Mighty Conyers Has Struck Out

|

Before the election, conservatives tried to get some electoral mileage out of attacking prospective House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers. The rumor was that he'd been planning impeachment since the start of the Iraq war. National Review's Byron York pored over Conyers' statements and promised that he'd try to impeach Bush.

If he wins that seat, and he moves toward impeachment — and how could he not, if he believes the president broke not one, not two, not three, but 26 laws and regulations? — observers who haven't been paying attention might express surprise or call such action precipitous. To that, Conyers can answer, correctly, that no one should be surprised.

Be surprised. Conyers has cooled off on the idea; Bush won't be impeached. Jack Lessenberry from Detroit's Metro Times explains why:

Impeachment was off the table. What was needed instead was "vigorous investigative oversight." The word was that Gentleman John had been leaned on by the leadership and asked to cool it. They didn't want to unnerve moderate voters across the nation for whom that might be too radical a step.

Conyers doesn't deny that he felt some heat. Nevertheless, he indicated impeachment was a nonstarter now, for all the right reasons.

"There isn't time. There simply isn't time to get it done, and we have so many other things we need to do in this Congress," he said. "Health care, the economy. Ending the war. And getting ready for 2008."

Spoken like a guy who's been taken to Room 101. Of course there'd be time to impeach the president. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson happened in March 1968 1868, only a year before he left office. The Clinton impeachment started in 1998 and rolled over into 1999. But the farce of that impeachment has probably wrecked the whole process for decades to come; it's associated with vindictiveness now, instead of removing a president who's committed crimes and has to go.

OK, I'll go where Conyers won't: The only way to salvage impeachment in the next two years is by making it sound completely non-vindictive. Impeach Bush and Cheney, but promise that the nominees to replace them won't be Democrats like Nancy Pelosi. Nominate James Baker III and Tom Kean. That way there's "accountability" for the botched Iraq war, no one has to suffer while Bush winds down his term, and the new president and VP will be the favorites of the DC chattering classes who clutch their pearls at the word "impeachment."

(I'm not 100 percent serious about this, incidentally.)

NEXT: The Senate Is Ready for Its Closeup with Hollywood—And Tech Heads Are Pushing Away

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “(I’m not 100 percent serious about this, incidentally.)”

    Hehe, that won’t stop the doofuses like John from whining about what a baby-killing socialist lefty you are. >:-]

  2. Hey, I love this site, but what kind of plan is this? If Bush and Cheney are impeached and removed one at a time, the President (either Bush or Cheney after succeeding to the office), not the Congress, controls the nomination of a new vice-president. If they’re impeached and removed at the same time, then Pelosi takes over as a matter of statutory succession. Are you suggesting that Congress amend the Presidential Succession Act to name James Baker specifically as the person who takes over as President, and offer up a Constitutional Amendment to make Tom Kean the vice-president in the event of vacancy?

    I suppose Pelosi could take over, nominate James Baker as VP, then resign, but now Pelosi’s out of a job for two years.

    I don’t think you’ve thought this one through 🙂

  3. Darn, you’ve edited. Now I look like a doofus.

    I suppose that was inevitable…

  4. A rhetorical shift, nothing more. “Vigorous investigative oversight” is about bringing the misdeeds of the administration to light. Once the public is howling, the Democrats can decide whether they’re howling loud enough to support impeachment.

  5. Y’all remember that impeachment is the same thing as “indictment” right? And that they’d still have to be convicted and removed by the Senate? Because even presuming you could get the votes in the House to do it, I’m not sure the thin margin in the Senate would support a 2/3 vote.

  6. if my recollection serves me at all, i believe the prez in 1968 was richard milhouse nixon, who resigned in 1974 w/o being impeached. andrew johnson succeeded Lincoln which would have been in the 19th century, so 1868

  7. Also, Mr. Weigel, in 1968 Andrew Johnson had been dead for 93 years. Methinks you’re off by a century.

  8. Uh, I’m pretty sure that Johnson wasn’t impeached in 1968. Yeah, just a century off. I’ll go over here a pick some other nits.

  9. Damn your eyes Timothy. You beat me to the punch.

  10. Initiating impeachment proceedings is perhaps the only thing that could cost the Democrats the presidency in 2008.

    Why try to hang the Republicans when they are doing such a good job of it on their own?

