Democrats Must End Talk of Bush Impeachment

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Published May 22, 2006

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Now that everyone recognizes what I first said last September – that Democrats have a real chance of taking back control of the U.S. House of Representatives this Fall – it’s time for Democrats to start acting like winners.

Step one would be for the Democratic leadership to definitively put to rest any loose talk of impeaching President Bush. They should say in one and two syllable words that impeachment will not happen once they are in the majority and thus take away a potential rallying cry for the beleaguered Republicans.

I know there are people on the left who would like to see Bush impeached but they do harm to the Democratic Party by raising this as a possibility and Democratic leaders should shut them up once and for all.

This is not very complicated. We don’t impeach presidents for incompetence…only for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The Bush administration is clearly one of the most incompetent in recent times-- if not in our entire 200 year plus history. If we were a parliamentary system, Congress would have long ago passed a vote of “no confidence” and there would be new national elections.

We are, however, not a parliamentary system so we are stuck with Bush for two and half more years.

However, impeachment is not the answer. It is a remedy that should be used vary sparingly and only in really extreme situations.

Let’s take a look at the three times it has been invoked in our history.

The first such instance involved President Andrew Johnson immediately following our Civil War. The radical Republican Congress did not think that Johnson, a Democrat who assumed office following the Lincoln assassination, was being punitive enough in the way he was dealing with the defeated Confederate states. They brought charges against him for trying to replace his Secretary of War against the wishes of Congress and he was saved from removal by a single vote in the U.S. Senate.

The next time impeachment was attempted involved Richard Nixon and Watergate. The House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach Nixon for obstruction of justice in 1974, but he resigned before the matter could come to a vote in the full House. Even a number of Republicans supported the impeachment of the president of their own party.

That brings up to Bill Clinton. The full House voted to impeach him for actions taken in connection with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but the U.S. Senate refused to convict him. As a member of the House, I voted against impeaching Clinton on the basis that these matters were not serious enough to constitute removing a president even though they were an embarrassment to his office.

Republicans lost House seats in the 1998 mid-term elections at least partially because the public thought they had over-reacted in trying to remove Clinton from office.

It is instructive that impeachment has only passed the House twice in our history (though it clearly would have passed a third time had Nixon not preempted a vote by resigning). Our system of government has survived because we have taken our constitution seriously and not trivialized it by trying to remove every president we didn’t like.

You can make an argument that the conduct of both Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon merited the possibility of removal from office. Reasonable people cannot, with a straight face, argue that Bill Clinton should have faced impeachment for sexual indiscretions. If so, then there are several other presidents and countless members of Congress who could have seen their careers cut short.

Democrats who don’t like George W. Bush should get together and have a party where they can swap stories about what a dreadful job he has done in handling the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, what an inadequate job his military planners did in dealing with Iraq following the removal of Saddam Hussein, what a poor job his intelligence chiefs did in evaluating the weapons of mass destruction potential in Iraq, and how his administration for a long time looked the other way while oil company profits and gasoline prices went up.

And then they should stop talking about impeachment.

Even the argument about Bush’s approval of domestic spying without a warrant does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense in my judgement. He was acting in good faith in an effort to defend our nation from terrorism, and the legality of his actions have yet to be resolved in court. I personally think he was wrong to approve such spying without a warrant, but I would not consider impeachment as an appropriate remedy.

For Democrats who are really angry at the job this president has done, the best remedy is to work hard to elect more Democrats to the House and Senate this Fall. That’s the ultimate revenge.

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

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