Of Congressional Surrenders

Dick Cheney and Jim Wright Saved Reagan: What Can Cheney and Nancy Pelosi Do for Bush?

By David Swanson

For almost five months, Congress has gone out of its way to avoid impeachment in order to get things done, and has thereby managed to have signed into law all sorts of wonderful legislation. Er, well, actually not so much legislation that you would really call wonderful. Well, OK, actually not a single bill, if you want to be picky about it. And of course, any useful legislation sent to the President is likely to be vetoed or signing-statemented.

From July 15, 1974, when the House Judiciary Committee began debating impeachment, it was less than a month before Nixon resigned on August 9. What if it were to take the current Congress five times that long? It would still be done by now had they begun in January. And it could still easily be done in 2007 starting now.

Of course, there were investigations going on prior to July 1974, but they took up no more of Congress’ time than have the investigations of the past five months. In fact, in the months prior to taking up Nixon’s impeachment in the Judiciary Committee, the Congress raised the minimum wage, created the Endangered Species Act, and ended a war. And it was able to do such things, not because it had not yet taken up impeachment, but precisely because the threat of impeachment was on the table.

Also, of course, Congress was only able to work up the will to impeach Nixon because Vice President Spiro Agnew had resigned. This time around, Congress will have to move on impeachment of Cheney until he either resigns or is removed (which should be doable by summer recess), and then turn to Bush. There is far more than enough time to do so. What helps out tremendously this time around is the abundance of evidence.

Has Bush announced his intention to violate numerous laws? The signing statements are on the White House website.

Has Bush authorized spying programs knowing they violated the law and the Bill of Rights? He’s on videotape lying about it for years. He’s on videotape confessing to it. A federal court has already ruled what he’s done a felony.

Have Bush and Cheney threatened an aggressive war on Iran? They’re both on videotape doing so.

Was Bush criminally negligent during Hurricane Katrina? He’s on videotape being warned of the danger. He’s on videotape claiming he was never warned.

Have Bush and Cheney used unlawful detentions and torture? They and their staffs have defended these policies on video and in writing. The practice of detaining without charge and the numerous victims of it are undisputed public knowledge. Evidence of torture is voluminous and indisputable and includes public photographs.

Did Bush and Cheney intentionally mislead the Congress and the public into the invasion and occupation of Iraq? They are on videotape doing so, and the evidence that they knew exactly what they were doing is overwhelming: http://afterdowningstreet.org/keydocuments

Failure to pursue impeachment simply means nobody gets impeached. Announcing that impeachment is off the table means nobody gets impeached, nothing gets done that the President doesn’t want done, and the President continues to violate the law and probably escalates his abuses. At least, this seems to be the lesson from both the presidency of Ronald Reagan and that of George W. Bush.

Going into the 100th Congress in January of 1987, Speaker of the House Jim Wright announced that impeachment was off the table. “That is the last thing I wanted to do,” Wright said. “Ronald Reagan had only two years left in his term. I was not going to allow a procedure that would lead to his impeachment in his final year in office.” Instead, Wright allowed dangerous precedents to be set, brutal crimes to be committed, and the Bush presidential dynasty to be established. Some deal.

Wright’s House held hearings on Iran-Contra, a scandal involving clear impeachable offenses, but it did so with two hands tied behind its back. This is how Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein describe it in “Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency”:

“The Democrats began with a disadvantage that resulted from their deference to the executive. Wright had lost leverage by making it clear that impeachment was not an option. The committee ignored important evidence, including recordings of Reagan’s phone conversations with foreign leaders involved in third-party funding [of illegal activities in Nicaragua]. While his expertise was unquestioned, [Lee] Hamilton’s desire to be fair, and his middle-of-the-road orientation, made him an easy mark for Republican House members, who wanted the committee to fail. Hamilton worried about the potential damage to the government from an activist investigation that would lead to impeachment. ‘The real question was whether Reagan would be able to govern,’ he recalls today.

“But it wasn’t enough for the Republicans that the Democrats had declared that they would not pursue impeachment. Their goal was to prevent any damage to the Reagan administration….And [Congressman Dick] Cheney had a broader agenda: to ensure that the committee would in no way diminish the powers of the executive branch….

“The first fight was over how long the hearings would last. The Republicans wanted it over quickly – ‘like tomorrow,’ one former staffer jokes. ‘Did I know Dick wanted to shorten it? Yes, I knew that,’ says Hamilton. The Democrats, fearful of being labeled overly partisan for extending the proceedings into the 1988 election year, agreed to an artificial ten-month deadline to complete the investigation and issue a report. It was an invitation to the administration to stall while simultaneously burying the committee under mountains of useless information….”

Toward the end, the committee turned up new information and staffers wanted to continue, but Dick Cheney was opposed. Cheney also championed conditions for Col. Oliver North’s testimony that included granting him immunity, not deposing him beforehand, limiting the length of the testimony, barring recalling him later, and allowing him to produce requested documents less than a week before testifying. In short, Cheney led the effort that saved Reagan from impeachment.

Jim Wright led the Democratic surrender, offering the same arguments that Speaker Nancy Pelosi offers today. As a result, the Democrats lost the next elections badly, many future members of the George W. Bush administration went unpunished, and Jim Wright was rewarded by Cheney who accused him of ethics violations and hounding him until he resigned in disgrace.

Cheney’s mission, then and now, was to transfer powers from the Congress to the White House. He has, of course, been able to vastly expand on his successes in that regard during the past six years. Leading the Democratic surrender for the past year has been Pelosi. When she announced in May of 2006 that impeachment was “off the table,” Bush and Cheney knew that nothing could touch them, all threats would be bluffs, and criminal activities could be escalated with no repercussions. Did Bush and Cheney thank Pelosi for her consideration? No, they proceeded to fire and hire US attorneys based on their willingness to press false charges against Democrats. And they escalated the war.

Those who do not learn from history are condemned to lead the Democratic Party.

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