In this morning’s LA Times, in an article about the impeachment vote that wasn’t, the sponsor of the resolution, Dennis Kucinich, is referred to as “a far-left Ohio Democrat running for president.” Well, it was good of them to acknowledge his scarcely visible presidential campaign, but just what does “far left” mean here?
Does Kucinich advocate the nationalization of the means of production? Is he promoting the establishment of workers’ collectives? The creation of a national planning board? Last time I checked, no.
So, the House voted to debate the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. Wait, no it didn’t.
That the whole afternoon of position taking is summarized as follows by ABC News shows just how absurd the process (or non-process) is:
House Democrats on Tuesday narrowly managed to avert a bruising debate on a proposal to impeach Dick Cheney after Republicans, in a surprise maneuver, voted in favor of taking up the measure.
So, Republicans wanted the debate and Democrats wanted to “table” (not put on the table) the matter. With me so far?
That first line of the news item quoted above is a real head-scratcher. Democrats dodged a real bullet there, all right: A debate to impeach not only a war criminal (among other epithets any objective observer could hurl his way–and that of the man who is his superior, if only constitutionally), but an executive branch official who has single-digit approval.
One might think that in any sane democracy, the party with the majority would relish such a debate. However, the Democrats subsequently passed another measure to bury the matter in committee. Phew. That was a close call.
Thank you, Dennis Kucinich, for at least revealing the absurdity of the party you call your own.
For the second time in a month, a prominent liberal member of Congress from the so-called opposition party has proposed to censure the President. As I noted when Rep. Wexler proposed the same, back in the days of the impeachment of President Clinton it was the President’s supporters who proposed censure as an alternative to impeachment. Here we go again.
Sen. Feingold goes on, in justifiably strong terms:
Censure is not a cure for the devastating toll this administrationâ€™s actions have taken on this country. But when future generations look back at the terrible misconduct of this administration, they need to see that a co-equal branch of government stood up and held to account those who violated the principles on which this nation was founded.
The Senator is correct in his assertion that this administration has “assaulted” the Constitution and he is also correct that failure of Congress to act and hold this administration accountable will set a historic precedent that severe misconduct can go on without consequences. However, in the US Constitution, the mechanisms that the co-equal legislative branch has to hold the executive accountable are few, but clear: Cut off funds for its misconduct and/or put impeachment on the table. Censure is for the President’s defenders to propose as a non-serious retort.
It seems like ancient history now, but when the House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton over the grave threat posed to the Constitution by his unwillingness to talk about how he relieved stress in the Oval Office, some of his own defenders countered with the idea of “censure.” In fact, the progressive organization, Move On, was originally formed to advance a petition to “Censure President Clinton and Move On to Pressing Issues Facing the Nation.”
One might wonder, then, why Rep. Robert Wexler, one of Clinton’s most vigorous defenders on the Judiciary Committee, would be the one to propose a constitutionally meaningless censure of President George W. Bush over his commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence.
In his opening remarks as the Judiciary Committee began its impeachment hearings against Clinton, Rep. Wexler exhorted “Wake up, America” and he reminded listeners that:
When we started these proceedings, I expressed my fear that this impeachment, if successful, would forever lower the standard for impeachment for future presidents. In my worst nightmare, I did not foresee this.
No, evidently it has raised the bar, even for Rep. Wexler, who, one might guess, never in his worst nightmares could have imagined some of the things he has seen the current President and Vice President do.
Why not put impeachment on the table? In addition to the litany of other causes for impeachment, the protection of a convict whose crime was committed to protect the President and Vice President is precisely the sort of act for which impeachment was invented, as none other than James Madison himself noted at the Virginia ratification convention.
Let’s get this right, Rep. Wexler: Put impeachment on the table, and let the President’s defenders propose censure as a half measure.
George Mason argued that the President might use his pardoning power to “pardon crimes which were advised by himself” or, before indictment or conviction, “to stop inquiry and prevent detection.” [The points applies equally to commuting a sentence.--MSS]
James Madison’s response:
[I]f the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty…
These quotes are located within a document prepared by the House Judiciary Committee in 1974. The passage quoting Madison’s words has a very germane footnote by the author of the original source being cited by the Committee:
Madison went on… that the President could be suspended when suspected, and his powers would devolve on the Vice President, who could likewise be suspended until impeached and convicted, if he were also suspected.
The reference to the President or Vice President being “suspended until impeached and convicted” is worth thinking about, as is Madison’s apparent claim that the House of Representatives can “remove” the President.