  11. With all his talk about Andrew Johnson, it’s clear that Weigal is just shilling for former House Speaker Schuyler Colfax!

  12. Bush won’t be impeached.

    God Damn it.

    David is right that the problem with impeachment is the shift in symbolism. Impeachment was intended to precede criminal charges. We need to resurrect that purpose. I’m not interested in a symbolic slap on the wrist. Bush et al need to be convicted.

  13. The dems will be making a political mistake if they insist on making a big circus of Bush administration failings. It may excite a wing of their base, but it annoys most other people and can convey the sense that they can’t move forward.

    Truth and Reconciliation style shows are for apartheid, not for a president you didn’t like.

  14. Impeacher: “Convict them!”

    Sanity: “Convict who?”

    Impeacher: “All of them!”

    Sanity: “Uhh ok. Convict all of them for what?”

    Impeacher: “What the hell does that matter? Global warming or some shit, like, WMD dude. Jesus, they done a lot wrong man. Corporations and oil and Haliburton and all that other stuff, you neocon babykiller. The writngs on the wall man, g, you just don’t want to see it. Exxon profits and shit. fuckin’ A.”

  15. if my recollection serves me at all, i believe the prez in 1968 was richard milhouse nixon

    Nixon was elected in ’68, but inaugurated in ’69. Johnson was the president in ’68. Hmm, I just realized that we had a Johnson in the White House every time the year has ticked over to ’69. America is a dirty dirty country.

  16. With all his talk about Andrew Johnson, it’s clear that Weigal is just shilling for former House Speaker Schuyler Colfax!

    Thoreau wins the thread again!

  17. “It may excite a wing of their base, but it annoys most other people and can convey the sense that they can’t move forward.”

    Sort of like Congressional corruption, opposition to the war, opposition to the surge, personal attacks on Bush and Cheney, and debunking the WMD myth.

    Those Democrats are crazy! Ordinary Americans don’t want to hear about that crap. It may play well with their base, but ordinary Americans don’t like to see the Republicans called on the carpet and their policies denounced.

  18. well, joe,

    if you were ever arraigned, your counsel only would have to provide your collected h&r postings to mount an insanity defense.

  19. Those Democrats are crazy! Ordinary Americans don’t want to hear about that crap. It may play well with their base, but ordinary Americans don’t like to see the Republicans called on the carpet and their policies denounced.

    Considering that the latest public opinion polls show a solid majority of Americans disapprove of Congress’ performance so far, I’m not sure how impeachment would help them.

    Unless you’re arguing that this majority of Americans are disgusted that Congress hasn’t already impeached the President. But then that sounds alot like the Republican argument that Bush’s high negative ratings are due to the fact he hasn’t been tough enough in Iraq.

  20. “Unless you’re arguing that this majority of Americans are disgusted that Congress hasn’t already impeached the President.”

    Too far. Replace “impeached the President” with “challenged the President,” and you’ve got it.

    57% want the Congress, not the President, to take the lead in setting our Iraq Policy. It’s safe to assume that the % that is supportive of Congress + the % that wants it to go even further in opposing him is a sizeable majority right now.

  21. FTR: The thing that has my panties in a wad is torture.

    I’ve got a lot of big problems with this administration, but that’s nothing new. However, Bush and Co. crossed a whole new line with their policy on the treatment of prisoners.

  22. The Republicans have again successfuly intimidated the Democrats into doing the wrong thing.

    The GOP set the bar for impeachment down low in the gutter. If the Democrats now try to use it, even for totally valid “high crimes” the they fear GOP will never again allow a Democrat to be president without some/any excuse for an impeachment coming up.

    Christ, Obama smokes cigarettes. By 2009 that could be an impeachable offense among the more moralistic Republicans.

  23. Hell, cigarette smoking could be an impeachable offense for Democrats like my Gov. Ed Rendell here in PA.

  24. warren,

    the only victim of torture is logic, on the strenght of your ‘reasoning’

  25. If you are impeaching Bush over the Iraq war, then replacing him with Baker is probably the stupidest thing I have every read. It was Baker’s false promises to the Shiite that got thousands of them slaughted.

