It’s now been five months since I penned my first article for CounterPunch regarding New York Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler’s stonewalling on Cheney impeachment. At the time, though I knew it would be a strong uphill battle, I figured that Nadler might come around and move on impeachment proceedings once and for all.
As the Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Nadler occupies a key position and could use his influence to press for impeachment hearings. He has consistently refused to do so, preferring instead to stonewall activists. Nadler hides behind a retinue of handlers whose job is to stall, delay, and play for more time.
Today, however, Nadler faces a wave of negative publicity as a result of his intransigence which could cost him politically. I have just returned from Coney Island, Brooklyn, where Nadler’s constituents staged a peaceful sit in at the Congressman’s office. True to form, Nadler refused to talk with activists regarding impeachment, spurring four women to practice non violent civil disobedience and get arrested. How did we get to this point and what are the prospects for local activists moving forward?
Act I: HR 333
Nadler is not some high up White House official in an ivory tower, he is a local Congressman. And yet meeting with Nadler has proven frustratingly difficult. The story started in July, when activists from the group World Can’t Wait organized a visit to Nadler’s office in Lower Manhattan in an effort to get the Congressman to sign on to HR 333, a bill to impeach the Vice President.
The resolution, submitted by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich in April 2007, charged that Cheney had purposely manipulated the intelligence process to deceive the citizens and Congress of the United States by fabricating a threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, as well as fabricating a threat about an alleged relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda in an effort to justify use of force against Iraq. Kucinich also charged that Cheney had violated his constitutional oath and duty by openly threatening aggression against Iran in the absence of any real threat posed to the United States.
It was never going to be easy to get establishment Democrats on board, however, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remarking even before Democrats took control of Congress that impeachment would be “off the table.” On repeated occasions, Nadler put activists through the go around, refusing to set up an appointment to discuss impeachment.
In the middle of a heat wave, I took the subway from my native Park Slope, Brooklyn to Nadler’s office in Lower Manhattan located in a Federal Building. As the heat burnt through the pavement, activists decided upon a strategy: rather than go into Nadler’s office on the sixth floor in a group, we would go up in twos and threes. Unfortunately, such elaborate tomfoolery had become necessary 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.
Act II: Nadler in His Fortress
Inside the lobby, 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 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.
“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.
As I stood outside, 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.
I later heard that 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 activists 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.
Act III: A Surreal Vote Count and Nadler’s Tabling
Increasingly however Nadler was out of step with his fellow liberal members of Congress. In November, Kucinich read the text of HR 333 on the floor of the House and reintroduced the motion as a new resolution. Led by Kucinich, scores of Democrats joined opportunistic Republicans in initially supporting the Ohio Congressman’s resolution, which would have prompted a full debate on impeaching Cheney.
The Republicans sought to force the Democrats to vote on impeachment, a development which the GOP thought might weaken the Democrats in the court of public opinion. Fearful that Kucinich’s measure might embarrass the party, Democratic leaders such as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer moved to table Kucinich’s impeachment resolution. Joining the establishment Democrats was Jerrold Nadler.
When Hoyer and his liberal enablers were outvoted 251 to 162, Democratic leaders moved to refer the motion back to the Judiciary Committee. Again, Nadler voted with Hoyer and the rest, resulting in a truly surreal vote result with Republicans pitted against all Democrats save Kucinich and four other legislators.
Final vote count: 218 to 194 in favor of sending Kucinich’s resolution back to committee.
Since that time, HR 333 has languished in the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep John Conyers (D-Mich.), who has publicly speculated about impeaching the president or vice president but has declined taking any action since taking the gavel in January of ’07.
Back in New York, activists with World Can’t Wait tried to set up a meeting between peace activist Cindy Sheehan and Representative Nadler to broach impeachment. Not surprisingly given his historic pattern, the New York legislator refused the opportunity.
Act IV: Nadler Deaf to Democratic Base
Still, recent developments suggest that Nadler and the establishment are at odds with the Democratic base and that their stonewalling could become a political liability. Recently, Reps. Robert Wexler (D., Fla.), Luis Gutiérrez (D., Ill.) and Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.), all members of the Judiciary Committee, have petitioned the other members to begin important impeachment hearings immediately. Over 170,000 citizens nationwide signed on to Wexler’s letter in only its first six days and the petition received the attention of mainstream media such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald and others.
Wexler hails from Boca Raton, and his heavily Democratic 19th Congressional District includes parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties. He has launched a Web site, wexlerwantshearings.com, and continues to gather signatures calling for impeachment hearings against Cheney.
“Our Constitution mandates that the House of Representatives hold presidents and vice presidents accountable when they commit high crimes,” Wexler remarks in a video on the site. Wexler says he is aiming for 250,000 signatures. He acknowledges however that he faces a ”huge uphill battle,” because House leadership has not been interested. A veteran member of the House Judiciary Committee, Wexler hopes to deliver the signatures to the committee when Congress shortly returns to Washington.
Act V: If At First You Can’t Succeed, Go To Brooklyn
In an effort to support Wexler’s efforts and to keep the Cheney impeachment issue in play, activists with Not in Our Name and World Can’t Wait headed to Brooklyn this morning. Oddly, Nadler’s predominantly Manhattan district also comprises the heavily Russian Coney Island area and the Congressman has a district office here. Braving the frigid wind, I hopped on the F train in Park Slope.
The ride took only a half hour, though other activists traveled from farther afield. Why travel so far and not go to Manhattan? Sadly, such a move has become utterly necessary as Nadler’s Manhattan office is housed in a federal building and security guards will not let activists pass inside. Located in a nondescript building along Neptune Avenue, Nadler’s Brooklyn office is located near such local businesses as the Belarus convenience store.
By the look of it, the local staff had never seen the likes of a peaceful sit in at their office. Activists urged Nadler’s people to get the Congressman to sign on to HR 333 and move the resolution on to the floor of the House. Ilan Kayatsky, Nadler’s Brooklyn Community Representative, gave us the usual line about the Democrats not having the votes to move on impeachment. In a stretch, he also claimed that taking up the issue would tie up Congress for two years and that such a move would distract from other meaningful legislative efforts. When pressed however, Kayatsky couldn’t name much in the realm of substantial accomplishments under the Democratic-led Congress.
Activists, who had helped to put the Democrats into power in ’06, expressed dismay about the continued funding of the war and demanded to speak to Nadler. Kayatsky replied that Nadler was not in the office and refused to call his boss. We asked if he could leave a message with Nadler, which Kayatsky also refused to do. In a move to dismiss, he said he would contact Nadler in future in an effort to set up a meeting. Activists, who had long been shrugged off by Nadler, were distrustful of the offer and peacefully sat down on the floor.
Outside, I made calls to local media outlets alerting them to our protest. Presently a reporter from NY1, a local TV station, came to film and interview protesters. Growing hungry, I started to think how nice it might be to get a bowl of borscht with a dollop of sour cream at one of the local Russian restaurants. At one point, our group noticed that Robert Gottheim, Nadler’s none too ceremonious aide from Manhattan, was present in the office. As closing time neared, Kayatsky threatened activists with arrest. Sure enough, at five o’clock eight strapping cops showed up and tried to discourage activists from getting arrested. When protesters refused, the police moved in and arrested four women from the group.
Nadler’s Cynical Triangulation
Riding home to Park Slope on the F train, I felt a sense of accomplishment in our group’s action. Nadler surely can’t be happy at the negative publicity on NY1 as well as Air America Radio and WBAI Radio, other media outlets which covered the story. The reality however is that it is going to take a lot more effort to change Nadler’s position. At one point while in Nadler’s office, I asked Kayatsky how many activists and protests it would take for the Congressman to consider changing course. The legislative aide refused to answer.
Nadler, who has a pretty liberal record overall and who has been gracious to anti-war protesters, is nevertheless a party hack who cares more about the political fortunes of the Democratic Party than the Constitution or the future of the country. Unfortunately, he worships party loyalty and his ties to establishment politicians such as Hillary Clinton above all else. Like many of his peers, Nadler seems to think that the Democrats can wait out the clock until the ’08 election and that the voters, disgusted by the Republicans, will give his own party a more substantial majority.
The Democrats believe that impeachment will turn off most voters and encourage defeat. It’s a risky strategy however which may lead to failure: 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.
NIKOLAS KOZLOFF is the author of Hugo Chávez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the U.S. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), and Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave Macmillan, April 2008).
For more information about upcoming actions related to Congressman Nadler, see: http://www.worldcantwait.net/
For future reference:
Jerrold Nadler, 8th-New York District Offices
D.C. Phone: 202-225-5635
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org 212-334-3207 (New York)