Pelosi on Impeachment and Defending the Constitution: It's Just Not Worth It

In a fascinating article interview with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, reporters Mike Stark and Dave Johnson get Pelosi to admit that she had decided "at least a year ago," before Democrats had even taken control of the House and Senate, "that impeachment was something that we could not be successful with, and that would take up the time we needed to do some positive things to establish a record of our priorities and [Republican] short-comings."

She then goes on to say, "The President isn't worth it...he's not worth impeaching. We've got important work to do."

Stark then says, "Respectfully, the question is whether or not the Constitution is worth it," to which Pelosi responds, "Well, yeah, the constitution is worth it if you can succeed."

That the leading Democrat in the House, and one of the most powerful people in the Democratic Party leadership, could be so dismissive of the Constitution, so seemingly ignorant of the workings of the impeachment clause, and so openly pessimistic and negative about the power of her opposition party, is simply astonishing.

Pelosi is admitting here that back in early 2006, before the off-year election campaign had even gotten fully underway, she had already concluded that Democrats could never hope to obtain a majority vote in the House for impeachment!

If Democrats in 1974 had adopted such a defeatist attitude in confronting the crimes of Richard Nixon (who after all was midway through his second term, after having won a landslide victory over George McGovern in 1972), he would have slid through his second term like Bush and Cheney are hoping to do. Remember, when bills of impeachment were first filed against Nixon, only some 25 members of Congress supported the idea of impeachment, and no one thought that the idea had a chance.

The whole point of impeachment hearings is to investigate and make the case for impeachment. Until that is done, it is simply nonsense to say the process "could not be successful."

This is especially true when one considers that this president, unlike Nixon, has actually already admitted to major crimes. There is no question that he has seriously abused power by refusing to enact laws passed by the Congress. Furthermore, in the case of his ordering the National Security Agency to spy on Americans without obtaining court orders--in direct violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act--a federal district judge trying that activity has ruled that it was a serial Class A felony. And even after that August 2006 decision, the president continued with the illegal program for another six months.

Not to impeach the president for these high crimes against law and the Constitution is a dereliction of duty on the part of Pelosi and the rest of Congress or major proportions. It is not as though she has a choice. We objectively have a president who is willfully violating the law and undermining the Constitution. How can Congress, all of whose members take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, not initiate impeachment proceedings?

Pelosi tells Stark and Johnson it is only worth protecting the Constitution if there is a certainty that the impeachment process can be won. She is wrong on several counts.

First of all, it should not at all be assumed that following impeachment hearings, a majority of the House would not vote for impeachment--at least on the issues of the signing statements and the NSA FISA crimes. And should they so vote, at that point the president would be impeached, and for all time, his crimes and abuses of power would be labeled as wrong, thus letting future presidents know that such behavior is unconstitutional and will not go unchallenged. The corollary is that if Bush is not confronted for these and other crimes, future presidents will free to adopt his cavalier attitude towards the Constitution, and his usurpation of the legislative authority of Congress.

Second, there is not even a requirement in the Constitution that the Senate try and remove an impeached federal official. That is something that the Senate decides on its own whether to do. Once the House votes for impeachment, a president stands impeached. That in itself would be an important act, and is hardly one that Pelosi can declare to be an impossible goal.

Pelosi made another important admission in her interview with Stark and Johnson, confirming something I have been saying for some time now. That is, she admits that she and the Democratic leadership have known all along that they couldn't pass any significant legislation. Rather, they are simply hoping to use their legislative ability to pass bills (knowing that nothing of consequence could survive a veto or a signing statement), in order to "establish a record of our priorities" and of the Republican Party's "shortcomings."

Talk about setting the bar low!

This of course is hardly what Pelosi and the Democratic National Committee and congressional campaign committees were telling voters during last year's election campaign, or even what they were saying when they took control of Congress in January. Back then the bold talk was all about passing an "important Democratic agenda" of measures like health care reform, electoral reform, education reform and, or course, ending the Iraq War.

I've always said that this was just for show, and that the only real aim of Pelosi et al has been to position themselves to win in 2008-a narrow partisan goal that has led them to sacrifice both ending the war and defending the Constitution.

Now we know that this is exactly what Pelosi and her colleagues in the Democratic Party leadership had in mind all along.

It's not really that she doesn't think Congress couldn't succeed in impeaching Bush and/or Cheney. It's that trying to do that would interfere with her only real goal-getting herself and her Democratic colleagues re-elected.

My own view, and it is being borne out by the amazing collapse in public support that Democrats have suffered over the course of Pelosi's and Sen. Harry Reid's five months in control of Congress (a fall from 65 percent support to under 20 percent!), is that the Democratic leadership's political strategy is all wrong: they could win big in 2008 by standing up forcefully on the issues of ending the war and defending the Constitution, and they are likely to lose by taking this minimalist, self-serving approach.

But even if they were right, and they could gain seats and perhaps the White House by doing nothing of consequence and by avoiding taking any serious confrontational stances for two years, it is unconscionable that they would allow more Americans and innocent Iraqis to die in a pointless, illegal war, and that they would allow the Constitution to be raped and plundered by a criminal administration, simply for their own narrow political gain.

Yet now we have it from the speaker's own mouth. She isn't about defending the Constitution. It's just not worth it.

Dave Lindorff's most recent book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). His work is available at

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