  26. TO: Warren | February 7, 2007, 12:08pm

    Agreed.

    But torture too is nothing new to America. Getting a mandatory minimum of anal rape tough love by being ‘turned-out’ in a prison gang rape and made a sex slave has got to be one of the uglier ways for the government to induce Americans to stop using unpopular intoxicants.

    Torture? Not Torture?

    More than 380 thousand rapes in American prisons each year resulting in record AIDs and other deadly diseases among prison populations. Who needs Zyklon-B. Better than Zyklon-B. The prisoners take the diseases back to their communities and save the government the embarrassment and the trouble of rounding families.

  27. 57% want the Congress, not the President, to take the lead in setting our Iraq Policy. It’s safe to assume that the % that is supportive of Congress + the % that wants it to go even further in opposing him is a sizeable majority right now.

    Then what on Earth are they afraid of? I’ll tell you: They don’t trust the polls, and they don’t want to do anything that would give them any responsibility for anything in Iraq. It’s a politically-astute strategy, but it’s morally bankrupt.

    Regarding the lack of trust for polls, there’s been “popular” issues that the Dems have gotten burned by in the past. For example, all throughout the 90’s, poll after poll after poll showed widespread voter support for gun control. After winning in 1992 the Dems obliged, and they promptly lost control of Congress in 1994.

    Even after the Columbine massacre in 1999, when every poll showed Americans wanted Congress to “do something” and quite a few “pro-gun” Republicans (Orrin Hatch) were willing to pass anything to look good, the Dems still lost in 2000 largely due to the gun issue.

    I can’t help but think this is why they are being so timid on impeachment and Iraq.

  28. Captain Holly,

    The Democratic Congress was sworn in, what, 4 weeks ago?

    Why are they steadily marching in the direction of ending the war and of impeaching Bush instead of rushing there headlong?

    Maybe because that’s the smart way to to go about things.

  29. Like Dennis Kucinich with drug policy in his committee, the liberals and left of the Democrats in congress are being told the same crap they get every time they get access to power. Now that they have given that leadership it job, by winning elections on their liberal platforms, they are told to put those liberal platforms aside to benefit the leadership. So the right-wing leadership again wins thanks to their co-opted liberal constituencies.

    This is why I am no longer a Democrat.

    The Democrats, as a party, are not liberal. They are mischaracterized as liberal by the extreme right in a successful long-term effort to shove the Democratic leadership to the right. I learned long ago to not believe those labels.

    The purpose of the Democratic Party today, as the liberal wing of the GOP, is to co-opt liberals into unwinnable political situations. they do this quite well.

  30. Democrats will not impeach.

    Democrats will not stop the war.

    Democrats will not confront the terrorist funding and crime fostering drug war even though Conyers and Kucinich are both ardent drug war opponents.

    Not before elections. Nancy Pelosi has issued marching orders on the drug war. I bet she has done so on impeachment and Iraq too. Nancy Pelosi imposes Jim Crow status quo in congress

    Politics above policy is the mantra of the DLC mob that still controls the DNC.

  31. The real question is, was Conyers being dishonest when he said Bush had broken a bunch of laws, or when he said Bush shouldn’t be impeached?

    I don’t see how you can have it both ways.

  32. There is no mandate to impeach the President, RC. It is a political decision, and there is no contradiction between saying he broke laws and saying that he shouldn’t be impeached “at this time.”

    Read the man’s words. “At this time.”

  33. joe:

    We’ll see. My read is that most people will find be reminded of their former support of the war and won’t like be lectured to by a bunch of people who authorized it anyway. I don’t think most people really believe “The only reason I ever supported this thing was Bush lies,” even as a description of their own views.

  34. TO: JasonL | February 7, 2007, 1:23pm

    Yup!

    These cynical Democratic political decisions for half measures will only serve to anger core constituencies who already feel completely screwed.

  35. Jason L,

    At this point, most people who supported the war in 2003 don’t need to be lectured by their fellow former-war-supporters in Congress that it needs to be ended. As a matter of fact, those people are already well out in front of the Congress on this.

  36. Given how badly impeachment backfired on the Republicans in ’98, I have to think the Dems are smart enough not to repeat such folly now, especially with their best chance in years coming up to retake both executive and legislative branches.

