The Corpse Wiggles: Live Blogging Congress (Six Months Late) Voting on Contempt for Two of the Many
By David Swanson
I know a lot of you may hold Congress in contempt, but on Thursday Congress voted to hold someone else in contempt. Here’s what happened:
10:01 They are praying to their lord.
10:04 They are pledging to their flag under God.
10:04 Rep. Grijalva is lauding the guy who led the prayer and the late Congressman Lantos.
10:06 Rep. Marsha Blackburn is hyping a college basketball team. That thing Congress prays to had better help them if they ever touch steroids!
10:07 Rep. Earl Blumenauer is denouncing Bush-Cheney proposal to slash funding for public broadcasting, which he says will deny public broadcasting to rural areas.
10:08 Rep. Kay Granger is pushing for quick passage of the bill to grant immunity to corporate criminals and a White House that engage in unconstitutional and illegal spying.
10:10 A Congressman C-Span does not identify says more people are killed by gun violence in the US than in Iraq.
10:12 Rep. Peter Hoekstra says BE AFRAID of Islamofascists NOW!! And quickly pass a bill to grant immunity to corporate criminals and a White House that engage in unconstitutional and illegal spying.
10:13 A Congressman C-Span does not identify is talking about deaths (90,000 per year) from infections in hospitals.
10:14 Rep Ted Poe says BE AFRAID OF ORGANIZED MEXICAN ILLEGAL TERRORIST KIDNAPPERS!! (C-span always identifies these Republican screamers.)
10:15 Rep ? says we MUST TODAY quickly pass the Senate bill to grant immunity to corporate criminals and a White House that engage in unconstitutional and illegal spying.
10:16 Rep ? says BE AFRAID OF RADICAL TERRORISTS and quickly pass the Senate bill to grant immunity to corporate criminals and a White House that engage in unconstitutional and illegal spying.
10:18 Hoyer and Van Hollen are going to run this thing.
10:19 And that’s it: they’re in recess until after a memorial service honoring the late Congressman Tom Lantos, underway in the Capitol.
I did, by the way, write the headline for this article before I knew it would involve an actual corpse.
10:25 Did Pelosi just cite a book of the Bible called Ecclesiasticus?
10:35 Who planned this service and included a Secretary of State who just lied her head off to Congress yesterday about the grounds for a war that has taken a million lives? This is how you convince people that a defender of human rights just died?
10:39 And then you bring up the Foreign Minister of Israel, a nation that launches aggressive attacks, occupies foreign territory, and effectively maintains an Apartheid state? This is how you convince people that a defender of human rights just died?
10:43 Do no other nations get to speak? Pelosi, Condi, Israel, and family members? Is that it? Is the defender of human rights we are honoring the same Chairman Lantos we watched last year run hearings like this one?
10:48 Hoyer says Lantos was “a giant.” “God blessed America when he gave us Tom Lantos.”
10:56 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is praising Lantos.
11:01 Joe Biden praising Lantos. “My God” “My God” “My God”. Biden sounds like he really cared about Lantos.
11:06 C-Span is switching back to House coverage as service for Lantos continues.
11:09 Apparently they still have 12 minutes to finish the vote on adjourning.
11:17 We’re back to the Lantos service where Bono is singing “All You Need Is Love.”
11:29 Elie Wiesel is praising Lantos.
11:45 It’s still going. A Rabbi is praying.
11:47 It looks like it’s over.
12:01 After six months and all morning, the House will now debate for 1 hour the two resolutions, one to hold Miers and Bolten in contempt, the other to authorize the Judiciary Committee to go to court in an attempt to enforce the contempt citations (without of course using the only appropriate measure available, namely impeachment of the president).
Louise Slaughter opens the debate with concern for precedent for future presidents. She makes clear this is about the president and bogus claims of executive privilege. She also addresses fear of losing in the courts by suggesting that if that occurs, Congress can pass a law to fix the process. That’s actually debatable, I think, and not just because Bush would veto or signing-statement or ignore any such fix.
