Adam Ash

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

US Diary: the impeachment bandwagon keeps on rollin'

Citizens Are Out Front on Impeachment -- by John Nichols

Inside the Beltway, legislators have been slow to support moves to censure or impeach President Bush and other members of the administration.

Only 33 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of Congressman John Conyers' resolution calling for the creation of a select investigative committee. It would be charged with reviewing the administration's preparations for war before receiving congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture, and retaliation against critics such as former Ambassador Joe Wilson. The committee could make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.

Only two members of the Senate have agreed to co-sponsor Sen. Russ Feingold's proposal to censure the president for illegally ordering the warrantless wiretapping of phone conversations of Americans.

Outside the Beltway, legislators are far more comfortable with censure and impeachment at least in the state of Vermont. Sixty-nine Vermont legislators, 56 members of the state House and 14 members of the Senate, have signed a letter urging Congress to initiate investigations to determine if censure or impeachment of members of the administration might be necessary.

The letter, penned by state Rep. Richard Marek, suggests that Bush's manipulations of intelligence prior to the launch of the Iraq war, his support of illegal domestic surveillance programs and other actions demand that Congress determine whether the time has come for "setting in motion the constitutional process for possible removal from office." Marek, a Democrat, is from Newfane, Vt., where voters made international news in March by calling for the impeachment of Bush at their annual town meeting.

Noting that his town and a half-dozen other Vermont communities have called for impeachment, as has the state Democratic Party, Marek told the Rutland Herald, "Vermonters from across the state have expressed concerns with the president's actions and have displayed that through resolutions, meetings and petitions. I thought it was important to put our voices down as supporting an investigation and possible censure and impeachment."

The letter, which will be delivered to members of Vermont's congressional delegation including Rep. Bernie Sanders, a co-sponsor of the Conyers resolution is just one of a number of fresh impeachment-related initiatives in Vermont.

State Rep. David Zuckerman, a Burlington legislator who is a member of Vermont's Progressive Party, plans to introduce a resolution next week asking for the state legislature to call on the U.S. House to open impeachment hearings. Parliamentary procedures developed by Thomas Jefferson as vice president in the early years of the United States, and still used by the U.S. House as a supplement to that chamber's standing rules, have been interpreted as giving state legislatures at least some authority to trigger impeachment proceedings. Zuckerman's resolution responds to calls from Vermonters to take that dramatic step.

Several county Democratic parties in Vermont also have urged the state legislature to take advantage of the opening created by "Jefferson's Manual," which suggests impeachment proceedings can be provoked "by charges transmitted from the legislature of a state."

There's no question that Vermont is in the lead, but legislators in other states are also exploring their options for pressing Congress to act on articles of impeachment. A trio of Democratic state representatives in Illinois Karen A. Yarbrough and Sara Feigenholtz from the Chicago area and Eddie Washington from Waukegan has introduced a measure similar to the one Zuckerman is preparing in Vermont. The bill urges the Illinois General Assembly to call on the U.S. House to initiate impeachment proceedings against Bush.

In Pennsylvania, state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Pittsburgh, has launched a public campaign urging his constituents to sign petitions calling for Congress to launch an impeachment inquiry. Ferlo, a former Pittsburgh City Council president, says it's entirely appropriate for state officials and citizens to add their voices to the impeachment debate.

"Impeachment proceedings are now the most important issue facing our nation," Ferlo says. "The debate and opinions expressed should not be limited to the views of journalists, legal scholars, intelligence officials and just a few politicians. Every American must confront this issue and speak out loudly and clearly. This is one opportunity to do so."

(John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. E-mail: jnichols@madison.com. On Saturday, he will discuss impeachment, censure and related issues with John Dean and Stanley Kutler at the Madison Institute's "Executive Power: Worse Than Watergate?" forum. The event will run from 9 a.m. to noon in Vilas Hall's Mitchell Theater, 821 University Ave.)

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