Pelosi Punts, for Now, on Impeachment

Does Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) support a vote on the House floor to begin impeachment proceedings against President George W. Bush? Will she support one if she becomes Majority Leader or Speaker of the House after the 2006 election?

"Individuals have their own views, but the House Democratic Leadership is focused on issues that unify the country, not divide it," said Pelosi spokeswoman Jennifer Crider in a telephone interview. "Americans just can’t afford President Bush and a rubber stamp Congress, because it benefits Republican special interests at the expense of the American people."

When asked to answer the actual question about impeachment, Crider three times repeated the first sentence from this talking point — "Individuals have their own views, but …" — and became annoyed when asked again to produce a relevant answer.

"I’ve already given you an answer," said Crider. "I’ve talked to six reporters about this today, and everyone else has been able to understand that sentence and write it."

But what did her sentence mean? Was she implying that impeachment does not "unify the country," and so Pelosi does not support it? Or would she support it, because the nation "cannot afford President Bush?" Asked to clarify and provide a "yes" or "no" (or even a "maybe") on impeachment, Crider refused, asserting that her answer "absolutely responds to the question." Won’t

It is no surprise that top Democrats are afraid to speak forthrightly on the topic of impeachment. Any serious attempt to impeach or to censure President Bush could upset a political apple cart that is currently stacked in their favor. At the moment, they lead the GOP in the generic congressional ballot test by anywhere from 6 to 16 percentage points as this year’s midterm election approaches.

But as moderates cringe, more radical Democrats in both houses of Congress are advancing such resolutions anyway. Their symbolic efforts have delighted the Left, but could frighten voters away from supporting their party and energize conservatives later this year.

In the Senate, Sen. Russ Feingold (D.-Wis.) has so far drawn only two supporters — Senators Tom Harkin (D.-Iowa) and Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) — in his quest to censure President Bush over his wiretapping of international conversations for terrorist intelligence. The resolution benefits Feingold’s bid for his party’s 2008 presidential nomination, even if his actions embarrass his fellow Senate Democrats — at least three of whom are potential presidential rivals. Other Democrats have shied away from his resolution under the pretense that it requires further debate and consideration. Feingold decried his colleagues for "cowering."

In the House, the impeachment debate centers around a resolution by Rep. John Conyers (D.-Mich.) that would establish a bipartisan panel to look into impeaching the President for "the Administration’s intent to go to war before congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture," and "retaliating against critics."

Conyers’ impeachment resolution has attracted 29 co-sponsors, among them such proud left-wingers as Representatives Jim McDermott (D.-Wash.), Cynthia McKinney (D.-Ga.), and Bernie Sanders (I.-Vt.), but also moderate Rep. James Oberstar (D.-Minn.).

One early co-sponsor, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D.-Calif.), withdrew her name from the resolution on Jan. 31. Her spokeswoman told HUMAN EVENTS that Lofgren’s name had been added to that resolution in error, as well as to two other Conyers resolutions censuring President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. But even as she withdrew her name from the impeachment resolution, Lofgren would not entirely dismiss such talk as nonsense.

"Serious questions have been raised about President Bush’s actions in approving warrantless wiretaps by the NSA, as well as questions about both the Vice President’s and the President’s information that was provided to the Congress as the basis for the decision to initiate war in Iraq. These important questions need to be answered," said Lofgren. "This thorough analysis should, in my judgment, be undertaken before anything such as these resolutions are considered.

Lofgren’s and Pelosi’s approaches to impeachment are part of a larger pattern of ambivalence among all but the most radical Democrats in Congress. They remain wary of pursuing impeachment or censure against Bush, as it would risk alienating voters. This is why Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) happily consented to give Feingold 25 minutes to introduce his censure resolution March 13. Frist even attempted to force a vote on the resolution, but Democrats blocked him. Frist remarked on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show Friday that the resolution will emerge from committee March 27, at which time he wants a floor vote.

"It’s time to finally call them on what we’re saying out there, to show the difference between us and them," he said.

But Democrats also cannot afford to dismiss talk of impeachment, as they would risk alienating their base, where impeachment dreams have long been dancing. The left-wing group claims it gathered more than 336,000 petition signatures this week in support of Feingold’s resolution, over just three days. This is why neither Pelosi nor Senate Democrats can completely disavow the Feingold and Conyers resolutions.

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of the left-wing journal The Nation, wrote in her political blog in January that a 2006 victory by Democrats could lead to impeachment. "There are many reasons why it is crucial that the Democrats regain control of Congress in ’06," she wrote, "but consider this one: If they do, there may be articles of impeachment introduced …"

Vanden Heuvel is hardly alone. Already, local Democratic organizations in Wisconsin, Vermont, Oregon, and Minnesota have passed resolutions demanding impeachment, and the Los Angeles Democratic Central will soon consider a similar measure.

San Francisco’s elected Board of Supervisors voted 7-3 on March 1 to impeach, citing Bush’s wiretapping program and the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina. The Santa Cruz City Council had passed an identical measure in February. The town council of Aracata, Calif. has also voted to impeach Bush, as have the five Vermont towns of Brookfield, Dummerston, Marlboro, Newfane and Putney. Only in the town of Plattsburgh, N.Y. has such a resolution been defeated so far.

On the national level, left-wing activists have formed ImpeachPAC, which endorses and funds only candidates who support impeachment, and whose website features countless articles about Bush’s impeachment.

Meanwhile, in the judiciary, left-wing legal groups are suing the government over its wiretapping program, including the ACLU and the liberal Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). CCR, a group founded in 1966 to promote social change through litigation, currently represents approximately 500 prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay as enemy combatants. The group released a 144-page book in February containing essays on four possible articles of impeachment against the President.

Shayana Kadidal, a staff attorney for CCR, dismissed the idea of merely censuring Bush as useless and counterproductive. "If I were the President, I would want a resolution on censure rather than an impeachment process or hearings involving impeachment," he told HUMAN EVENTS. "Right now, we don’t know who the President was spying on–was it lawyers talking with their clients, or was it journalists talking to their sources? … Only impeachment hearings, or criminal investigations, are realistically going to reveal the details of these things."

Asked about congressional Democrats’ apparent lack of fervor for either censure or impeachment, Kadidal expressed hope that his group’s lawsuit in the Southern District Court of New York would help change the political environment. "We’re hoping the court is going to say that what was done is blatantly illegal, that there’s absolutely no question that the program is illegal," he said. "Once the court comes out and says that, we think that’s going to be an awful lot of cover for the Democrats to come forward and support impeachment."

Kadidal added, "The important thing is for Congress to take the issue seriously. They need to put some teeth on the investigation. Congress needs to take that seriously and start the investigatory process leading to impeachment going."