The impeachment movement, which has been building steam since the November election, got a big boost this morning when the Vermont Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for the US Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings against President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
The 16-9 vote, which saw the Senate’s six Republicans joined by only three Democrats, will make it difficult for Vermont House Speaker Gaye Symington, a Democrat who has opposed the impeachment resolution drive, to keep the measure from being voted on the House floor. Symington has been arguing against such a resolution, claiming it would be “divisive.”
The vote in the state senate was a huge victory for grassroots Democratic activists, who had been forced over recent months to overcome opposition to impeachment from the national Democratic Party leadership, and from their own state’s Democratic Congressional Delegation. Leading Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), have been arguing that impeachment could hurt Democratic prospects among independent voters in the November 2008 elections. But impeachment activists have countered that the president and vice president have violated the law and undermined the Constitution, and that it is inappropriate to let strategic and tactical interests of the Democratic Party enter into the decision on whether to impeach.
To get around opposition from leading Democrats, Vermont’s impeachment activists organized a statewide grassroots campaign to have as many towns as possible endorse impeachment in resolutions introduced at the annual town meetings that are the primary form of governance in most of the state’s municipalities. In the end, 39 towns voted for impeachment resolutions in their annual meetings in February. This sent a strong message to state legislators about the mood of the voters in the state. In the end, that message trumped pressure from Washington.
The mass movement for impeachment in Vermont has also had its impact on the local media there, which in turn may have pushed the state’s senators to act. On April 13, a week before the senate vote, the states third-ranked newspaper, the Brattleboro Reformer, ran an editorial headlined “Impeach Bush or Get Out of the Way.”
The paper wrote:
There will be a time when future generations will look at us and wonder why President Bush and Vice President Cheney were not removed from office.
They will look at the craven behavior of the Democrats, too afraid to take on the president when it mattered. They will look at the Republicans, so intoxicated with power that they backed their president to the hilt, even as he ran this country off a cliff. They will look at the press, and how too many journalists were cowed into parroting the words of the administration. They will look at the voters, and shake their heads in disbelief that a number of Americans voted for all this -- the electoral equivalent of the chickens voting Colonel Sanders president.
And they will look at Vermont, and how a bottom-up impeachment effort with broad support ran into a brick wall of indifference in Montpelier as well as Washington.
The editorial pointedly attacked House leader Symington and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, saying:
History will not look kindly on House Speaker Gaye Symington for her insistence that her chamber must focus on "important matters" and that the House "does not have the time" to deal with impeachment.
History will not look kindly on Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, who has talked loudly about impeaching Bush and Cheney, but won't pursue the issue as long Symington says no.
The grassroots and media pressure clearly worked on Shumlin, who had long insisted he supported impeachment, but that there “wasn’t time” for an impeachment resolution. Shumlin allowed the vote today, and it sailed through, belying concerns about time. Now the pressure shifts to Symington.
The Vermont Senate vote carries enormous significance. If it is followed by a similar vote in the Vermont House, where a similar resolution has 20 sponsors, Vermont will be the first state in the nation to have a joint resolution calling for Congress to begin impeachment of the president.
Under Thomas Jefferson’s Manual for Rules of the House, such a joint resolution, should it pass, is an alternative route to impeachment, and would require the House Judiciary Committee to initiate an impeachment hearing to determine whether grounds for impeachment of the president and vice president exist. It would no longer be possible, in other words, for Speaker Pelosi to continue blocking impeachment and intimidating representatives from filing impeachment bills.
It would also be a strong signal that the American public wants impeachment.