All impeachment procedures in other presidential systems that I am aware of provide explicitly for the suspension from all duties of the impeached official, pending trial. Obviously a suspension (which indeed would be at least a temporary removal) is neither explicit in the US Constitution nor has it been practiced in the two actual impeachments of US Presidents. But did Madison believe an impeached (but not yet tried) President or Vice President would be suspended from office? Did he perhaps even believe that the official in question could be suspended before the full House votes impeachment? One might infer that from the footnote quoted above. Did he believe that in the event of impeachment processes against both the President and the Vice President there would be an Acting President? Any Acting President, of course, in this scenario, would be the Speaker of the House. (And, following the passage of a bill of impeachment, is there any time limit on how long the party controlling the Senate’s agenda can wait to begin a trial…?)
My emphasis in the quotations above, of course. Just working on that table-setting, the importance of which can hardly be over-emphasized…
The footnote quoted above cites (at note 29) as its source: J. Elliot, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution 74 (reprint of the 2nd ed.).
Among the many potential “firsts” in the 2008 field of US presidential candidates would be the first woman to be President (Clinton) or the first Italian-American (Giuliani). In fact, those two New York politicians are still the supposed front-runners to face each other in the next general election.
But as I drive around northern San Diego County, I am expressing my desire to combine these characteristics–Italian-American and woman–in one person to sit in the Oval Office. And to do it now. I mean, really, why choose? And, more importantly, why wait?
Pictured parked alongside the corralito, the sticker on the right-rear bumper of the official Ladera Frutal pick-up certainly makes me popular here whenever I drive around our congressional district, which is firmly in the grip of the Viper.
Of course, the wish expressed on the bumper really says nothing about the Italian-American woman herself (nor her heritage, nor her gender), but about whom she would be replacing.
Just doing my small part to put impeachment on the table. Because if we don’t hold this president and vice president accountable, we set a terrible precedent. We, and the Democrats we put in charge of Congress in 2006, would be showing an unforgivable lack of seriousness about protecting the Constitution.
This 4th of July, 2007, let’s celebrate our freedom by putting impeachment–double impeachment–on the table. Because our freedom can’t wait till 2008.
Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican who voted in favor of the Iraq war in 2002 and has supported it ever since, now says the current U.S. war effort is “absurd” and “may even be criminal.”
In an emotional speech on the Senate floor Thursday night, Smith called for changes in U.S. policy that could include rapid pullouts of U.S. troops from Iraq. He said he never would have voted for the conflict if he had known the intelligence that President Bush gave the American people was inaccurate.
Senator, when the “intelligence” does not pass the sniff test, it probably reeks of political manipulation. But, in any event, welcome back to reality. We’ve missed you. May you bring more and more of your colleagues back over.
Of course, the impact of the remark is more than a little diluted by the mandatory I-was-misunderstood moment that came later:
A spokesman said Friday that Smith did not mean to call the war criminal in a legal sense.
Fine. A political sense will do.
There are thus just two amendments to the Senator’s remarks that are in order. First, delete the “may even be” and replace with “is.” Second, add the adjective “high.” Then we’ll really be getting somewhere.
I can think of many reasons for impeachment, conviction, and once and for all, removal of this president and vice president. Most of those reasons center around the way they lied to get us into the Iraq debacle.
The depths to which this rogue administration has gone to violate civil liberties, the Constitution–and, from the very beginning, democracy itself–go far beyond anything I ever thought possible in this land.
Approval ratings–before this latest story–have fallen to the low 30s. People are catching on. Better late than never.
“Are we losing our lodestar, which is the Bill of Rights?” Barr beseeched the several hundred conservatives at the Omni Shoreham in Woodley Park. “Are we in danger of putting allegiance to party ahead of allegiance to principle?”
Barr answered in the affirmative. “Do we truly remain a society that believes that . . . every president must abide by the law of this country?” he posed. “I, as a conservative, say yes. I hope you as conservatives say yes.”
But nobody said anything in the deathly quiet audience.
The audience was, however, far more enthusiastic for Dick Cheney’s plans to use illegal surveillance as a campaign issue:
With an important election coming up, people need to know just how we view the most critical questions of national security.
That is today’s “conservative” movement: More comfortable with authoritarians like Cheney than with the real thing.
Then there is Viet Dinh:
The threat to Americans’ liberty today comes from al Qaeda and its associates and the people who would destroy America and her people, not the brave men and women who work to defend this country!
