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Chuck Schumer Has Half of a Plan

In the car this morning, I was listening to Chuck Schumer being interviewed by Terry Gross. I have to say, I've always had a soft-spot for the guy. First, he's just so New York (that voice!) it's hard for me not to like him. Second, he came to talk at my university when I was an undergrad about the Violence Against Women Act and I was blown away by how knowledgeable and passionate he was about the topic. Even as he's moved in a strange, hawkish direction post 9/11, I've retained an affection for him, but his performance on Fresh Air was frustrating.

Atrios has done a thorough job documenting the idiocy of Democratic politicans talking to the press about how "Democrats don't have a message" or "Democrats always say what they're against, but not what they're for." That's a perfectly fine point for a pundit or journalist or dude in a bar to make, but if you're a sitting Senator, you're in a unique position to do something about the putative lack of message and that is: Articulate your message! No one's stopping you. There's no reason to spend precious air time talking about a lack of message when you can easily help solve the problem.

And what is Chuck Schumer's message? Well, it's almost like an Onion headline about the Democrats. It's called the 50% solution, and I'll let Mark Schmitt, reviewing the book over at TPM Cafe, sum up why it's such a lemon:

Most of Senator Schumer's halfway goals don't really lend themselves to that kind of 50% solution. Others have commented on the terrorism section, so I won't talk about that. But take the goal of reducing children's access to internet pornography by 50%. As a parent, I don't want my child to be exposed to pornography, and as a First Amendment civil libertarian, I don't want a lot of restrictions on free expression on the internet. That's a conflict. But the halfway point -- accepting some restrictions as a price for reducing children's exposure to pornography by 50% -- seems the worst of both worlds. I don't want young children to see just half as much porn! And I don't know what a "Schumer Box" is or how it reduces porn, and I'm not sure I want to know.

Big Russ and the VP

If I were Tim Russert I'd be as hopping mad as a Buffalo Bills fan on any given Sunday. First, Dick Cheney's office tried to scapegoat him in the Plamegate scandal and then Cheney's staff wanted to book the VP on Meet the Press specifically because they found it easy to "control the message" on Russert's show.

To recap: Cheney's former chief of staff Scooter Libby is on trial for perjury, specifically for falsely claiming that he first learned about Joe Wilson's wife from Tim Russert. (Read David Corn's Capital Games for a full account of the trial so far.) According to former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer's testimony, Libby knew about Valerie Plame before he talked to Russert.

If Fleischer is correct and Libby was lying, the interesting question is not why (to protect himself and his boss) but why out of all the people in the media business Scooter picked Tim Russert to blame.

Former Cheney communications director Cathie Martin, who was tasked with containing the Plame scandal after it broke, shed some light on this question. "I suggested we put the vice president on 'Meet the Press' which was a tactic we often used," Martin revealed in recent testimony. "It's our best format."

There is clearly only one way this convoluted circle can be complete. Tim Russert needs to invite Cathie Martin on Meet the Press, read that quote back to her, and ask her to explain.

Father Robert Drinan, D-Constitution

When Father Robert Drinan was swept into Congress as part of the "New Politics" surge of 1970 -- which saw Democratic primary voters across the country replace pro-Vietnam War incumbents with anti-war champions such as California's Ron Dellums and New York's Bella Abzug--the new representative from Massachusetts arrived as a Constitutional scholar who had a bone to pick with Richard Nixon's imperial presidency. The longtime dean of the Boston College of Law, Drinan joined the House Judiciary Committee with the stated purpose of renewing the system of checks and balances by asserting the power of Congress to constrain and, where necessary, sanction the president for overstepping his authority.

Nixon was not amused. He placed Drinan's name high on the White House "enemies list" and the chairman of the Republican National Committee, a Nixon acolyte named George Herbert Walker Bush, declared that the dissenting Democrat's defeat would be a top priority of the president's party.

