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The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)

The Duty of Congress


This work of electing a new president is important, indeed.

And it is exciting, especially as the contests for both the Democratic and Republican nominations remain unsettled.

But it is important to remember that the current president and vice president hold a lease on something akin to absolute power that does not expire for a year. And if George Bush and Dick Cheney have proved anything over the past year, it is that they do not require a great deal of time to do a great deal of damage.

So while the work of electing a new president is important, the work of restoring a system of checks and balances on the executive branch is equally important.

Florida Congressman Robert Wexler recognizes this fact, and he refuses to allow congressional Democrats to neglect their most important duty.

Wexler, the House's most ardent advocate of opening impeachment hearings against Vice President Cheney, reminded his colleagues this week, "The issues at hand are too serious to ignore. Dick Cheney faces credible allegations of abuse of power that if proven may well constitute high crimes and misdemeanors."

Wexler is airing the right questions when he asks: "Did the vice president unmask a covert CIA agent for political purposes? Did the vice president order the illegal surveillance of Americans and the illegal use of torture?"

Wexler is reaching the right conclusions when he declares, "Evidence mounts almost daily on these charges. Just recently former White House press secretary Scott McClellan revealed that the vice president and his staff purposefully gave him false information to report to the American people -- a clear obstruction of justice. This administration has undermined the checks and balances of our government by brazenly ignoring congressional subpoenas, and through reckless claims of executive privilege. Impeachment hearings are the only means available to this House to force the Bush administration to answer questions and tell the truth."

And the Florida Democrat is stating a blunt truth about the current Congress, a Congress that was elected to hold this administration to account: "If we fail to act, history may well judge us complicit in the alleged crimes of Vice President Cheney."

The work that Wexler is doing to initiate impeachment hearings is as important as the work of electing a new president.

"In fact," he told the House last week, "in the history of our nation we have never encountered a moment where the actions of a president or vice president have more strongly demanded the use of the power of impeachment."

Wexler and those who have sided with him -- including Madison Democrat Tammy Baldwin, a fellow member of the Judiciary Committee -- are not accepting the excuses made by members who appear to believe, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does, that some parts of the Constitution are "off the table."

"I have heard the arguments -- that it is too late, that we have run out of time, and that we don't have the votes. While today there may not be enough votes in to impeach, it's premature to think that such support would not exist -- after hearings," Wexler says. "Let us remember that it wasn't until hearings began that the Watergate tapes emerged. Arguing that it is too late to hold hearings sets a dangerous precedent, as it signals to future administrations that in their waning months in office they're immune from constitutional accountability."

It is an election year, a time of great political theater. But nothing that will be said in the presidential debates is as important as what Wexler is saying about the holding the current administration to account.

© 2008 Capital Newspapers

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