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The Oregonian

In Oregon, 'Impeach' Is Not Just A Bumper Sticker

Harry Esteve & Charles Pope

Every Thursday, they gather outside the congressman's office, a sign-waving brigade of activists with one word on their minds -- and their T-shirts:


"It can happen," says John Bradach, one of the organizers of the weekly protest outside U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer's headquarters in Northeast Portland. "And it should, even in the limited time left."1002 05

Bradach joined the impeachment cause after losing a nephew in the Iraq war. But passion won't change political reality.

In Washington, D.C., impeachment talk has been quashed by Democratic leaders. They are worried that a Republican backlash would derail upcoming votes on key issues, and that the fallout could hurt Democrats in next year's elections.

Blumenauer, a Democrat who is one of the more liberal members of Congress, says flatly that "impeachment is not going to happen."

In Oregon, however, the movement to bounce President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney before their terms end next year continues to pick up steam. Just ask Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who faced hostile questions from pro-impeachment forces at a recent town hall meeting. Blumenauer endured even rougher treatment at his town hall gathering late last week.

Impeachment also has become a hot topic in the early stages of the U.S. Senate race in Oregon, even though no one but the incumbent, Republican Gordon Smith, would have a hand in it. And, if chatter by bloggers and party insiders is any indication, impeachment has begun to rival the Iraq war as a new litmus test for Oregon Democrats.

"This is about more than just the war," says Meredith Wood Smith, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party. "This is really about losing the Constitution of this country."

The party recently adopted a resolution -- written by Bradach -- that calls on Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney. The resolution cites "high crimes and misdemeanors" stemming from misinformation given about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.

The other most common justification for impeachment is the Bush administration's approval of warrantless wiretapping in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. Others say failure to take action now against the White House would give future presidents a green light to stretch the constitutional limits of executive power.

Democrats hear criticism

In a larger sense, the discussion about impeachment parallels Democratic infighting over Iraq war policy.

Activist Democrats have been openly critical of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada for not launching a more muscular assault on Bush's handling of the war. In blogs and even in TV ads, this faction of the party has mocked the Democratic "leader-sheep."

The depth of the frustration bubbles up during town hall meetings, such as the ones held by Wyden and Blumenauer.

"Some people go home and kick their dog and some go to meetings and kick their congressman," says Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., a liberal who has aggressively opposed the war. "I understand their frustration. I have it in spades. "

As impeachment becomes a rallying cry for some Democrats, the idea continues to unnerve the party's political leadership in Washington. Pelosi has insisted -- emphatically and repeatedly -- that impeachment is not on any agenda.

Aides to Pelosi and other senior Democrats point out that impeachment is a futile quest. There are not enough votes to secure a victory, they say. Moreover, pursuing impeachment would ignite a political firestorm that would end any hope of working with Republicans to pass important legislation on issues such as health care, taxes and even the war.


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"There's a cost to do it, and the cost is just too high," Inslee says.

Legally, a tough case

Stephen Kantor, a constitutional law scholar and professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, says impeachment supporters not only misunderstand the legalities of the process but also misread the politics. Congress had the authority to thoroughly investigate Bush's claims about weapons of mass destruction but instead voted to approve the Iraq invasion.

"By going that route, Congress gave up a lot of its oversight and authority," Kantor said.

Impeachment won't work unless it can be proved the president "flatly made up facts" with the intention to mislead. That's a very high bar, Kantor said.

And if some Democrats think that impeachment proceedings help their cause, they're sorely mistaken, he says.

"From a political point of view, it's foolhardy," Kantor says. The move would scare off moderate Democrats and quickly energize the Republican base, he says. "If there was a serious run at impeaching President Bush, it would dramatically increase the chances" of a Republican presidential victory next year.

Yet, the issue won't go away inside Democratic circles. Instead, it remains a constant, low-level presence on Capitol Hill, a continual hum in the background like the noise of some far-off interstate.

In Oregon, it seems to grow louder by the week.

John Frohnmayer, Independent Party candidate for U.S. Senate, kicked off his campaign by saying Bush "should be impeached." That prompted the two main Democratic contenders, Portland lawyer Steve Novick and Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley to chime in with calls for Congress to investigate and hold hearings on the president's actions.

"I think it's possible," Novick says, "that, ultimately, members of the House will conclude they can't avoid this discussion."

So far, however, calls for impeachment have fallen largely on deaf ears. After facing a barrage of questions about why Congress isn't moving to impeach Bush, Wyden offered an explanation on his Web page:

"I question this impeachment strategy for several reasons, including the obvious lack of votes in the Senate to accomplish the goal, and the obligation of the Congress to stay focused on what the general public wants."

Firm impeachment believers, such as Bradach, use such statements as evidence that any action in Washington will come only after an upwelling of citizen outrage. "That," he says, "is why we have to keep the pressure on."

Harry Esteve: 503-221-8226; Charles Pope: 202-383-7819;

©2007 The Oregonian

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