Many people are saying it is too late for impeachment. "Bush will be out of office shortly anyway." "Congress could never impeach and remove him before he is gone." "We have to focus on the election." "There are only a few weeks of Congress in session before they quit for the year."
It does not matter if Bush is impeached on the last day of his term -- he must be impeached to set a precedent that his acts have been unacceptable and illegal. Aiming for a last-minute impeachment must now be our goal.
We have always faced the problem that we lack the votes in the Senate for a conviction. We have faced the problem that an impeachment in the House followed by an acquittal in the Senate could produce exactly the opposite precedent -- that these acts are not bad enough to deserve removal. We now have a great answer to this.
If we can get the House to impeach in January, there are three good things that happen.
- With the upcoming election, we will probably pick up votes in the House and in the Senate, though still probably not enough in the Senate for a conviction.
- We can expect the Senate to either never take up the trial or to dismiss on the basis that removal is moot after January 20.
- If we are anticipating impeachment without removal, there is no question about elevating Cheney to the Oval Office in place of Bush. While both deserve to be impeached, we can focus on Bush.
The result is that the scenario of impeachment in the House followed by dismissal (not acquittal) in the Senate is quite optimal for producing exactly the precedent we need.
The Senate does not have to dismiss the case just because Bush is out of office. Besides removal from office, impeachment can also lead to invoking another punishment -- to banish him from ever again holding office. That is unlikely, so the Senate could simply rule that the case is moot because they do not plan on invoking this alternative punishment. That is exactly what happened in at least two previous cases in which someone left office prior to completion of a Senate trial, in one case being expelled from the Senate during the House's impeachment hearings (Sen. William Blount) and in the other case having resigned during the House's impeachment hearings (Sec. of War William Belknap). In both cases, the Senate ruled that it legally could continue the trial but chose not to.
Bush may very well be planning a set of January pardons for himself and his co-conspirators. Pardons cannot block impeachments, so impeachment is the perfect answer to such pardons.
Impeaching for such use of pardoning or commuting a sentence was explicitly addressed by our Founding Fathers when debating our Constitution. In the Virginia ratifying convention on June 18, 1788, George Mason had worried, "I conceive that the President ought not to have the power of pardoning, because he may frequently pardon crimes which were advised by himself."
James Madison responded, "There is one security in this case to which gentlemen may not have adverted: if the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him."
The House is in a District Work Period during August, which makes this an ideal time to talk to your congressman. After that, their target adjournment comes up at the end of September. That does not leave much time for impeachment now, but there is time if we start with hearings now to impeach in January.
We must not give up on working for impeachment. We have a powerful answer to those who say it is too late for impeachment, for those who think that we don't have enough votes in the House or in the Senate, for those who worry that a Senate acquittal has a negative effect on precedent, and for those concerned about Cheney replacing Bush. The answers to all of these are the same: if you won't impeach now, then work now toward impeaching in January.
Our call should be to "impeach on Jan. 19."
by Richard M. Mathews
Richard M. Mathews is a software developer and manager. He represents the North Valley Democratic Club on the Executive Committee of the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley.