"President George W. Bush has failed to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States; he has failed to ensure that senior members of his administration do the same; and he has betrayed the trust of the American people," Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney explained in remarks prepared to accompany her submission on Friday of articles of impeachment against Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
McKinney, in her last legislative act before leaving the House at the end of her current term, represented not merely a final thrust by the Georgia Democrat against the Bush administration that she has so consistently opposed but a challenge to the new House Democratic leadership to pay more than lip service to its Constitutionally-mandated duty to check and balance the executive branch.
"With a heavy heart and in the deepest spirit of patriotism, I exercise my duty and responsibility to speak truthfully about what is before us," continued McKinney, according to a copy of her remarks distributed by the Atlanta Progressive News network. "To shy away from this responsibility would be easier. But I have not been one to travel the easy road. I believe in this country, and in the power of our democracy. I feel the steely conviction of one who will not let the country I love descend into shame; for the fabric of our democracy is at stake. Some will call this a partisan vendetta, others will say this is an unimportant distraction to the plans of the incoming Congress. But this is not about political gamesmanship. I am not willing to put any political party before my principles. This, instead, is about beginning the long road back to regaining the high standards of truth and democracy upon which our great country was founded."
There will be many who dismiss McKinney's filing of articles of impeachment against the president and members of his administration as an act of little consequence. The congresswoman has been a controversial figure during six terms in the House, often placing herself well to the left of her own caucus, particularly on issues of presidential accountability. And her impending departure from the chamber means that her resolution will only be a factor in the next Congress if another member takes it up. With incoming-Speaker Nancy Pelosi telling fellow Democrats that they must keep impeachment "off the table," that may not happen in the short term.
But McKinney's move ought not be casually discounted. As a legislative veteran whose service at the state and federal levels goes back almost 20 years, she well understands that the coming investigations of administration wrongdoing could well put impeachment back on the table.
McKinney knows that speaks for a great many House Democrats who, while they may currently be honoring their leadership's calls for caution on the issue, fully recognize that the president and vice president need to be held to account for their disregard of the rule of law and their Constitutionally-defined responsibilities. Remember that McKinney, who lost a primary runoff earlier this year, was just one of 38 members of the House who cosponsored a resolution submitted last year by Congressman John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat who will take charge of the Judiciary Committee in January, to create "a select committee to investigate the Administration's intent to go to war before congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture, retaliating against critics, and to make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment."
McKinney speaks, as well, for the 51 percent of Americans who, according to a Newsweek Poll conducted on the eve of the November 7 election, expressed support for impeachment of the president. In that poll, 47 percent of Democrats said that impeachment should be a "top priority" of their party if it took control of the House, as did an intriguing 5 percent of Republicans.
A measure of the pro-impeachment sentiment will be on display this weekend, as activists rally in dozens of communities across the country to express support for sanctioning the president with the Constitutional remedy provided by the founders.
McKinney's impeachment resolution, the last legislation she will introduce as a House member, echoes the concerns that have underpinned the movement to impeach the president and members of his administration: allegations that the White House manipulated intelligence to convince members of Congress and the American people to support going to war in Iraq, the president's approval of an illegal warrantless wiretapping program, seizure of powers and failures to cooperate with Congressional investigations.
Perhaps more importantly, McKinney made clear in the statement she prtepared for the Congressional Record that she was concerned not only with presidential wrongdoing but with congressional inaction.
A failure to uphold the delicate system of checks and balances that was put in place by the founders does not occur in isolation. Just as the executive branch pushes the envelope in exceeding its authority, so the Congress must at least to some extent allow the envelope to be pushed.
As a departing member of Congress, McKinney is perhaps freer than most to criticize the House as a whole, and she is doing so with appropriate sternness.
"We have a President who has misgoverned and a Congress that has refused to hold him accountable. It is a grave situation and I believe the stakes for our country are high," read the congresswoman's prepared remarks, which will appear in the Congressional Record next week. "No American is above the law, and if we allow a President to violate, at the most basic and fundamental level, the trust of the people and then continue to govern, without a process for holding him accountable, what does that say about our commitment to the truth? To the Constitution? To our democracy?"
McKinney's answer is an appeal to the people who Thomas Jefferson correctly identified as "the safest depository of the ultimate powers of government."
"To my fellow Americans," declared McKinney, "as I leave this Congress, it is in your hands to hold your representatives accountable, and to show those with the courage to stand for what is right, that they do not stand alone."
John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by author Gore Vidal as "essential reading for patriots." David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, says: "With The Genius of Impeachment, John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so."
The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com