12:06 Rep Diaz-Balart is whining about having to leave Lantos’ funeral early.
12:07 Now he’s complaining that no debate is being allowed on each contempt resolution (other than the debate on the “Rule” that he is now engaged in and wasting his alloted time in). He’s right that the House should debate each contempt citation. The Democrats always, ALWAYS back away from a fight.
12:09 Bizarrely Diaz-Balart argues against contempt because it could lose in court and that would shift power from Congress to the White House. (And what would refusing to try accomplish other than the same result?)
12:11 Diaz-Ballart also wants to know why this is now an emergency after 8 months, and is shifting the topic (despite his whining about not getting a chance to debate) to the urgent need to grant retroactive immunity to violators of FISA and the 4th Amendment. He’s going on and on, failing to debate what he complains he has no opportunity to debate. This sort of transparent bluff ALWAYS fools the Democrats. This is bad news for today’s vote.
12:14 John Conyers submits into the record today’s New York Times editorial. He says he’s negotiated for 8 months. He doesn’t say that negotiation has been with Pelosi. He says this is about whether the American public can trust that its laws are impartially enforced by the US Justice Department. Some, Conyers says, think the stakes are so high that Congress should not risk losing. But, says Conyers, if we countenance a process where our subpoenas can be ignored, then we’ve already lost. (Of course that loss is assured by Conyers’ refusal to begin impeachment. Conyers also encourages Republicans who claim to be concerned about the powers of Congress to contact the White House Counsel’s office, which – Conyers says – only offered him a process with no on-the-record testimony.
12:20 Lamar Smith is talking about the Immunity for Illegal Spying bill, which is not the motion on the table. Who’s running this show? Where’s parliamentary procedure?
12:23 Brad Miller is comparing Bush’s and Cheney’s powers to those of the king overthrown by the American Revolution. (Where the hell is he on impeaching them?)
12:27 Nancy Pelosi is referring to the Constitution, the document from which she has stripped the right of impeachment. Today, she says, “we are honoring our oath of office.” (Mmmm, I’d say more like remembering it exists but not actually reading it.) She’s quoting former Republican Congress Member Mickey Edwards on the nonpartisan nature of the responsibility to defend the powers of Congress. (Does she suppose he wouldn’t be moving on impeachment??) She says Bush and Cheney are engaged in hubris taken to the ultimate degree. (Why is the response then taking the form of a toothless resolution six months delayed rather than the ultimate degree of accountability?)
12:34 David Dreier is hypocritically arguing against contempt on grounds of preserving Congress’s power, because he predicts a loss in the courts. This suicidal bluff is no doubt part of what has motivated the 6-month delay on this thing. Dreier says the idea that Congress is a co-equal branch of government could be lost. (Of course the Constitution does not give any other branch powers remotely approaching equality with those of the strongest branch: the Congress, which is now co-dependent, not even “co-equal”).
12:36 Hoyer says that in 1885 a book was published by Woodrow Wilson that said oversight was as important as legislation or perhaps more so. Again he, Hoyer, not the 1885 book, says “the other co-equal branch”. Hoyer, who almost certainly wouldn’t back impeachment to save 10 million lives unless Pelosi approved, says he is interested in preserving the Constitution. I’m torn on whether all this pseudo-Constitution-defense rhetoric is a good development or not. Hoyer quotes the New York Times editorial, including the words “imperial president.” Hoyer is quoting Bruce Fein but not mentioning his support for impeachment. (Makes you wonder why they aren’t letting Wexler speak.)
12:43 James Sensenbrenner claims the Democrats are failing to engage in proper “bipartisanship” an are “pandering to the left.” He also pushes the threat of losing in court. His whole concern (other than that crap about bipartisanship) is supposedly to maintain the power and image of Congress. He describes the proposal as “throwing the president’s chief of staff in jail.” (Wouldn’t that be nice? It’s called inherent contempt, and Congress could do it tomorrow if it chose.)