Drinan did not blink. The Jesuit priest, who has died this week at the age of 86, never hesitated to identify Nixon's military adventurism in southeast Asia as both "morally objectionable" and "illegal." And the wily and whimsical scholar--who had joked with supporters such as a young John Kerry about campaigning on the slogan: "Vote for Father Drinan or Go to Hell"--was determined to hold Nixon to account on both counts.

In particular, Drinan believed that Nixon's secret order of a massive carpet bombing campaign against Cambodia--according to White House transcripts, the president announced to aides: "I want gunships in there. That means armed helicopters, DC-3s, anything else that will destroy personnel that can fly. I want it done!"--represented an absolute violation of the constitutional requirement that wars be authorized by Congress.

After New York Times reporter William Beecher exposed the fact that the initial carpet-bombing campaign had gone on for more than a year and killed tens of thousands of Cambodians, Drinan introduced H. Res. 513 – "Resolution impeaching Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States, of high crimes and misdemeanors"--on July 31, 1973. An embarrassment to House Democratic leaders, who were trying to mute discussion of impeachment at a time when Nixon's approval ratings remained high, Drinan's resolution, which citied violation of Section 1, Article 8, of the Constitution – "The Congress shall have power to… declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water"--as the grounds for impeachment, was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. Despite the fact that committee chair Peter Rodino told CBS News on the night of its introduction that the question it raised was a "serious matter," the impeachment resolution attracted no cosponsors and languished in committee for months.

Almost exactly a year after its introduction, however, when the wheel had turned to such an extent that Nixon had in fact been impeached by the Judiciary Committee, a version of Drinan's resolution was finally considered in the committee's closing discussion on articles of how to act against Nixon. With support from the Congressional Black Caucus, Drinan pressed the committee to move his article of impeachment against Nixon for ordering the bombing of Cambodia without the permission of Congress. Key Democrats in Congress opposed the article, arguing that, while America people were prepared to impeach the president for the petty crimes of Watergate, they were not ready to remove him for violating the Constitutional constraint on presidential warmaking. Drinan was having none of it. To the suggestion that an article of impeachment sanctioning the president for the ordering the bombings would not "play in Peoria," the congressman from Massachusetts asked: "How can we impeach the President for concealing a burglary but not for concealing a massive bombing?"

Drinan's argument drew enthusiastic support from a number of the Judiciary Committee's younger members, including the Michigan representative who would eventually become its chair, John Conyers. But the committee's majority rejected the sanction by a vote of 26-12. The committee's failure to send a clear signal about the limits on presidential warmaking haunt the United States to this day.

When I began to study the history of impeachment, I consulted with Father Drinan, who helped to form my understanding of the founders' intent that the "heroic medicine" be used "to chain the dogs of war." Drinan and I spoke often in his later years, when he taught at Georgetown University Law Center and kept a wary eye on the Capitol where he had served from 1971 to 1981, when a papal order forced him to leave the House.

Drinan was frustrated by the caution of the Congress during the presidencies of both Bill Clinton and George Bush. He really did believe in the necessity of checks and balances--calling for his successors in the House to look beyond their party affiliations to challenge the failed approaches of Democratic and Republican presidents in the Middle East. And he never lost his sense of perspective when it came to impeachment. He dismissed Republican attempts to sanction Bill Clinton as petty moralizing gone awry. And he counseled those who would seek to remove George Bush and Dick Cheney to understand and respect the process--as he noted that he had in waiting more than two years after arriving in Congress as an anti-war firebrand to move his article of impeachment against Nixon. Before there can be serious talk of impeachment, the law professor explained, newly empowered House Democrats must exercise the powers afforded by their committee assignments to genuinely investigate charges of wrongdoing, with the honest intent of separating mistakes from misdeeds and with an eye toward establishing precisely where lines of law and morality may have been crossed.

Those who now occupy stations of power in the Capitol should not be hesitant, however, in asserting that Congress has the authority to block executive warmaking and to hold president's to account. Active almost to the end, Drinan delighted in the determination of Democrats like Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold and his old Judiciary Committee colleague, Conyers, to challenge the excesses of the current administration.

