By David Swanson
A private off-the-record meeting was held on Capitol Hill on Wednesday that included House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Subcommittee on the Constitution Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Judiciary Committee Member and advocate for opening Cheney impeachment hearings Robert Wexler, and several other committee members, activists, staffers, and former staffers from the Watergate days. I wasn’t there, so I’m free to talk about what happened.
Wexler proposed opening impeachment hearings on Cheney. Conyers committee staffer Perry Appelbaum laid out instead a schedule for non-impeachment hearings over the coming 11 months. Conyers’ notion is to hold non-impeachment hearings on “the imperial presidency” and run out the clock. I guess that would be sort of like a dozen police officers paying a non-arresting visit to the home of a mass murderer. Seriously? An “imperial” president, and you don’t impeach him, and you don’t retire or commit suicide? This baffles me.
Now, there are topics that have not been touched in congressional investigations over the past 12 months, such as the Iraq war lies. But a lot of the other topics have already been gone over, just absent the I word. What will differentiate the new non-impeachment hearings from the past year’s worth of non-impeachment hearings? Of course, getting witnesses to show up and testify would be a change, but without impeachment, nothing will compel any witnesses to testify who have previously refused.
One of the big topics this group wants to go after is the firing of U.S. Attorneys, and – contrary to the position expressed today by the Democratic leadership – this group was in agreement that Congress should vote on contempt citations for Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten. But, even understanding that nothing was going to budge on that any time soon, most of the Congress Members present still refused to back Wexler’s proposal.
The chief opponent of impeachment hearings was not Conyers. It was Nadler. Nadler argued strongly against any use of the I word. He argued that Congress should focus on passing bills, even though they will be vetoed, and then pass them again next year.
Arguing for keeping open the possibility of impeachment hearings developing out of the non-impeachment hearings was Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson. Daniel Ellsberg was also among those backing impeachment hearings.
Conyers and some subgroup plan to take their proposal for non-impeachment imperial abuse hearings to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to request her blessing. She is, of course, most likely to share Nadler’s position. She may have given Nadler his position, or perhaps it originated with Hillary Clinton, but it sounds most likely that Nadler has simply been speaking for himself: he honestly opposes impeachment hearings, even for emperors.
Nadler’s constituents have been among the most dedicated activists, many of them repeatedly sitting in at his office for impeachment and going to jail. One group has just set up a website solely to allow people all over the country to Email Nadler on this issue: http://asknadler2impeach.org
Nadler chairs the most relevant subcommittee and could open Cheney impeachment hearings in that subcommittee tomorrow if he chose to do so. The full House voted to send articles of impeachment on Cheney to the Judiciary Committee last November.
Wednesday’s meeting was handicapped, of course, because no-one says aloud what the reasons are for opposing impeachment. That Cheney and Bush have committed impeachable offenses is universally understood. But the arguments against impeaching them (other priorities, bipartisanship, we don’t have the votes, etc.) usually sound like lame cover for whatever the real reason is. I suspect the real reason is built into Nadler’s plan of wasting a year in order to pass bills next year. He assumes that in 2009 there will be either a better Congress or a better president (he backs Hillary Clinton), or both.
Sadly, history says otherwise. For 230 years, the party that brings impeachment wins, and the party that fails to do so when it’s called for loses. Conyers was there when the Democrats moved to impeach Nixon and then won big. He was there when they refused to impeach Reagan and then lost. And most of the current committee was there when the Republicans impeached Clinton against the will of the public for a non-impeachable offense and still won both houses of Congress and the White House.
When the Democrats held back from impeachment during Iran Contra, they lost the next elections. When the Democrats led the effort to investigate and impeach Nixon, they won big in the next election, even though Ford was running as an incumbent. When the Republicans tried to impeach Truman, they got what they wanted out of the Supreme Court and then won the next elections. Articles of impeachment have been filed against 10 presidents, usually by Republicans, and usually with electoral success following. When the Republicans impeached Clinton, impeachment was actually unpopular with the public. Even so, the Republicans lost far fewer seats than is the norm for a majority party at that point in its tenure. Two years later, they lost seats in the Senate, which had acquitted, but maintained their strength in the House, with representatives who had led the impeachment charge winning big.
Parties that seek to impeach are not punished at the next election. In fact, they frequently improve their position — as evidenced by the Democrats in 1974, Republicans in 1952, and all the way back to the Whigs of last century. In every election back to 1842 where House members of an opposition party to a sitting president have — as a whole or a significant caucus within the party — proposed impeachment of the president, that opposition party retained or improved its position in the House at the following election. There is no instance of voters responding to a significant impeachment effort by sweeping its advocates out of office. In fact, history points in a different direction, suggesting that voters frequently reward parties for taking the Constitution and the rule of law seriously.
And we wouldn’t wait until the next election to reward members of Congress who put impeachment back in the Constitution. The minute Pelosi or Conyers or Nadler opens the door to impeachment hearings, every activist organization in this country and around the world that works on behalf of peace or justice or the rule of law will flood them with flowers, donations, volunteers, and support.
And if Fox News says one word, we will shut it down.