November 9, 2006
c.2006 Newhouse News Service
WASHINGTON _ Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., presumed to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in January, said Thursday that impeachment of President Bush “is off the table.”
“In this campaign, there was an orchestrated right-wing effort to distort my position on impeachment,” Conyers said in a statement released by his Judiciary Committee spokesman. “The incoming speaker (Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.) has said that impeachment is off the table. I am in total agreement with her on this issue: Impeachment is off the table.”
Through his investigations as the ranking Democrat on Judiciary, Conyers became a hero to people who would like to see President Bush impeached for the manner in which the U.S. was led to war in Iraq, among other alleged crimes. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have said the new Democratic Congress will not pursue impeachment.
But Tuesday’s big Democratic victory, in which Conyers secured a 22nd term and Democrats regained control of both the House and Senate, has only invigorated a large national network of grassroots impeachment activists. Conyers’ statement is unlikely to dampen their enthusiasm or efforts.
“This is still in some ways a democracy and we will, as American citizens, use our voices to suggest what we think should be on the table,” said David Swanson, co-founder of afterdowningstreet.org and Washington director for impeachpac.org.
Conyers laid out the grounds for impeachment in a report last December called “The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution and Cover-ups in the Iraq War” and later updated to add “illegal domestic surveillance.” It is more than 350 pages long.
The Downing Street reference is to the minutes of a secret 2002 meeting of British government officials that critics of the Iraq invasion consider the “smoking gun” indicating the Bush administration fixed its pre-war intelligence to justify an already decided-upon plan to remove Saddam Hussein.
In his statement Thursday, Conyers said, “To be sure, I have substantial concerns about the way this administration has abused its authority, but impeachment would not be good for the American people. The country does not want or need any more paralyzed partisan government _ it wants a check and balance and real progress on the issues that matter to their lives.”
But as recently as May 18, in a column in The Washington Post headlined “No Rush to Impeachment,” Conyers wrote that a new Congress ought to seek answers about whether “intelligence was mistaken or manipulated in the run-up to the Iraq war” as well as the extent to which “high-ranking officials approved of the use of torture and other cruel and inhumane treatment inflicted upon detainees.” A select committee would forward evidence of any potentially impeachable offenses to the Judiciary Committee, he wrote.
Swanson sees it this way: “If we get a real investigation there will be one of two outcomes, or both _ either there will be clear grounds for impeachment, or there will be a crisis when the Bush administration refuses to acknowledge subpoenas.”
The common wisdom from the Democratic leadership and the Washington punditocracy is that pursuing impeachment would be a fatal political mistake.
“The Democratic Party cannot repeat the mistakes of the Gingrich Republicans, which allowed themselves to get identified in the public eye as extremists,” said Jeremy D. Mayer, a professor in the George Mason University’s School of Public Policy.
Pelosi’s first test, Mayer said, will be “reining in” those on her party’s left end, many of whom, like Conyers, are black.
Ronald Walters, a political scientist at the University of Maryland and long-time observer of the Congressional Black Caucus, doubts that Conyers will press impeachment.
“There may be some pressure from the far left, but I think most people understand that is not popular among the American people at a time when the Democratic Party is trying to tee up for 2008,” Walters said. “The American people just threw over the radicalism of the right and they are not going to want to replace it with the radicalism of the left.”
But Swanson said the Democratic leadership, these observers, and the mainstream media have the politics of impeachment exactly upside down. “What the media is instructing (the Democrats) to do is be nice, play ®MDNM¯civil,” he said. But in his view, an election in which not a single Democratic member of Congress was defeated is not a mandate for meekness.
A Newsweek poll in October found that 28 percent of respondents thought impeaching Bush should be a top priority of a new Congress, and 23 percent thought it should be a lower priority, while 44 percent thought it was a bad idea altogether. That is more support for impeaching Bush than there was at any point for impeaching Bill Clinton, Swanson said.
“My nine-year-old niece asked me, `If you’re going to impeach Clinton for lying about a sexual affair, how can you not impeach Bush for lying about a war?”’ said William Strickland, a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. “This is a slam dunk.”
Strickland said there is a moral imperative for Congress to undo Bush’s policy of pre-emptive war and repair America‘s standing in the world.
Pelosi, as it happens, was among the Americans in a handful of jurisdictions who has had a chance to vote on impeachment. Proposition J on the San Francisco ballot Tuesday called for the impeachment of Bush and Vice President Cheney. It passed with 59 percent of the vote. In neighboring Berkeley, a similar measure passed with nearly 70 percent of the vote.