Drinan died one day after hundreds of thousands of anti-war demonstrators filled the streets of Washington, two days before Feingold opened a Senate Judiciary Committee session on using the power of the purse to end the war in Iraq and three days before Conyers was set to convene an oversight hearing titled: "Presidential Signing Statements under the Bush Administration: A Threat to Checks and Balances and the Rule of Law?"

In a week such as this it is not so difficult to understand why -- after the 2006 elections gave Democrats control of both houses of Congress and handed key committee and subcommittee chairs to the likes of Conyers and Feingold--the old Jesuit was heard to proclaim: "God heard our prayers!" I am only sorry that Father Drinan is not around to enjoy the hearings that are in every sense are celebrations of the Constitution that he so cherished.

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John Nichols' latest book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism.

Senate Stalling on Iraq, Minimum Wage

The first thing the Senate did after the House overwhelmingly passed a minimum wage increase was to load up the bill with tax breaks for business. Then they began a seemingly endless debate on amendment after amendment, many of them irrelevant to any wage boost, that has stretched into the better part of two weeks.

No wonder Jon Stewart called the Senate "the place where smart people go to die." After considering 107 different Republican amendments, supporters of raising the minimum wage will push for a cloture vote today. If they get the sixty votes needed to end debate, a final vote will likely occur on Thursday. Once that's done, they can move on to debating what to do about Iraq. [UPDATE: The Senate voted 87-10 today to invoke cloture and head to a vote later in the week.]

Republicans view the debate on the minimum wage as a two-fer: they can both prevent (or at least dilute) an increase in the minimum wage through legislative minutiae and also forestall what will be an unpleasant conversation for the party over Iraq.

Once Senators tackle Iraq, however, it's uncertain how they'll proceed. The nonbinding resolution opposing the President's escalation, introduced by Senators Biden, Hagel and Levin, may not have enough votes to pass. A competing measure introduced by Senator John Warner, viewed as insufficiently tough on Bush, may siphon off votes and muddy the debate.

It's unclear why the House didn't take the lead on Iraq, just like they did on the 100 hour plan, and quickly pass a resolution denouncing Bush's policy right after the State of the Union address, as a prelude to more meaningful action. To many progressives, the House may be imperfect, but the Senate is certainly worse.

Libby Trial: Fleischer Tags Libby and Confesses Leaking

Taking the witness stand in the Scooter Libby trial on Monday, Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush's former press secretary, could not rely on his old friends, spin and deny. Instead, he shared an account that harmed Libby's defense, that spared the White House a new embarrassment, and that created a riddle.

Testifying as a prosecution witness, Fleischer--who cooperated with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald only after pleading the Fifth Amendment and obtaining immunity--told the jurors of a lunch he had with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby on July 7, 2003. This was one day after former Ambassador Joseph Wilson published an op-ed piece asserting he had inside information showing the White House had twisted the prewar intelligence and a week before the leak outing his wife as a CIA officer appeared in rightwing journalist Robert Novak's column. At the lunch, Libby, according to Fleischer, passed along what Fleischer considered an intriguing "nugget" of information: that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and had sent her husband on the fact-finding trip to Niger during which Wilson concluded that the allegation that Iraq was seeking uranium there was highly dubious. Libby was even specific about where Wilson's wife worked within the CIA: the Counterproliferation Division, a unit in the agency's clandestine operations directorate. Fleischer said that Libby mentioned the name of Wilson's wife and told him, "This is hush-hush, this is on the QT, not very many people know about this." Fleischer had not heard anything previously about Valerie Wilson.