Al Qaeda cannot destroy “America and her people.” Only her people, and leaders her people refuse to check, can do that. Barr knows that, and as he left the event, he said:
I just told them what they need to know… It’s difficult… It’s not about sex, which was very easy to explain.
The Polysigh post contains an extended excerpt from the famous interview of Richard Nixon conducted in 1977 by David Frost, and notes the echoes we are hearing today.
I will pull out just a few shorter excerpts.
Nixon, responding to Frost’s questions about domestic wiretaps:
Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.
Nixon expresses his opinion that this ipso facto legality of presidential actions is nonetheless checked:
we have to have in mind that a president has to come up before the electorate. We also have to have in mind, that a president has to get appropriations from the Congress.
Ah, yes, the quaint old days of divided government, but what if the Congress isn’t acting as an independent check on such matters? What is the congressional majorities–assuming they are even informed–accept, at least implicitly, the president’s assertion that, in “national security” the president by definition acts legally. And, as for the reelection check, it is not much good in a second term. It is arguably of limited utility even at the end of a first term, given that it is a blunt instrument and, more importantly, that the very essence of limited government is that just because something is popular does not mean it is good government. What if the actions of an imperial president enjoy transient popularity, but in the meantime are undermining the liberties that a limited government was meant to secure? Then the president’s inherently legal actions in national security may fail to be checked by congress or the electorate. That still does not make them consistent with liberal democratic principles.
As for the ACLU, it would proudly accept that “enemy of the state” mantle that a shirt being advertised on some allegedly ‘conservative’ blogs gives it. Enemy of the state indeed, when the head of state is violating liberties that the constitution is supposed to protect.
Repeat after me: A government of laws, not men.
Related previous posts, starting with the first one after the revelations (which, I noted, were really not all that new) about the warrantless surveiilance:
Yes, it is a scandal. In fact, ordering surveillance on American citizens and legal residents is probably well within the definition of High Crimes and Misdemeanors, were anyone with the authority to determine such matters paying attention.
I want to call attention to some blogosphere reactions that I think really “get” it.
boz understands that extraordinary threats sometimes call for extraordinary actions, but nonetheless, that does not excuse the executive operating without oversight:
In my eyes, the problem is not that they don’t get the warrant first (although, that is of some concern). The problem is that they never get a warrant and the individual cases aren’t reviewed by the judicial system at any point, even after the process.
Where the Bush administration failed is that they believed that in fighting terrorism, they were beyond oversight. In fact, it is in these extreme circumstances that oversight is most necessary.
I highly recommend the entire post.
Glenn Greenwald takes defenders of the Bush administration to task for misquoting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), noting that these defenders (several of whom are quoted in the post)
are simply lying — and that term is used advisedly — about what FISA says by misquoting the statute in order to make it appear that the Administrationâ€™s clearly illegal behavior conforms to the statute.
…the legal question here is unambiguous. Several conservative hacks have tried to use a distortion of FISA to argue otherwise, but the statute clearly forbids what Bush has openly admitted to having done. And then, of course, there’s the Fourth Amendment, which is also clearly violated by these warrantless seraches.
A bit farther on in an excellent and detailed post, Scott goes into the national-security policy side of the story, arguing that there is:
…no remotely credible national security justification for these plainly illegal searches. Is there reason to believe that the communications of terrorists couldn’t be effectively monitored via the existing legal framework? Of course not.
The reason is that, as the original NYT article noted, the burden of proof the government must meet to obtain a warrant under FISA is quite low; moreover, as Josh Marshall notes, the FISA Court hardly ever turns down such requests from the government.
It’s disingenuous to be shocked about such things [as leaks to the New York Times]. So let’s think about the merits. Coercive interrogations. A gulag of secret prisons. And now warrantless surveillance. We’re supposed to be better than this.
He then follows with some very appropriate quotes, including this one from Madison:
I believe that there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.
To say that the [Bush-Cheney] secret presidency is undemocratic is an understatement. I’m anything but skittish about government, but I must say this administration is truly scary and, given the times we live in, frighteningly dangerous.
What is new is that this time Bush has actually admitted doing something that is plainy illegal and unconstitutional, and an infringement on our liberties.
Professor Bainbridge says the cumulative breaches of liberty in the name of security are enough to make him think about a Christmas donation to the ACLU.
For me, it is making me think seriously about a contribution to some organization that, if pushed, might be capable of bringing about a real accountability moment. (And anyone who knows my feelings about the two-party system knows how much it would take to drive me to do something like that; I’d be much more comfortable with other allies in accountability-seeking, but some things are of transcendental importance.)
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4