Puzzling Out Pelosi

By David Swanson

President Bush vetoed a war spending bill because it included a deadline for ending the war, albeit a non-binding one. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has proposed to hold a vote on Thursday on a new bill that will not include even a nonbinding “timeline.” The media and even activist groups have almost immediately and almost unanimously described this as standing tough and refusing to give in to Bush.

In fact, most of the media coverage has dropped any mention of the very idea of including a deadline. And most of the media coverage has never mentioned the bill’s inclusion, both in its previous version and the latest draft, of a requirement that Iraq pass an oil law expected to transfer control of much of that country’s oil to U.S. corporations. The peace movement, as well as Democratic Party Astroturf-roots groups masquerading as a peace movement, are well aware of the oil law, but are not saying much. The new bill, like the old one, does nothing to oppose an aggressive attack on Iran.

In defense of Pelosi, the media, half the country, and my sanity, it is true that, while giving Bush what he wants in terms of no deadline, the new bill arguably gives Bush something else he does not want. The bill only funds the war for a couple of months, after which another bill will have to be passed. And passage of the next bill is supposedly made dependent on Bush’s puppet government in Iraq meeting certain “benchmarks,” including handing over the oil. But is handing over the oil really something that Bush does not want? And is hoping the Republicans in Congress will turn against Bush in two months a better bet than working with the Democrats who already oppose him and hold a majority in both houses?

Pelosi is talking very, very tough, but talk is cheap, and at first glance her talk appears to be cover for a retreat. However, she made a remark on Tuesday that hints at a major advance against Bush in the near future, one perhaps more aggressive than Pelosi herself even recognizes. Pelosi said that if Bush attempts to overturn portions of a new law with a “signing statement,” Congress might take him to court.

What makes this so significant? Well, imagine that Congress actually votes to cut off the money and end the war. Senator Russ Feingold is proposing an amendment to the supplemental in the Senate that would do just that (with some big loopholes). Anyone who has been paying attention knows that Bush would illegally take funds from the Pentagon and continue the war regardless. Or, imagine that Congress should surprisingly follow former Senator Mike Gravel’s advice and pass a bill with a veto-proof majority to make it a felony to remain in Iraq. How would that differ from the many felonies already being committed by this White House, from illegal spying to torture to leaking classified information to lying to Congress? The point is that Congress cannot end this war without impeaching the President, but will only arrive at that realization if it makes up its mind to actually try to end the war. Unless…

Unless Pelosi jumps Congress ahead to a conflict with Bush over a signing statement attached to a weak bill that doesn’t end the war at all. And that is what she has threatened to do in her recent remark. Of course, Pelosi, if she’s even serious, is probably envisioning a long drawn-out court process that would allow the war to continue until November 2008. But the courts might not take long at all to refuse to take up the case. Or Pelosi might realize the danger presented by so many Bush appointees on the courts and not file the case. If either of those things happens, Pelosi will hunt around in her toolbox for a new tactic. How, she will ask herself, can I give Bush what he wants while seeming to attack him from a new angle? But she will bang her hand around in that almost empty toolbox, and with the help of many of her colleagues lift out the only tool left in there. That tool will be impeachment.

Of course, the need to challenge Bush on a signing statement would be increased, not reduced, by passing a tougher bill that actually seeks to end the war. If Bush vetoes enough of these bills, sooner or later he will sign one and rewrite it with a signing statement. So, there is no sliver-lining argument for supporting the phony tough-talk sell-out bill coming before the House on Thursday. And there is no reason to believe that Congress is completely ready for a fully honest confrontation with Bush. After all, this bill, like the previous version, contains bans on torture and on deploying troops longer than a year at a time – things that Congress has already passed and already watched Bush throw out with signing statements. The bill also contains language opposing the construction of permanent bases in Iraq, even though they’re largely built already and the chance of Bush abandoning them, already a solid zero, is decreased by the provision backing the oil law.

Even so, to have the Speaker of the House acknowledge awareness that the President overturns laws with signing statements is a huge step forward. And, why not include things that have already been signing-statemented, if you’re planning to stand and fight for them? While phoning Pelosi at (202) 225-0100 to denounce her funding of the war, why not surprise her by thanking her for her proposal to challenge a signing statement? She’ll be surprised to learn that people know what signing statements are and to hear that you care about them.

In the previous supplemental vote, 10 members of the House voted No because they opposed funding this war. They are heroes: http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/heroes In Thursday’s vote, their ranks may grow. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D., Calif.) has said she’ll stay strong. Rep. William Lacy Clay (D., Mo.) has said he will join the ranks of the heroes. He is also one of three Members already backing a bill, H. Res. 333, to impeach the Vice President.

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