The conversation was "odd," Fleischer testified. He noted that this was the first time he ever had lunch with Libby and that the vice president's chief of staff was not someone whom Fleischer considered a "source"--that is, a fellow White House official who would regularly tell Fleischer what was happening within 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Usually when Fleischer asked Libby questions about White House policies or actions, the "typical response," he said, was that Libby would tell him to check with Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser. After receiving the information from Libby on Valerie Wilson, Fleischer testified, he concluded that the Wilson mission to Niger was the result of "nepotism at the CIA." (Though a classified State Department memorandum written at the request of Libby weeks earlier had noted that Valerie Wilson had organized her husband's trip to Niger, the memo--due to a series of bureaucratic slips--had overstated her involvement in the trip. For a complete account of the misleading memo episode, see the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff: HUBRIS: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War.)

Fleischer's appearance was not so good for Libby, but not so bad for the White House. Once again, Fitzpatrick had a witness testifying that Libby had obtained information on Valerie Wilson and had passed it along. This undermined Libby's sworn statements to the FBI and a grand jury that days after this lunch--when he spoke to Tim Russert of Meet the Press--he knew nothing certain about Wilson's wife and her CIA employment. Fleischer testified confidently, as a fellow accustomed to fielding tough questions could be expected to do. He also admitted that he, too, had leaked information about Valerie Wilson to reporters.

This is what happened, Fleischer said: A day or so after his lunch with Libby, he was on Air Force One in a staff cabin. The president was touring Africa, and the Wilson controversy was raging, as reporters continued to hurl questions at the White House about Bush's use of the Niger charge in his prewar State of the Union. Fleischer was reading a classified CIA account of Wilson's trip that had been handed to him to by Rice. (He and other White House officials thought this document contained information that undermined Joe Wilson's criticism of the administration.) Sitting nearby was White House communications director Dan Bartlett (now counselor to the president). Bartlett was reading another document on the Wilson matter--probably a version of the State Department memo mentioned above. Bartlett, Fleischer said, exclaimed, "I can't believe he or they are saying the vice president sent Ambassador Wilson to Niger....His wife sent him. She works at the CIA." Bartlett wasn't speaking specifically to Fleischer, according to Fleischer; he was just "venting." Fleischer said nothing to Bartlett and kept on reading his own document. But he now had two sources--Libby and Bartlett--on Valerie Wilson's CIA connection.

Then on July 11, when Bush was in Uganda and visiting with children with AIDS, Fleischer sidled up to two reporters traveling with the president: David Gregory of NBC News and John Dickerson, then of Time, now of Slate. The night before, CBS News had reported that the White House had known the uranium-in-Africa charge was false at the time it was placed in Bush's speech, and Fleischer was looking to rebut this damaging charge. He told Gregory and Dickerson about Wilson's wife, hoping this would reinforce the White House claim that it had known nothing about the origins of the Wilson trip or Wilson's findings. But, according to Fleischer, the two reporters didn't react. They didn't take out their notebooks. They didn't ask follow-up questions. "Like a lot of things I said to the press," Fleischer testified, "it had no impact....This said to me that nobody really cares who sent Ambassador Wilson." Neither Gregory nor Dickerson (who was in the courtroom as Fleischer testified) broke the news about Valerie Wilson.

Fleischer's account of the leak-that-went-nowhere left Bartlett in a safe position. Bartlett, in this telling, had merely blurted out his reaction to a classified document. He had not passed the information to Fleischer with the intention of leaking it. Fitzgerald's opening argument made it seem that Bartlett was involved in a leak orchestrated by Fleischer. But Bartlett's participation in the affair--if Fleischer was speaking accurately--was accidental. Libby's, though, was not, according to Fleischer.

There was one big wrinkle in the Fleischer account. Call it the Dickerson Doubt. Dickerson has written that Fleischer did not tell him anything about Valerie Wilson. Describing his conversation with Fleischer, Dickerson in 2006 noted in Slate,

Some low-level person at the CIA was responsible for the mission. I was told I should go ask the CIA who sent Wilson.