12:45 Michael Arcuri says this is about whether we have laws in this country. Is the Constitution going to be followed? he asks. Well, not if he doesn’t back impeachment hearings.
12:46 Lundgren again complains there’s not enough time to talk about the substance of the issues, and then proceeds to talk about the need to get immunity to criminal telecoms.
12:49 Linda Sanchez, Chair of the Subcommittee, says that since last March she and Conyers have sought documents and testimony from the White House related to the firings of U.S. Attorneys with no cooperation from the White House. She uses the term “Nixonian.” The assertions of executive privilege are improper and not legal, she says. If the executive branch is allowed to simply ignore subpoenas, she says, we will have abdicated our role of oversight. (Sadly, that’s already been done by taking impeachment off the table).
12:52 Chris Cannon, ranking Republican on the subcommittee, claims he cares about the rights of Congress. He asks Conyers why these subpoenas are needed, claiming there is no evidence of any involvement by Miers or Bolten.
12:56 Conyers replies that he has no evidence and has made no accusations, and is seeking information in order to exercise oversight on the question of whether the DOJ has been politicized.
12:57 John Yarmuth says the Democrats were elected in 2006 in order to restore the checks and balances of the Constitution and hold the President accountable. He debunks the myth that the election was entirely about the war. But he refuses to use the word he must have in mind, the word people were shouting so loudly: impeachment! If we don’t challenge the president on this issue we will have surrendered our prerogatives and that is the worst fate, he says, adding that Congress’s low approval rating is not do to Congress doing too much but to its doing too little to reinstate the Constitution.
1:00 Steve Chabot is not even pretending to talk about the motion on the table. He’s just pushing the immunization of criminal violators of the 4th Amendment.
1:02 Conyers now says he has 100 pages of wrong-doing by the DOJ, including possibility that decisions to fire or retain US Attorneys were based on the partisan politics of their prosecutions, and the possibility of lies to Congress.
1:04 Betty Sutton is shouting about the Constitutional responsibility to pursue this. But she does not support impeachment hearings. In fact, they have not allowed a single supporter of impeachment to speak.
1:06 I take it back. Steve Cohen is now denouncing Miers’ refusal to appear when subpoenaed. “There is no such thing as an imperial presidency, and no one is above the law.”
1:07 Wexler: No one is immune from the rule of law: Miers, Bolten, Bush, and Cheney! Not since Watergate has a prez so openly disregarded the will of Congress. (He’s rolling!) The power of the Congressional subpoena safeguards our liberty. It protects against an all powerful president. Wexler closed by speaking of upholding the Constitution. The speaker then admonished him or someone for wearing a “communicative badge.” I did not see what Wexler or anyone else was wearing.
1:10 Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, arrogant opponent of impeachment, favors passing contempt and says “Enough is enough.” (My sentiments exactly, Debbie. Get it together.)
1:11 Shiela Jackson-Lee and W-Shultz both refer to the “equal” branch of government. Have they read the Constitution? She says Conyers has the patience of Job. (And look how that worked out for him.) Let the Constitution stand, she concludes.
1:12 Diaz-Balart is repeating himself with the same complaint about not getting a chance to debate the substance, a topic he continues to scrupulously avoid. He then proposes to adjourn and request a quorum for the vote. This will kill 15 minutes.
1:42 That was a long 15 minutes, but the motion failed 400 to 2. Fans of bipartisanship should be dancing in the streets!
1:46 John Boehner is pushing the spying bill and denouncing contempt as a political stunt that detracts from protecting Americans from TERRORISTS WHO WANT TO KILL THEM. Pelosi, he says, has reached the height of irresponsibility. The president will delay his trip to Africa and the Republicans in Congress delay their vacations (excuse me, district work sessions) in order to get immunity to criminal corporations. (Talk about obvious bluffs!) Boehner asks Republicans to not vote on the contempt rule and instead to get up and leave.
