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Congress should impeach and convict Bush and Cheney

Published: Monday, December 1, 2008

Updated: Monday, December 1, 2008 08:12

BushCheny

MCT

Now that the election's done, no further excuses will hold. The House of Representatives should impeach President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for high crimes and misdemeanors, and the Senate should convict them, thereby removing them from power. Thus, until Barack Obama's January inauguration, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) should discharge the duties of United States president.

This idea is, I admit, not likely to gain much support. The current administration is only weeks away from completing its term, and one must take the upcoming holidays into account; no congressional quorums will be achievable for a good chunk of that remaining time. Happily, however, while the fiasco of the Clinton impeachment effort spanned several government agencies over a course of years, the House is not required to wait for the executive branch to appoint a special prosecutor, to wait for the officials' formal findings or even to hold any investigative sessions at all. The Constitution, after all, does not set any threshold for impeachable offenses.

Let us recall that the House of Representatives impeached Andrew Johnson by a vote of 126 to 47 for relatively nominal legal reasons; the chief impetus behind that effort was a congressional majority's simple conviction that the president was unworthy of his office, and the Senate came within a single vote of removing him. Well, I say that Bush and Cheney are not fit to stay in power for another minute. The House should draw up a list of charges, or use one of those already circulating, and after a minimum of debate over a course of days, put the motion to the floor. Up or down, representatives: What'll it be?

We should not entertain any protests that there's a dearth of items from which to draw up articles of impeachment. For those who insist upon a clear instance of criminality, there's the administration's open history of authorizing warrantless wiretapping in defiance of federal law, to say nothing of the Plame identity leak. Those open to a more philosophical definition of "high crimes" could fault Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's prison sentence and his perennial stonewalling of the most rudimentary of congressional oversight. Finally, those who (rightly) believe that the legislative branch should be the nation's most powerful could make a compelling case for impeachment due to incompetence -- and this is merely the beginning of what could easily be a very long list. This time, in short, the Clinton-era anti-impeachment cry that the proposed punishment is too heavy for the crime will simply not do.

From the start of the Democrats' continuing House majority status in January 2007, Pelosi has been the primary obstacle to impeachment hearings. Famously declaring the prospect "off the table," she justified this policy in unabashedly pragmatic and partisan terms, arguing that because Senate Republicans would never supply the votes needed to convict Bush and Cheney, the Democratic Party's foremost concern should be to pass whatever sound legislation it could until the White House and Capitol Hill were secured in this November's elections. Some citizens have loudly protested that Pelosi is derelict in her duties by refraining from holding impeachment hearings for merely practical reasons, but while I was always sympathetic to the principles of this appeal, I never fully agreed. As an elected leader of her party's representatives, Pelosi is answerable to them in such matters as much as she is to her constituents in California's eighth district. If, as was certainly the case, House Democrats had no stomach for an impeachment attempt, Pelosi would have been little able to press such a case even if she wanted to.

But now the speaker (who happens to be my own congressional representative) has what she wanted: an incoming Democratic White House and wide margins of congressional control. If she believes that Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached, she should ram through a vote as soon as possible. (Let those who want to protest that as the first in line to the presidency after Cheney, Pelosi would be pursuing an unworthy conflict of interest, protest away.) There could be, of course, no hope of the Senate actually removing the disastrous duo, but a House vote to impeach Bush and Cheney could have a fighting chance, and since the matter's ultimate conclusion would be preordained, what harm could there be in it?

Some might ask why our representatives should bother casting such an effectively symbolic vote. For one, it could deal the president's ego a crushing blow that might forever wipe that smirk off his face, never to publicly recur -- a worthy pursuit in and of itself, I say. But when our grandchildren edge their hoverpods towards ours and ask what the country did to repudiate the worst president in its history, we could not only say that a mere seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks, we elected a half-black man named Hussein to succeed him -- we could also say that, for perfectly moral and principled reasons, we impeached the national disgrace, and his repellent vice president, too.

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Matthew Diamante is a senior majoring in history.

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