Impeachment, part 2 —

Senator Ron Wyden recently held a town hall meeting at Southern Oregon University. The topic was Iraq and he took questions from the audience. No subject came up that elicited more response than that of impeachment. One individual, standing at the microphone, said that the war in Iraq would not end until the President was impeached. The audience clapped loudly. If it's possible to clap angrily and affirmatively, that was the tone and the subtext. Each time the word was mentioned, the reaction was the same. For those present, impeachment was not the word that shall not be named. To the contrary.

The impeachment of a sitting President, Vice President, or any civil officer is embedded in our Constitution (Article II, Section 4) as a remedy for "Treason, Bribery, or high Crimes and Misdemeanors." The Articles of Impeachment originate with the House of Representatives where they must be approved by a simple majority. The Senate receives the Articles and then holds a trial where the elected official is judged to be guilty or not guilty of the charges listed in the articles. In order to convict the accused, a two-thirds majority of the senators present is required. Conviction automatically removes the defendant from office. The president cannot pardon himself.

While the Constitution is quiet on what constitutes "High Crimes and Misdemeanors," the folks at the town hall meeting sounded like they would have no trouble constructing a bill of particulars, born not out of a need for partisan revenge but out of an abiding frustration and anger that can easily turn to sadness. What to do if not impeach this sitting President who has done such grievous harm to our Constitution and our country, the audience seemed to be asking?

The grievances most often mentioned when weighing impeachment focus on a failure to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. 1) The President and Vice President manipulated and distorted intelligence to justify going to war with Iraq. 2) The executive branch has failed to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed. Without warrant, as required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the President directed the National Security Agency to conduct illegal electronic surveillance of citizens of the United States on U.S. soil, thereby subverting the powers of Congress and the judiciary. These activities were concealed from the people. 3) In violation of the Geneva Convention, the President ordered the extraordinary renditioning of "unlawful combatants" to foreign countries where they were tortured. Contrary to the principles of our Constitution and the Geneva Convention, the President suspended habeas corpus and has detained "unlawful combatants" indefinitely.

Ask more than three people and other articles easily come to mind: The unrelenting attempt to expand executive power by using "signing statements" to obviate any laws the President did not agree with; a Katrina/Walter Reed-like level of incompetence that rises to an impeachable offense; the politicization of the Justice Department and the firing of U.S. attorneys for political reasons; the leaking of the classified name of Valerie Plame Wilson, a C.I.A. operative. And so on.

Yet, while the polls reflect a growing cynicism regarding this administration (the President's approval rate hovers at 30 percent or below), there also exists an ambivalence toward the "I" word that has been fairly consistent over the last two plus years.

In early 2005, a poll conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs Research 50 percent of Americans said that if President Bush lied about the war in Iraq he should be impeached. A Zogby poll in the same year confirmed this result. November of 2005, a Washington Post-ABC poll found that 55 percent of Americans believed "the Bush administration intentionally misled the public."

In March of 2006, in a poll conducted by the American Research Group, 42 percent of American adults favored impeachment. A Newsweek poll in late 2006 found that only 28 percent felt that impeachment should be a top priority, 23 percent a lower priority and 44 percent felt it should not be done at all.

In May of 2007, according to an Insider Advantage poll, only 39 percent of voters favored impeachment and 55 percent opposed. In July of the same year, in a telephone poll conducted by American Research Group, 45 percent of American adults favored beginning impeachment proceedings with 46 percent opposing.

Despite the egregious violations of our Constitution, and the damage done to our troops and to America, there has not been a grass roots movement sweeping the country for the removal of the president from office. Nor has Congress shown an appetite to take on this contentious process, even after last November's election.

So why does the public seem willing to grit its teeth and suffer through the next sixteen months instead of demanding their constitutional right to turn the titular head of this administration out of office? The answer to that question will be explored in the next Case in Point.