President Bush dodged a Constitutional bullet in New Mexico Thursday, when nine Democrats in the state senate joined all 17 Republicans to prevent a proposed joint resolution calling for the US House to begin impeachment hearings to come to a floor vote. Supporters of the measure said it appeared that the Democrats in question mostly came from Republican districts and were worried about electoral repercussions of a pro-impeachment vote.
There is reason to suspect, however, that there was some arm-twisting from national Democratic leaders, who appear dead set on avoiding impeachment hearings, whatever the public sentiment on impeachment (Newsweek reported last fall that 51 percent of Americans favor impeachment) and whatever Bush’s crimes, Constitutional violations and abuses of power.
In the state of Washington, where another such effort is being made in that state’s senate, the state’s senior Senator, Pat Murray, and one of its senior representatives, Jay Inslee, both Democrats, have been lobbying state senate leaders behind the scenes urging them to prevent Sen. Eric Oemig’s proposed joint resolution on impeachment, as well as another senator’s bill calling for an end to the Iraq war, from getting a floor vote. A decision there is expected before March 14. Supporters of Sen. Oemig’s bill say they think the votes are there to pass his measure in the full Senate, if they can get it past the procedural hurdles. It would then go to the state’s house of representatives. (One reason leading Democrats want to prevent a floor vote is that impeachment advocates could then rebut their claims that impeachment would be “divisive” and that it “detracts from the Democratic agenda.”)
Perhaps the best chance for passage of a state impeachment joint resolution is in Vermont. There impeachment activists have made it through committee in the House. Meanwhile, a grassroots effort has been underway to get towns across the state, most of which operate under a town-meeting form of democratic governance, to pass impeachment resolutions at their annual town meeting. In nearly a third of the state’s towns, 48, residents agreed to put the issue on the agenda of their meeting, and of those, 36 passed the resolution. Only one town voted the resolution down.
That kind of public expression of support for putting Bush in the dock in Congress could help convince wavering Democrats in the state’s legislature to vote for impeachment whatever national Democratic leaders may say.
Other efforts to pass state resolutions on impeachment are reportedly underway in Maine, California, New Jersey and elsewhere.
The Constitution lays out a process for initiating impeachment which begins with the filing of a bill of impeachment by a member of the House of Representatives, but Thomas Jefferson, recognizing that Congress in some cases might be too cowed by a powerful president or to removed from public sentiment, established, in his Manual of Rules for the House, a second route to impeachment–a joint resolution by a state legislature–on the theory that state legislators are much closer to the people.
Indeed in modern times, with members of Congress earning six-figure incomes, traveling in chauffeured limousines, and living most of the time in Washington, inside the sterile Beltway, this is even more so that it was back in Jefferson’s day. In many states, state legislators are part-time government officials, earning modest salaries and living for the most part in their home districts, where they drive their own cars, shop with voters, and send their kids to the local schools.
This probably explains why so many states are seeing impeachment resolutions while House Democrats maintain a stony silence in the face of Bush’s ongoing rape of the Constitution.
The Democratic Leadership, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) in particular, clearly have decided that the only issue for Democrats is winning the presidency and more seats in Congress in 2008, and that the way to do that is to lie low, avoid controversy, and go to voters hoping that disgust with Republicans will win the day for them.
Although they are all sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic, and although they all know that this President is a clear domestic enemy of the Constitution who has broken laws, obstructed justice, abused power, violated international law and established international treaties, shredded the Bill of Rights, and displayed extraordinary criminal negligence as a leader, they are refusing to act on their oaths of office.
If no member of Congress will show the courage to stand up to this shameful failure of leadership, it is up to the people, through their state legislators, to make Congress act.
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: email@example.com