    The lesson of history seems to be that you need massive, overwhelming support in order to push the constitutional “red button.” Regardless of what resident Democrats here seem to think, I am quite sure that such a level of support for impeachment of Bush will not happen. Besides, why would the Dems in Congress want to do anything but let Bush act as the “mariner’s avian neck ornament” for the next couple of years?

  37. “There isn’t time. There simply isn’t time to get it done, and we have so many other things we need to do in this Congress,” he said. “Health care, the economy. Ending the war. And getting ready for 2008.”

    Yeah, they’re gonna be busy enough wrecking the economy to waste time on calling Bush to task. Gotta admire the open admission that one of his job requirements is “campaining”, though.

  38. I’d just like to point out that it shouldn’t matter if the entire country is against impeachment. Impeachment is meant as a means of removing public officials who have engaged in “high crimes and misdemeanors”, not as a means of removing a president because 51% of Americans voted for Democrats in the last election or because he gets a 31% approval rating.

    If honest investigation reveals that Bush et al. committed eligible crimes, they should be removed from office whether its politically popular or not, per mandate of the Constitution, which members of Congress are sworn to uphold. If no such crimes were committed, then impeachment should not proceed. Period.

  39. If honest investigation reveals that Bush et al. committed eligible crimes, they should be removed from office whether its politically popular or not, per mandate of the Constitution, which members of Congress are sworn to uphold. If no such crimes were committed, then impeachment should not proceed. Period.

    That might sound nice and legalistic and fair, but it’s not how it really works, and quite frankly it’s not how the Founders intended it to work.

    Impeachment is indeed a political process, as evidenced by the way it is outlined in the Constitution. The articles of impeachment are drafted in the House and require only a simple majority to pass, while the president is actually removed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate.

    The bar is set low in the House and high in the Senate so as to allow the people, through their representatives in the House, to control the process, but then allow the States, through their representatives in the Senate, to control the result.

    The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” does not exclusively mean actual violations of law, but any behavior that the people may object to. So in that regard, Bill Clinton’s impeachment was a perfectly appropriate use of the process, and in his case the system worked exactly as it was supposed to.

    If they could keep their majority together long enough for a vote the Democrats could impeach Bush tomorrow for pretty much anything they could cobble together. It’s doubtful the Senate would go along, and it’s even more doubtful the public would look kindly on them, but in Constitutional terms, they have the authority and the right to do it.

    The reason they don’t is because they know only the Lefty fringe of the Democrat party really wants to impeach Bush. Everyone else just wants him to go away.

  40. Captain Holly is quite correct. There is no mandate on Congress to impeach if they discover that an executive or judicial official has committed a crime.

    That’s not to say it’s entirely a political process, but that it’s got one foot in each realm.

    “So in that regard, Bill Clinton’s impeachment was a perfectly appropriate use of the process, and in his case the system worked exactly as it was supposed to.” Right down the People punishing the Republicans for abusing the process, as they would publish the Democrats if they went forward without broad public support.

  41. That might sound nice and legalistic and fair, but it’s not how it really works, and quite frankly it’s not how the Founders intended it to work.

    I don’t really see the basis for your argument. Since when is a “crime or misdemeanor” not a violation of law no matter how you choose to read the Constitution?

    Admittedly, Congress does wield a deal of discretion as to what they may consider a crime, but this only gives them leeway to consider lesser offenses impeachable (i.e. perjury), and does not excuse them from impeaching for true violations of office or power.

    Article II of the Constitution states: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

    It never says, “may be removed if you find it politically expedient.” It clearly says, “Shall be removed,” so I don’t see how you can argue that the Founders only thought impeachment should proceed by popular mandate of the electorate.

    You also argued:

    “Impeachment is indeed a political process” because “the articles of impeachment are drafted in the House and require only a simple majority to pass, while the president is actually removed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate.”

    However, this actually de-politicizes the proceedings. This is how it works: The House initiates the impeachment. The bar is necessarily a majority, because this is not the trial. This is where members of the house decide whether there is enough evidence to go to trial, sort of like a grand jury. In this way, the trial can can proceed to the Senate without being blocked by partisans in the minority.