1:48 The elephants are all filing out, followed by a crew with brooms and giant dustpans. “How can you not vote?” says some bewildered female Democrat on microphone.
1:49 Louise Slaughter quotes Boehner from 1998 on the need to end stonewalling and allow the American people to find out what happens in THEIR White House. The American people have a right to know, the early version of Boehner insisted.
1:51 Hoyer is talking about upholding the law. (How about proceeding with the vote?) And he’s denouncing the Republicans for their maneuvers on the FISA bill in the Senate and House. (What about CONTEMPT, Steny? Why have you changed the subject to what the jerks who left the room want you to talk about?) Steny says every single member of Congress wants to keep Americans safe. The Dems cheer for him. (But do those who support the occupation of Iraq which is making us so much less safe win Steny’s approval too? What about those who ignore global warming? Why do Democrats ONLY know how to play defense?)
1:58 Dreier still in the room interrupts to debate the spying nonsense with Hoyer. Hoyer replies to him that there is no urgency re FISA because the law has been on the books for 30 years. The Democrats cheer.
2:00 Slaughter is talking about the Constitution, and calls the question. It passes on voice vote. Republicans request recorded vote. They did not request a quorum, but the question of whether there will be one remains. C-Span keeps shutting off the microphone, as the room is full of talking and shouting.
THE VOTE STARTS
2:02 A 15-minute vote begins. The Republicans are outside holding a press conference. Pelosi is holding one as well.
NOTE: While Congress has had no option other than impeachment available to it for a long time, it may have to face that fact more quickly than we thought. An endless court battle might delay some congress members’ hunts for their missing spines. A failure to get a quorum today coud speed up the process. Impeachment cannot be vetoed or signing statemented and does not depend on a bipartisan quorum. John Conyers alone can get it underway.
PELOSI DOES PRESS CONFERENCE ON REPUBLICANS’ CHOSEN TOPIC
2:04 Pelosi’s press conference: she is talking about everything but contempt, including TERRORISM and FISA. She is speaking exactly as the minority wants her to on the topic they have chosen for her. She’s giving an academic discourse on FISA details and “respectfully disagreeing” with Bush’s dictatorial assertions. (Where is your passion, Nancy?)
2:07 Pelosi gets to topic of contempt. Lots of regret and reservation and last resort talk, which inspires nobody.
2:09 She shifts seemlessly into talking about valentine’s day and heart disease and the American Heart Association.
2:10 media questions to Pelosi on FISA. She gave them that topic, so I can’t blame them.
2:12 still FISA questions, focused on Bush delaying his Africa trip. Pelosi stutters her uneloquent and uninspiring nitpicking responses.
2:13 a reporter asks why Republicans walked out on contempt vote. Pelosi, to her credit, says “Why don’t you ask them what their point is,” and then makes her point and goes back to quotting Mickey Edwards.
2:14 back to FISA questions
2:15 Someone brings up the election and Pelosi, incredibly, insists on keeping to the topic of FISA. (Whose topic was that, Nancy?)
2:16 Someone asks about the next Iraq Occupation funding bill, and Pelosi struggles for a response and assures the media that the military has everything it needs until June or July. (Whew. I’m relieved.)
2:17 back to FISA questions.
2:18 reporter gets in her election question: does Pelosi support allowing superdelegates to decide the primary. Pelosi says no and explains that superdelegates are there in case there is a need to make a change in what happens, but not to change what happens. Clear as mud.
2:19 More FISA questions. OK, now I’m starting to blame the media. They just do not care about the contempt issue. (Pseudo-Impeachment advocates take note, please. The corporate media does not care about contempt the way it would have to care about impeachment.)
THE VOTE ENDS
2:24 The rule, including the two contempt citations and the authorization to take it to court, passed with few Republicans voting. The vote was 223 Yes, 32 No, and 1 Present.
Onward to impeachment or eternal delay and pretense.