WASHINGTON — As Vice President Dick Cheney walked Tuesday into the Republican senators’ weekly policy luncheon, as he does nearly every Tuesday at noon, he looked as imperturbable and cryptic as ever.
No sign of concern about the blood clot in Cheney's left leg that his doctor checked Tuesday morning (an ultrasound was reassuring, a Cheney spokeswoman said).
And no sign that he’d heard of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, launching an effort Tuesday to impeach him on charges that he had “purposely manipulated the intelligence process to deceive the citizens of the United States” about a potential threat of Iraqi chemical, biological and nuclear weapons during the Saddam Hussein era and has “openly threatened aggression” against Iran.
“It is urgent that Congress take steps to check the abuse of power, and that’s what this impeachment resolution will do,” Kucinich told reporters at his launch event late Tuesday afternoon.
A remote chance of winning
Kucinich is running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
According to the wagering at the Intrade site where one can trade “event futures” on political and other future events, Kucinich has about a one-10th of 1 percent chance of getting the nomination, compared with Sen. Hillary Clinton’s better-than-40 percent chance.
Some in Washington consider Kucinich an eccentric, but he was saying in 2004 when he ran for president what the other Democrats are now saying: The Iraq war was a profound mistake and the United States must get out.
In his party, Kucinich was a man ahead of his time on Iraq.
So, too, with his move to impeach Cheney? History offers a lesson here, partly encouraging to Kucinich, but mostly not.
In March of 1997, when Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., made the first proposal to impeach Bill Clinton, many in Washington thought the idea outlandish. But on Dec. 19, 1998, the House did vote to impeach Clinton.
What then followed is the less encouraging part of the story for Kucinich.
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Lesson of Clinton impeachment
The Republicans proved in 1999 that impeachment is not a functional political tool, except perhaps in the case of corrupt federal judges (against whom it has been used a few times in the past 30 years).
Two-thirds of the Senate is needed to convict and remove an official from office. There never were the 67 votes needed to convict Clinton, so the House proceedings were futile.
The effort to oust Clinton may well have cost House Republicans the five seats they lost in the 1998 elections. Many Republican had expected to gain a dozen seats or more, due to what they thought was popular support for impeaching Clinton.
Will Kucinich’s move to impeach Cheney be any less futile a gesture, since there are 49 Republican senators (and some Democratic ones) who would not vote to convict the vice president?
In his press conference Tuesday afternoon launching the impeachment articles, Kucinich said, “The difference today is that this vice president is actively encouraging aggression against Iran.”
He added, “There is no comparison whatsoever in any way, shape, or manner” with the impeachment of Clinton in 1998.
Why Cheney, not Bush?
Kucinich said he was starting to try to impeach Cheney rather than President Bush, because if he succeeded in removing Bush, Cheney would then become president.
“You would have to go through the constitutional agony of impeaching two presidents consecutively,” he explained.
Kucinich said he did not intend to bring up the impeachment idea at Thursday night’s debate with his fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls.
Other House Democrats did not seem at all keen to discuss the Kucinich effort. “It’s not on my radar screen; I haven’t been thinking about this” said freshman Democratic Rep. David Loebsack of Iowa.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer sidestepped the question, saying impeachment “of course, is in Mr. Conyers' committee,” the Judiciary Committee.
“Can you stop it?” a reporter asked Hoyer, referring to the impeachment effort. “Some time ago Speaker Pelosi indicated that what we need to do is focus on the substance of the issues at hand, and that's what we're going to do,” he said.
No action from Conyers
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., introduced a resolution in the last Congress, when Democrats were in the minority, to create a select committee to investigate the Bush administration's “manipulation of prewar intelligence” and other alleged misdeeds and to “make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.”
So far this year, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Conyers has offered resolutions to award a Congressional Gold Medal to singer Stevie Wonder and to pay for health insurance coverage for all U.S. residents but has not taken action on impeachment of Bush or Cheney.
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