The Bush/Cheney White House is now in open defiance of Congress, the wishes of the American people, the Constitution, and the rule of law, and every week its actions are becoming more arrogant, lawless and monarchical. They are essentially daring Congress to confront them, because they believe Congress has neither the spine nor the institutional strength to stop this lawless regime. It is time to prove them wrong.
Last Friday, Bill Moyer’s Journal provided a forum for two responsible citizens — one a liberal, the other a conservative, both patriots who care deeply about their country — to explain as eloquently as can be said what needs to be done. You can watch the full program here; below the fold are excepts from the transcript, just a small part of what Bruce Fein and John Nichols said. Every American should watch or read the full program.
There is no more important issue in America today than impeachment, not even Iraq, because any wise resolution of the Iraq occupation, as well as every other public policy issue, requires a White House that is willing to work with Congress as a co-equal branch, that has the confidence of the American people, and that can function within the boundaries of the Constitution and the rule of law. Failing on all three counts, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have brought us to this point by defying the law, the Congress, and the American people, thus gravely undermining the Constitution. The Founders provided a remedy for exactly this kind of dangerous, monarchical behavior. It is time for Congress to apply the cure, and for the nation’s media to demand that it do so.
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Excerpts from Bill Moyer’s Journal
BRUCE FEIN: . . . I think Bush’s crimes are a little bit different. I think they’re a little bit more worrisome than Clinton’s. You don’t have to have–
BILL MOYERS: More worrisome?
BRUCE FEIN: More worrisome than Clinton’s– because he is seeking more institutionally to cripple checks and balances and the authority of Congress and the judiciary to superintend his assertions of power. He has claimed the authority to tell Congress they don’t have any right to know what he’s doing with relation to spying on American citizens, using that information in any way that he wants in contradiction to a federal statute called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He’s claimed authority to say he can kidnap people, throw them into dungeons abroad, dump them out into Siberia without any political or legal accountability. These are standards that are totally anathema to a democratic society devoted to the rule of law.
BILL MOYERS: It seems to me the country is ahead of Congress on this. How do you explain all this talk about impeachment today out across the country?
JOHN NICHOLS: People don’t want to let this go. They do not accept Nancy Pelosi’s argument that impeachment is, quote/unquote, off the table. Because I guess maybe they’re glad she didn’t take some other part of the Constitution off the table like freedom of speech. But they also don’t accept the argument that, oh, well, there’s a presidential campaign going on. So let’s just hold our breath till Bush and Cheney get done.
When I go out across America, what I hear is something that’s really very refreshing and very hopeful about this country. An awfully lot of Americans understand what Thomas Jefferson understood. And that is that the election of a president does not make him a king for four years. That if a president sins against the Constitution– and does damage to the republic, the people have a right in an organic process to demand of their House of Representatives, the branch of government closest to the people, that it act to remove that president. And I think that sentiment is afoot in the land.
BILL MOYERS: Bruce, you talk about overreaching. What, in practical terms, do you mean by that?
BRUCE FEIN: It means asserting powers and claiming that there are no other branches that have the authority to question it. Take, for instance, the assertion that he’s made that when he is out to collect foreign intelligence, no other branch can tell him what to do. That means he can intercept your e-mails, your phone calls, open your regular mail, he can break and enter your home. He can even kidnap you, claiming I am seeking foreign intelligence and there’s no other branch Congress can’t say it’s illegal–judges can’t say this is illegal. I can do anything I want. That is overreaching. When he says that all of the world, all of the United States is a military battlefield because Osama bin Laden says he wants to kill us there, and I can then use the military to go into your homes and kill anyone there who I think is al-Qaeda or drop a rocket, that is overreaching. That is a claim even King George III didn’t make . . . at the time of the Revolution.
BRUCE FEIN: Let me underscore one of the things that you remember, Bill, ’cause I was there at the time of Watergate. And this relates to one political– official in the White House, Sara Taylor’s testimony. And claiming that George Bush could tell her to be silent.
BILL MOYERS: That was a great moment when Sara Taylor said, “I took an oath to uphold the president.” Did you see that?
BRUCE FEIN: Yes. And that was like the military in Germany saying, “My oath is to the Fuhrer, not to the country.” She took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I did, too, when I was in the government. There’s no oath that says, “I’m loyal to a president even if he defiles the Constitution.”
JOHN NICHOLS: You– we’re at this table because the fact of the matter is that impeachment has moved well up the list of things we can talk about because of the Scooter Libby affair. Now, should it be the– one that tipped it? I think Bruce and I would probably both agree no. There are probably more important issues. But the Scooter Libby affair gets to the heart of what I think an awfully lot of Americans are concerned about with this administration and with the executive branch in– general, that it is lawless, that– it can rewrite the rules for itself, that it can protect itself.
And, you know, the founders anticipated just such a moment. If you look at the discussions in the Federalist Papers but also at the Constitutional Convention, when they spoke about impeachment, one of the things that Madison and George Mason spoke about was the notion that you needed the power to impeach particularly as regards to pardons and commutations because a president might try to take the burden of the law off members of his administration to prevent them from cooperating with Congress in order to expose wrongdoings by the president himself. And so Madison said that is why we must have the power to impeach. Because otherwise a president might be able to use his authority and pardons and such to prevent an investigation from getting to him.
JOHN NICHOLS: Sneering is not an impeachable sentence. But the founders who had recently fought a revolution against a king named George would tell you that monarchical behavior, the behavior of a king, acting like a king, is an impeachable offense. You need not look for specific laws or statutes. What you need to look for is a pattern of behavior that says that the presidency is superior not merely to Congress but to the laws of the land, to the rules of law. And that is why we ought to be discussing impeachment. Not because of George Bush and Dick Cheney but because we are establishing a presidency that does not respect the rule of law. And people, Americans, are rightly frightened by that. Their fear is the fear of the founders. It is appropriate. It is necessary.
JOHN NICHOLS: The hearings are important. There’s no question at that. And we should be at that stage. Remember, Thomas Jefferson and others, the founders, suggested that impeachment was an organic process. That information would come out. The people would be horrified. They would tell their representatives in Congress, “You must act upon this.” Well, the interesting thing is we are well down the track in the organic process. The people are saying it’s time. We need some accountability.
BILL MOYERS: But Nancy Pelosi doesn’t agree.
JOHN NICHOLS: Nancy Pelosi is wrong. Nancy Pelosi is disregarding her oath of office. She should change course now. And more importantly, members of her caucus and responsible Republicans should step up. It is not enough–
JOHN NICHOLS: You are seeing impeachment as a constitutional crisis. Impeachment is the cure for a constitutional crisis. Don’t mistake the medicine for the disease. When you have a constitutional crisis, the founders are very clear. They said there is a way to deal with this. We don’t have to have a war. We don’t have to raise an army and go to Washington. We have procedures in place where we can sanction a president appropriately, do what needs to be done up to the point of removing him from office and continue the republic. So we’re not talking here about taking an ax to government. Quite the opposite. We are talking about applying some necessary strong medicine that may cure not merely the crisis of the moment but, done right . . .
The people themselves have said, if the polls are correct, that, you know, something ought to be done. If nothing is done, if we do not step forward at this point, if we do not step up to this point, then we have, frankly, told the people, you know, you can even recognize that the king has no clothes, but we’re not gonna put any clothes on him. And at that point, the country is in very, very dire circumstances.