the House Judiciary Committee, and with polls showing clearly that a majority of Americans want impeachment of the president and vice president, it is getting harder and harder for the party leadership to keep a lid on this movement.
Last week, one such effort was made, by having Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), a known opponent of impeachment who showed his true colors by actively twisting the arms of key legislators in the Washington State Senate to prevent an impeachment resolution from coming to the floor there last spring, introduce a bill calling for the impeachment of… Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. This bill, which quickly garnered 20 co-sponsors, was a clear effort to siphon support away from Kucinich’s more serious Cheney impeachment bill. But as some of Inslee’s co-sponsors started to also sign on to the Kucinich Bill, and as the Kucinich Bill continued to gain co-sponsors, it has become obvious that the Inslee diversion wasn’t working. In fact, the very act of filing a bill to impeach Gonzales effectively neutralized all the arguments Inslee himself, as well as party leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others had been making to explain their opposition to impeachment. Obviously if impeaching Bush or Cheney would “detract from the Democrats’ important legislative agenda,” or “interfere with the effort to end the Iraq War” (sic), then so would an impeachment of Gonzales. Obviously, if impeaching Bush or Cheney would be “divisive” and “hurt Democratic chances in 2008,” then so would an impeachment of Gonzales.
So now the Democrats are trying another tack—having both houses introduce censure motions against Bush, Cheney and Gonzales.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) has already filed a censure resolution in the Senate. This is now being joined by a parallel censure resolution in the House, being filed by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY). The irony here is that both Feingold and Hinchey are among the most consistently liberal members of their respected chambers. Neither legislator is someone one would consider to be in the leadership of the Democratic Party, although both are fairly senior members of Congress. Both are also well aware that the president and vice president have committed grave impeachable offenses against the Constitution. Hinchey has said as much.
Reading Feingold’s proposed censure motion sounds like reading an impeachment bill. So does reading Rep. Hinchey’s explanation about why he is planning to file a censure motion. As Hinchey puts it:
"The American people have reached a breaking point with this administration and they are demanding that Congress step up and hold the president, vice president, and others in the executive branch responsible for their actions. While President Bush and Vice President Cheney continue to operate as if they are leaders of a monarchy, Congress should censure them and make it clear to this and future generations that their actions are entirely unacceptable. If Congress does not act to formally admonish this White House then the future of our democracy will be placed on a slippery slope in which other presidents may point to the actions of this administration as justification for further abuses of the Constitution. Congress cannot allow such abuses of power and law, which is why Senator Feingold and I will soon introduce these censure resolutions."
Hinchey says he will actually file two motions. The first would cite Bush and Cheney for lying about Iraqi WMDs and links to Al Qaeda, for failing to plan for the occupation, and for “distorting the reality” of the post-invasion situation “to the American people.” A second motion would cite Cheney and Bush and “other administration officials” for “launching the illegal NSA warrantless surveillance program” (which Congress just legalized, with the help of many Democratic votes), for instituting torture, for violating the Geneva Conventions, for politically motivated firings of prosecutors, for defying Congressional oversight, and for the issuing of signing statements “that amount to an excessive abuse of executive power.”
Calling Bush administrations actions “a sustained assault on our democratic republic,” Hinchey says, “Congress must firmly address this abuse and misuse of power.” But then he says the answer is “resolutions of censure” so that history will “show that Congress stood up to this administration and formally condemned it.”
The words are powerful but the remedy for those words is not censure. The remedy for abuses of power and for the high crimes described by Hinchey and by Feingold is impeachment.
In Feingold’s case, a censure motion might make sense, as it would allow Senate critics of Bush’s and Cheney’s clear abuses of power to go on record opposing and condemning the actions. The Senate, after all, has no role in impeachment, only in conviction and removal from office.
But Hinchey is another matter. Hinchey, to date, has not even signed on as a co-sponsor of Kucinich’s much narrower impeachment bill against Cheney.
One has to wonder why not, given his clear awareness of the seriousness of the president’s and vice president’s crimes. Perhaps Hinchey thinks impeachment has no chance because of the opposition to it by Pelosi and other House leaders. But by offering censure as an alternative, he is simply helping them kill off the growing call for impeachment by offering a lesser alternative.
The sad thing is that Hinchey’s censure motion, if it passes, besides giving members of Congress cover for not supporting a genuine impeachment bill, will do absolutely nothing to stop the Bush/Cheney destruction of the Constitution. Besides being laughed off by the White House, it will be viewed by future presidents not as a sign that Congress “stood up” and “formally condemned” the abuses, but rather that they have nothing to fear any more from Congress and the impeachment clause.
Hinchey’s censure motion will be the final cut of the knife in the gelding of Congress.
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 and available now in paperback). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net