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Are You Listening Senator Leahy?

Huge Win for Impeachment in Vermont

by DAVE LINDORFF

"SR16 Senate resolution urging Vermont’s Representative in the United States House of Representatives to introduce, and Vermont’s United States Senators to support, a resolution requiring the United States House Judiciary Committee to initiate impeachment proceedings against the President and the Vice President of the United States."

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 on the losing side, 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.

"This gives an immeasurable boost to the national push for impeachment, and the timing could not be better, " said David Swanson, a leader of the national impeachment movement who runs a website at www.afterdowingstreet.com. Swanson noted that Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), a candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, is preparing to introduce a bill of impeachment against the Vice President Cheney next Wednesday. And adds that impeachment groups are planning coordinated events all over the country on April 28th (http://www.a28.org). He said, "What just happened in Vermont went down exactly the way things should in a democracy. Citizens raised their voices, passed local resolutions, and demanded that their state senators act. The hard work of Dan DeWalt, Ellen Tenney, and so many other Vermonters is beginning to pay off. Vermont may be remembered as the state that saved the Republic."

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 state’s 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 us and question why, when confronted by the most corrupt and incompetent administration ever witnessed in the United States, nothing was done to stop Bush and Cheney.

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.

One newspaper, the Vermont Guardian, reports that House impeachment backers plan to spend the next few days collecting signatures from fellow representatives to introduce an identical resolution next Wednesday in their chamber. Says State Rep. Dave Zuckerman, "We will take the same language the Senate passed today and turn it in Tuesday afternoon, which gives people around the state time to call their representatives and ask them to sign it; we would then have it on the calendar for Wednesday and the speaker will either let it be voted on or have it sent to committee." He added, "Many of us are quite pleased they took the vote, but it’s clear that it only happened because citizens got involved."

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.

Finally, it would be impossible for the corporate media to continue to maintain, as it has done for over a year now, that impeachment is simply the desire of a group of fringe left-wing Democrats.

Bush and Cheney are still a long way from being in the dock in Congress, but today’s vote in the Vermont Senate has to have sent a cold chill up the spine of both men, who now have to start contemplating about the fate of Richard Nixon.

Certainly when the late Father Robert Drinan (D-MA) filed his initial impeachment bill against Richard Nixon, who had won re-election by a landslide, no one expected to see the president actually facing impeachment hearings and removal from office. But hearings, and more bills of impeachment, followed, Nixon’s crimes were laid bare on prime time TV, and in the end three articles of impeachment were voted out of the House Judiciary Committee, one of them unanimously. Nixon resigned from office in disgrace when it became clear he would be impeached in the House and removed by the Senate if he tried to stay on.

Slowly, steadily, the public, grassroots movement to impeach this criminal president and vice president, and to restore the rule of law, and the Constitution, is building.

Soon it will be the leaders of Congress, not of the Vermont legislature, who will be facing the wrath of angry voters demanding that they stop dithering and start honoring their oaths of office to uphold and defend the Constitution. As the Brattleboro Reformer put it, Congress is "shirking its responsibility" because when it comes to impeaching Bush and Cheney, "nothing is more important."

Update:

In a joint statement issued in Washington, DC, Vermont’s Congressional delegation, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch, responded to the state senate resolution by saying that "before we talk about impeachment," current investigations in the Congress need to be "allowed to run their course."

Ignoring the fact that 39 towns in the state, including some it Vermont’s larger municipalities, have voted out impeachment resolutions, the three, all Democrats, go on to say, "In our view, the people of Vermont want us to focus our attention on such issues as ending the war in Iraq, protecting the needs of our veterans, raising the minimum wage, addressing the crisis of global warming and providing health care to all of our citizens."

Never mind that the Democrats’ narrow majorities in Congress mean that they cannot hope to deliver on any of those issues in the next two years. More importanbtly, if ever there was a case of elected officials ignoring the clearly expressed will of their constituents, this is it. Not even content to claim that they "know better" than the popular will and are acting on their own best impulses, but rather, claiming to somehow "know" what the people of the state want, Leahy, Sanders and Welch are demonstrating graphically just how divorced the Democratic Party in Congress and the DNC has become from the party’s own rank-and-file.

If a vote for the impeachment resolution passes in Vermont’s House of Representatives next week, too, and that doesn’t sway these three pompous solons into action, Vermonters will have their task cut out for them come November 2008. Welch in particular should be sent packing if he turns his back on his own state’s legislature and voters.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His n book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s newest book is "The Case for Impeachment",
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.

He can be reached at: dlindorff@yahoo.com