Monday, July 16, 2007

Responding to Senator Feingold

Senator Russ Feingold wrote about the question of impeachment today on his Daily Kos blog and he invited comments from the public. Please hop over to Daily Kos and give the good Senator your opinion on the matter. Here is his statement:

Last week I came here to discuss how I plan to tighten my legislation to end the open-ended military mission in Iraq so the Administration would not be able to exploit it and keep tens of thousands of troops, if not more, stuck in the middle of an Iraqi civil war. I appreciated all of the responses and of course I noticed that many of you advocated for the impeachment of the President as well as the Vice President and the Attorney General. I’ve been hearing some of those same comments in Wisconsin.

It is clear that there are many people in this country, including myself, who demand accountability from this Administration for the terrible mess it made in Iraq and its egregious and even illegal power grabs throughout its six-plus years in power. I believe that the President and Vice President may well have committed impeachable offenses. But with so many important issues facing this country and so much work to be done, I am concerned about the great deal of time multiple impeachment trials would take away from the Congress working on the problems of the country. The time it would take for the House to consider articles of impeachment, and for the Senate to conduct multiple trials, would make it very difficult, if not impossible, for Congress to do what it was elected to do – end the war and address some of the other terrible mistakes this Administration has made over the past six and a half years.

While some have pointed to Republicans’ decision to impeach President Clinton, I am also concerned about the over-use of impeachment. And I am conscious of the fact that I would have a specific role to play as a sworn, impartial juror should an impeachment be tried in the Senate. If charges come to the Senate, I will approach them and the trial with the same seriousness that I had when I participated in the Clinton impeachment trial. I would not prejudge the case one way or the other should it come to this.

I fully respect the anger and frustration many Americans feel with this Administration. I share much of it. But on balance, I think Congress’s time is much better spent ending the war in Iraq, conducting the oversight that was absent for the last six years, and advancing progressive legislation.

UPDATE: I know that many of you disagree with my approach to this issue, but I thought it was important to make it clear where I’m coming from and explain why I am not calling for impeachment.

I certainly do believe in holding this Administration accountable and upholding the Constitution and the rule of law. That’s why last year I called for the President to be censured for his authorization of the illegal wiretapping program. I thought that was the appropriate course because it would have put the Senate on record in condemning the President’s wrongdoing. I still think that the censure resolution played an important role in focusing the public and the media’s attention on the issue. And I am working to make sure that Congress finally exercises its oversight responsibility by holding hearings and demanding information about the wiretapping program, the U.S. attorney firings and other abuses of power.

Many of you also wrote that if I recognize that the President and Vice President may have committed impeachable offenses, than it is our responsibility to impeach. As I pointed out, it is the role of the House to impeach, and it is the role of the Senate to try impeachments. But the Constitution left it up to the judgment of members of Congress whether or not moving forward with impeachment is best for the country.

Please keep the comments coming. I’ll do my best to read them all. I very much appreciate your honesty and directness. This exchange is very important to me.

I would love to respond to you, Senator Feingold. Thank you for providing the opportunity. I have tremendous respect for you, but I think you are wrong about impeachment. Before going any further, I want to make clear that I do not believe George Bush should be impeached because of his policies, destructive as they are. That is simply a matter of differences in political philosophy. He needs to be impeached because of his rampant disregard for the law. George Bush is not our king, he is our president and he must obey the laws just like the rest of us. As many people have been reminding us, we are a nation of laws, not of men.

There are, as you stated, many important issues facing this country that need to be resolved. It must be perfectly clear to you, however, that the Bush administration is responsible for either creating or exacerbating most of these issues in the first place. He has repeatedly demonstrated that he will fight any and all attempts to limit his power or to countermand his decisions (he is "the Decider," after all). To the detriment of everyone, Congress has been unable to accomplish much of anything this term to date because of Bush and his loyalists in Congress who consistently place loyalty to their party and president over loyalty to their country. While this in and of itself is not a reason for impeachment, it does illustrate quite clearly that very little can be accomplished as long as Bush and Cheney remain in office. Your argument that Congress needs to work on advancing progressive legislation is weak given what has transpired.

I also disagree with your assertion that the time it would take to conduct impeachment proceedings would prevent Congress from doing what it was elected to do (i.e. - end the Iraq War). The fact that one of Nancy Pelosi's first statements after becoming Speaker of the House was that impeachment is "off the table" indicates that she recognized that one of the reasons Democrats were thrust into power by the electorate was to investigate and prosecute Bush administration criminal activities up to and including impeachment.

Charlie Savage penned a timely article for today's Boston Globe that examines how effective Congress has been throughout history at stopping wars without cooperation from the President. His conclusion is not encouraging. When a president is determined to wage war, history reveals that Congress can do little to stop him. takes a look at this article as well. I put it to you that the only way to stop the war in Iraq is to remove from power the men responsible for starting it. Once the main impediments to ending the war are removed, then Congress can worry about fixing the countless other problems facing our nation.

While I understand your concern about the "over-use of impeachment" from a purely academic perspective, I don't think it makes much sense given the reality of the situation we now face. Impeachment is the only tool our founding fathers provided for dealing with an out of control executive like we have had for the past six years. Trying to work with Bush and Cheney like they are respectable, responsible statesmen simply will not work as the record clearly documents. What you are advocating is akin to saying that we are prosecuting too many people for murder, therefore we must be careful about how frequently we prosecute for murder in the future. If the next president is a Democrat who acts in a similar manner to Bush, I would expect Congress to impeach that President as well. This is not a partisan issue. Despite the unprecedented use of secrecy by this administration, there is a mountain of evidence to suggest massive criminal activity. Every time light is shown in previously dark places, suspicious if not downright illegal conduct is exposed. Bush has even demonstrated that he is willing to abuse his pardon authority to prevent investigation into his administration's activities. James Madison recognized the potential for abuse of the pardon power for this specific reason more than 200 years ago.

Your call to censure the President for his authorization of illegal wiretapping was a good idea at the time when Republicans still controlled both houses of Congress and many Americans were on the fence on the issue. Since that time, there has been a major change in public opinion. Polls now show that a plurality want Bush impeached and a majority want Cheney impeached. This is true despite the fact that commercial news organizations (i.e. - the liberal press) such as Fox News, the Washington Times, and the Wall Street Journal editorial pages attempt to poison the minds of millions of Americans with their blatant lies, half-truths, and propaganda. Since that time we have also seen that censure would do nothing to stop Bush from continuing to pursue his disastrous policies.

It's relatively easy to construct a case for impeachment. The illegal activities we have heard about are likely dwarfed by the quantity and seriousness of the illegal activities we don't know about. What is not often examined by those of us demanding it is the consequences of impeachment. It's easy to overlook the fact that Nancy Pelosi has a conflict of interest in that she would become President if both George Bush and Dick Cheney were impeached. However, this does not diminish her responsibility to fulfill her oath to uphold the Constitution. The American people are well aware of what has transpired over the past six years. With the exception of the contingency of right-wing authoritarians who want to make George Bush king for life, we recognize the threat and we are demanding action. We are demanding equal justice under the law. We are demanding our country back.

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