In this article, Dickerson did not identify this official as Fleischer, but Hubris reported that Fleischer was his source. Dickerson also noted that an hour after this conversation another senior administration official--in this instance, Bartlett--told him essentially the same thing:

This official also pointed out a few times that Wilson had been sent by a low-level CIA employee and encouraged me to follow that angle. I thought I got the point: He'd been sent by someone around the rank of deputy assistant undersecretary or janitor.

Dickerson's account flat-out contradicts Fleischer's confession. (Gregory has not commented on this episode.) What does that mean?

The defense could have used this contradiction to try to impeach Fleischer's credibility. If Fleischer falsely remembers leaking, then maybe he's also wrong about what happened during his lunch with Libby. But Libby's lawyers want Fleischer to be right about the supposed leak to Dickerson and Gregory. They are building a case--or the innuendo--that Tim Russert was wrong when he told Fitzgerald's grand jury that he knew nothing about Valerie Wilson when he spoke to Libby (and could not have, as Libby has claimed, told Libby anything about Wilson's wife). Libby's attorneys have said that Russert may have had knowledge about Valerie Wilson and her CIA position because he may had heard about it from colleagues at NBC News, such as David Gregory.

It's complicated, but the argument goes like this: Fleischer leaked to Gregory and Dickerson; Gregory told Russert; and Russert told Libby that reporters were hearing that Wilson's wife was CIA. (There's a side benefit to this theory: Dickerson worked with Matt Cooper at Time. Perhaps Dickerson told Cooper about Valerie Wilson, and then Cooper, rather than receiving information on her from Libby, actually passed information to Libby.) But there's at least one problem for the defense. In the indictment of Libby, Fitzgerald noted that the Russert-Libby phone call happened on July 10, 2003. Yet Fleischer's (real or not) leak to Gregory (and Dickerson) occurred on July 11, 2003. To make this part of the defense work, Libby's lawyers have to show--or suggest--the Libby-Russert call occurred at a later time than Fitzgerald has placed it.

In any event, the defense was in a curious position. If it cited Dickerson's account to raise questions about Fleischer's memory, including his recollection of the lunch with Libby, it would have lost the (fanciful) Libby-to-Fleischer-to-Gregory-to-Russert-to-Libby daisy chain. As for what really happened in Uganda, Dickerson has the edge in credibility. First, he's not a former White House press secretary. More important, it's hard to imagine that both Dickerson and Gregory would not have reported new information about the Wilson trip, which was a piping hot story that week. As Dickerson has noted previously, when he subsequently learned that Wilson's wife was a CIA officer, he considered that noteworthy. (He heard this from Cooper, who had gotten a leak from White House aide Karl Rove.) Both he and Cooper then tried to get this information into Time's cover story on the scandal. Their editors, though, left this fact out--which led Cooper and Dickerson to file a story on the newsmagazine's website a few days later.

Dickerson is an inconvenient witness for both sides. The prosecution doesn't want him on the stand. He could impeach the credibility of its best witness so far. And the defense wants him out of the picture. He could undercut its attempt to rattle Russert. He appears to have a get-out-of-the-witness-box-free card. And the mystery of Fleischer's purported leak remains.

Why would Fleischer make up a leak that didn't happen? Did he seek immunity to cover an act that he didn't commit? What's a reporter covering this case--or a reader of the coverage--to make of this? A cascade of theories, no doubt, will pour forth. But this case has had memory issues. And Libby's lawyers will certainly be hammering that larger point--ad nauseum--in the weeks to come.

Other developments? Yes, there were some. When Ted Wells, a Libby attorney, cross-examined Cathie Martin, Cheney's former public affairs chief, he noted that none of the four sets of talking points created by Cheney's office regarding Wilson's charges mentioned Wilson's wife. Wells' point: this was not a matter of much concern for Cheney or Libby. But under questioning from Fitzgerald, Martin conceded that while Libby was in her loop, she was not in his--and that she was unaware of all of Libby's activities regarding the effort to counter Wilson. At the end of her testimony, she looked disappointed.

