According to a recent poll conducted by the American Research Group, a startling 54% of the U.S. public now favors impeachment of Vice President Cheney. Apparently, Americans have had enough of Cheney’s misleading the public on Iraqi WMD, his fabrications seeking to tie al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein’s regime, and his repeated threats against Iran.
Recently, Congressman Dennis Kunicich (D-OH), introduced H. Res. 333 calling for Cheney’s impeachment under these very grounds. Because of the blackout in the corporate media, however, few Americans are aware of Kucinich’s resolution which has now attracted 14 likely co-sponsors. Recently, the House Judiciary Committee took a big step by sending HR 333 to the Constitution Subcommittee led by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
For the past few years, I have felt largely powerless to stop the Bush White House from carrying out its nefarious foreign policy agenda. But Nadler, a pivotal figure in the unfolding impeachment drama, is a liberal legislator whose office is located on Varick Street in Lower Manhattan. Though I currently reside in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I grew up a scant few blocks from Nadler’s office.
A couple of days ago, I received an e-mail from my cousin, a tireless and dedicated activist working with World Can’t Wait, which has been pressing hard for town hall impeachment meetings across the country. The group, my cousin said, was organizing a trip to Nadler’s office to get him to support HR 333.
Yesterday morning, I caught the #1 train to the Houston Street station. Gathered outside a Latin music club was a group of some twenty, mostly elderly New York activists. Some had come to Lower Manhattan with the intention of conducting a sit-in at Nadler’s office. The city has been in the midst of an uncomfortable heat wave, and while activists conferred I quickly ducked into a store to get some iced tea.
My cousin explained that the purpose of the visit was to get Nadler to sign on to the bill, press for a hearing on the bill in subcommittee, and hold a vote to pass the resolution. In addition, she wanted Nadler to press for adoption of the bill in the Judiciary Committee and to move the bill out to the House of Representatives. Lastly, my cousin sought to press Nadler to encourage his colleagues to sign on to the bill, and bring it to the attention of the Democratic Caucus for support.
Unfortunately, Nadler had hardly been responsive to activists’ on the issue of Cheney impeachment and put folks through a go-around. World Can’t Wait tried to make an appointment with the Congressman through his Varick Street office, but was told that he had already met with constituents on the issue.
When the group was told that it might get Nadler’s position by phoning his Washington, D.C. office, activists called but were unable to get through because of the July 4th vacation week. At long last, World Can’t Wait left phone and e-mail messages alerting Nadler’s Manhattan office that activists would stop by on Monday since it was an urgent matter.
As the heat burnt through the pavement, my cousin described our strategy: rather than go into Nadler’s office on the sixth floor in a group, we would go up in twos and threes. Such elaborate tomfoolery had become necessary, she said, because the authorities were unlikely to let the entire delegation proceed together. At long last, my turn arrived. Together with another gentleman, I walked into the Federal Building across the street from the Latin music club.
Inside the lobby were two big portraits of George Bush and Dick Cheney. I did not see some of the earlier members of our party, leading me to think that indeed some activists had succeeded in getting up to Nadler’s office. But when I arrived at the security check, my hopes plummeted.
“Are you going to Nadler’s office?” asked a guard, suspiciously.
“No officer,” we replied innocently, “We’re just headed to the Peace Corps office.”
Judging from the security guards’ expressions, they were unconvinced by our alibi. After we passed our spare change, keys and cell phones through the detector one of the guards escorted us up in the elevator, just to make sure we went to the tenth floor and not to the sixth floor.
“For Christ’s sake, this is ridiculous,” I remarked hotly to my colleague. “I understand that the White House and certain government offices are very difficult to get access to. But this is our local Congressman!”
While we picked up an application to join the Peace Corps inside, our guardian waited outside for us to exit the office.
“What can we do?” I asked my colleague, feeling frustrated and trapped.
“Not much,” he replied. “It looks like we’re just going to have to return to the lobby.”
Right on cue our guardian rejoined us in the hallway and rode down with us in the elevator, just to make sure that we would not visit the Congressman’s office. I wondered what would happen if we simply opted to get off at the sixth floor.
I put the question to our group’s legal advisor outside.
“Under what law could he have stopped us?” I asked. “Going to a Congressman’s office in a public building?”
He chuckled and remarked, “They are the law. They have the guns.”
As I stood outside on Varick Street, I spoke with several other activists who were similarly outraged by the Orwellian treatment they had received at the hands of the guards. Some had been turned back at the security check and told they could not proceed at all.
In aggravation, I rode back to Brooklyn on the subway. Later, I got an e-mail from my cousin. Some activists had indeed managed to get into Nadler’s office, to the “chagrin” of his staff. An unhappy Robert Gottheim, Nadler’s District Director, was called in to deal with the activists. When my cousin and others requested to speak with Nadler either in person or by speaker phone or conference call, Gottheim said no: Nadler was unavailable.
When activists asked Gottheim to tell Security to allow the rest of the delegation to come upstairs the Nadler handler refused. Hardly a hospitable host, Gottheim similarly refused to invite the activists into the office. Activists were told they could sit down in one of four seats in the entranceway.
The activists then eloquently presented their case. Gottheim, aptly demonstrating his stonewalling abilities and penchant to be a party hack, repeatedly stated that impeachment was a distraction from other things the Democrats sought to accomplish. Trotting out familiar Inside the Beltway group think, Gottheim claimed impeachment was not practical because the Democrats could not muster two thirds of Congress to vote for such a measure.
At that, Gottheim ended the discussion. When activists said they wanted to wait to speak to Nadler, Gottheim got hot under the collar. Putting on his suit jacket, he declared that the activists were in a Federal Building and should leave. Organizers stayed for about another hour or so, but finally opted to leave when it became clear Nadler was a clear No Show.
What is the significance of yesterday’s events? In a report on the action, World Can’t Wait expressed mild surprise at Gottheim’s surly treatment “since the Congressman has always been gracious to anti-war and peace proponents.”
Indeed, the liberal Nadler seems to be gearing up for a rather uncharacteristic fight with his constituents over the impeachment issue. No doubt he is feeling the heat from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has stated that impeachment should be “off the table.”
What will Nadler do, continue to shrug off his constituents by having guards shadow activists up and down the Federal Building? With the public infuriated over Cheney’s conduct, such a position would appear to be politically untenable. The Congressman, however, seems determined to declare “case closed” on the impeachment issue and to insulate himself from contrary views.
It’s time for New Yorkers to gird up for an intense struggle with Nadler over the coming weeks. If the Congressman can’t bring himself to exercise his duties as Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the House Judiciary Committee, then we ought to provide him with a civics lesson concerning the proper functioning of the Legislative Branch.
NIKOLAS KOZLOFF is the author of Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the U.S. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).