    The proceedings fall to the Senate for trial. While every term of Senate has a political majority, it is much more unlikely that either party would control two-thirds of Senate. By setting the bar at a two-thirds majority, Senators from both parties would have to agree that the evidence presented shows commission of a crime, a violation of law. This makes it impossible for the majority party to willy-nilly remove presidents of opposing parties. I see no evidence that shows that the Founders intended impeachment to proceed for political reasons.

    Again, if a President has committed crimes that threaten the Constitution, a member of Congress has a duty to present evidence and move for impeachment, even if it is politically perilous or unpopular. And yes, it has been used perniciously and destructively in the past, and should only be undertaken if true abuses of power have occurred. I am not arguing in favor or against impeachment against President Bush. I am merely arguing that if a member of Congress has evidence that a President is harming the country by overstepping laws or abusing the office, he or she has a responsibility to the American people to present the evidence and proceed with impeachment if necessary.

    Please forgive the wordy response.

  42. Please forgive the wordy response.

    No offense taken. Your response wasn’t half as “wordy’ as those of some of the trolls we get around here (Juanita pops to mind). 🙂

    But my point is that only Congress can initiate the process of impeachment and removal of the President, which makes it a de facto political process since no Congresscritter is going bring it up unless he feels a big majority of his constituents support the idea.

    And the term “misdemeanors” doesn’t mean crime exclusively; my Webster’s defines it as “a minor offense, a misdeed”. The impeachment process was set up so that if there ever were a president who is an incompetent but otherwise law-abiding jackass (as some would argue Bush is) there would be a mechanism for the people and the states to remove him for the good of the country.

    The House Democrats have the Constitutional authority to impeach Bush solely because a majority of their voters say so; the only question is whether or not two-thirds of the Senate would agree. Without that, it’s a futile exercise in political self-immolation (see Republicans, 1998). Criminal law has very little to do with it.

  43. “So in that regard, Bill Clinton’s impeachment was a perfectly appropriate use of the process, and in his case the system worked exactly as it was supposed to.” Right down the People punishing the Republicans for abusing the process, as they would publish the Democrats if they went forward without broad public support.

    One last word Re: the Clinton impeachment: Using the term “misdemeanor” literally, the House could impeach the president for “minor” things like public intoxication or lewdness or simple assualt, since those crimes are defined as misdemeanors in most states.

    So if Bill had gotten drunk at a public fundraiser, squeezed some woman’s boobs, and punched her husband when he came to her defense, those would be impeachable offenses.

    The Republicans didn’t “abuse” the process; they received evidence of presidential misbehavior and acted on it. The Senate said, in effect, this is silly, and Clinton remained in office. Just as the Constitution intended.

    And although the Republicans got scorched in the 1998 elections, they didn’t do too badly in 2000 or 2002, so I don’t really think it hurt them much in the long run.

    Either way, the Dems could impeach Bush tomorrow, and I wouldn’t accuse them of abusing the process. Of being stupid and petty, yes; but unconstitutional, no.

  44. One thing that has been overlooked, I think, in discussion of impeachment is that removal from office is not the only penalty that can be imposed upon conviction; Article I, ? 3 of the Constitution also authorizes disqualification to hold future offices upon conviction by the Senate.

    Thus, the current House of Representatives can, if it chooses, vote articles of impeachment at such time that the Senate trial could occur only after the end of His Accidency’s second term. That way, Vice President Fudd would not succeed to the presidency (and could be impeached himself, if the House so chooses).

    One topic on which I have seen little discussion is that one of the articles of impeachment of President Nixon approved by the House Judiciary Committee concerned administration abuse of electronic surveillance. That was even before the FISA statutes were enacted. Of the various grounds for impeachment of the current Cheerleader-in-Chief, the NSA’s abuse of wiretaps (which has been held by the only court to reach a merits ruling to violate the Fourth Amendment) appears to me to be most fertile from a legal standpoint.

  45. JBles,

    The “shall” language you quote refers to the removal of the President once impeachment has occured, not the instigation of the impeachment process itself.

    Captain Holly.

    I should have writeen “abused their discretion.” They followed the process just fine.

    “And although the Republicans got scorched in the 1998 elections, they didn’t do too badly in 2000 or 2002, so I don’t really think it hurt them much in the long run.” It stopped hurting them because they stopped talking about it.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.