Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Gift that Keeps Giving

Democrats Still Talking Impeachment

Roll Call (subscription required) reports that Nancy Pelosi may not be excited to talk about impeaching President Bush, but she does plan on elevating impeachment crusader John Conyers to a position of power if Democrats retake the House:

Carefully, Pelosi Backs Conyers Gavel
May 9, 2006
By Steve Kornacki,
Roll Call Staff

On a weekend in which House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) publicly detailed her party’s legislative agenda items if they assume control of the House next January, the top House Democrat used a rare Sunday morning television appearance to pointedly suggest that Rep. John Conyers (Mich.) — the would-be chairman of the Judiciary Committee — would not make the call on whether impeachment proceedings against President Bush are launched by a new Democratic majority.
“That is not where the decision will be made,” Pelosi told NBC’s Tim Russert on “Meet the Press.”

And yet, the Democrats’ reliance on the seniority system puts Conyers, a 21-term Detroit lawmaker who months ago introduced legislation to empanel a committee to determine whether grounds exist to impeach Bush, squarely in line to chair the Judiciary Committee under a Democratic majority. And with that gavel, he would have the authority to convene impeachment hearings — with or without the consent of Pelosi, or anyone else.

…On Monday Pelosi’s press secretary, Jennifer Crider, insisted that a Chairman Conyers “couldn’t take [impeachment] in any direction without the agreement of the Leader and the Democratic Caucus.”

“When you are elected as a chairman, you are elected as a representative of the Democratic Caucus,” Crider stated.

Conyers would likely find it a lonely road if he decided to pursue impeachment without the blessing of Pelosi and the Caucus. For one thing, his fellow Democrats could undermine and marginalize any investigation by publicly disavowing it. And Republicans on the Judiciary Committee could gum up an inquiry by introducing any number of motions designed to impede the process — motions that would pass unless Conyers managed to corral all of his fellow committee Democrats to stand with him.

Still, through his defiant antagonism of the Bush administration, the 76-year-old Conyers has found himself a sizable national cheering squad of progressive activists, many of whom regard the impeachment of Bush as a political litmus test.

Just hours after Pelosi’s Sunday NBC appearance, Conyers himself took to the blogosphere, posting an essay on the progressive Web site MyDD.com, forcefully renewing his pledge to “push for oversight of this Administration” as Judiciary chairman. His treatise was greeted with a flood of effusive praise from readers of the site.

…For his part, Conyers said that the Democratic leaders “cooperate and work together.”

“The idea of me going forward with [impeachment] when there wasn’t support from the leadership — that would be a pretty rare circumstance,” the Congressman said.

Still, he said his call for a select committee to investigate Bush for impeachable offenses makes “perfectly good sense, in the tradition of Sam Ervin,” the late North Carolina Democratic Senator who played a key role in the Watergate investigation.

Asked if he would heed any pressure from party leaders to hold back from impeachment even if he felt it were warranted, Conyers replied: “How would I know? There’s no way I can tell you what I’m going to do if something happens.”

…There may be another wrinkle to the question of how secure Conyers’ hold on the prospective chairmanship could be.

The Detroit Free Press reported in 2003 claims by several ex-staff members that Conyers forced them to perform campaign work on government time, babysit his children and shuttle them to and from school, and to tutor his wife for law school. One ex-aide even contended that Conyers commanded her to move into his Michigan home and serve as a live-in nanny for six weeks. The controversy resurfaced several months ago when some of the staffers publicly released letters they had sent to the House ethics committee.

Asked whether Pelosi’s professed support for Conyers means the Minority Leader is satisfied that the charges leveled against Conyers are groundless and that he is fit to chair the Judiciary Committee, Crider responded, “Every Member has to follow the rules and obey the laws,” reiterating Pelosi’s repeated public statements about Democratic Members accused of improprieties. “If they don’t, they will be held accountable.”

Other well-placed Democratic aides, however, say it’s unlikely that Conyers, the second-most senior Democratic House Member, will be bumped from his perch — unless the ethics questions surrounding him metastasize and threaten the political prospects of all Democrats.

In addition, Conyers enjoys strong support from the Congressional Black Caucus, which would make dislodging him a potentially treacherous maneuver for the Democratic leadership.

I talked about the politics of impeachment talk here. Suffice it to say that the Republican National Committee will pay for the time, if Nancy Pelosi will just get on television and talk about impeachment.

And on the subject of John Conyers and ethics, the response of Ms. Pelosi’s spokeswoman is wonderful. Not ‘Ms. Pelosi is confident that Mr. Conyers has done nothing wrong,’ and not ‘Ms. Pelosi is very concerned about Washington’s culture of corruption, and she supports a full inquiry.’ No - improprieties are treated differently, depending on whether you’re Democrat or Republican. So if you want to change the culture in DC, supporting Democratic candidates won’t make anything better. And they’re trying to sell the Democrats as the party of reform?


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