Later in the day, after Fleischer was done, David Addington, Cheney's current chief of staff, was called as a witness by the prosecution. He testified that sometime during the week after Wilson published his op-ed, Libby and he had a conversation in Libby's small office outside Cheney's West Wing suite. Libby, according to Addington, asked Addington, who used to work at the CIA, what paperwork would exist if a CIA officer sent a spouse on a mission. No names were mentioned, but Addington figured the query was related to the Wilson trip, and he explained to Libby how records are kept at the CIA. Addington told him that there ought to be paperwork documenting such a trip. He also testified that at one point in this conversation Libby "extended his hands out and pushed them down" to indicate that Addington should keep his voice low. Here was yet another indication that Libby had Joe and Valerie Wilson on his mind.

At the end of the day, the prosecution had fared better than the defense. Fleischer presented a puzzle. But he also was a straightforward witness regarding the lunch. Cathie Martin, who testified last week that she had told Libby and Cheney about Valerie Wilson, acknowledged that there was anti-Wilson activity going on in Cheney-land above her paygrade and that Libby was involved in this. And Addington's brief account depicted a Libby who was gathering information on Valerie Wilson in a suspiciously quiet manner. But the witnesses did provide plenty of information that Libby's legal team can use to support a variety of competing narratives, with the aim of confusing jurors. There remains a lot for the jury to sort out--and the prosecution's presentation is only half finished. Then comes the defense.

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DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Chicago: This Is What Democracy Looks Like?

I ask this question not in reference to the anti-war protests this weekend in the nation's capital, but of the municipal elections here in Chicago. Every four years we have a campaign for mayor that is far less competitive than the supposedly undemocratic presidential elections in Venezuela. Now running for his sixth term, mayor Richard M Daley, as per usual, faces no signficant opposition in the election set for Feburary 27th. That means he'll likely waltz to yet another crushing victory, and the city's very significant problems will once again not get the airing they desperately need. While it's true that certain aspects of the city are well-managed, there are enough dysfunctions in Daley-run Chicago that, if the city were actually a functioning democracy, the Mayor would be in real danger of being booted. His administration has been beset by scandals and corruption, most recently the conviction of his ex-patronage chief. The trial demonstrated conclusively that city jobs are still doled out in an old-school style patronage arrangement in violation of consent decrees designed to stop the practice and ensure basic civil service protections for city workers. But in some senses, the corruption pales in comparison to the systematic transfer of hundreds of thousands of poor, black, public housing residents out of the city's borders under the "Plan for Transfomation"[pdf], and a very troubling and persistent record of extreme police brutality[pdf]. There's also the budgetary shell game the mayor's been playing with Tax Increment Financing, something that has been well-covered in the pages of the Chicago Reader.

For all these reasons it was pretty dispiriting to watch Barack Obama kiss the Mayor's ring last week when he endorsed him at a press conference. Given the fact that Obama is going to do well in Illinois whether Daley helps him out or not, and that Daley himself is going to cruise to victory whether or not he receives Obama's imprimatur, it's just hard to see what Obama had to gain from aligning himself with the once and future king.

"Exercising Congress’s Constitutional Power to End a War"

Vice President Dick Cheney has made it clear that he does not believe Congress has much to say about the war in Iraq, in particular, or about foreign policy in general. With repeated assertions that the country "cannot run a war by committee," the man who defended the Reagan Administration's Iran-Contra wrongdoing and counseled the first President Bush to omit consultation with Congress before launching the Gulf War of 1991 has established the current administration's view regarding which branch of government is in charge when it comes to warmaking. "The president is the commander in chief," growled Cheney in a recent appearance on Fox News. "He's the one who has to make these tough decisions."

President Bush has dutifully echoed Cheney's line with clumsy but apparently heartfelt references to himself as "the decider."

Were it not for the small matter of the Constitution, the Vice President and his charge might be convincing on this matter.

Unfortunately for these transitory occupants of the White House, the Constitution affords them no comfort.

The document is clear in its language: "The Congress shall have the power... To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water; To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years; To provide and maintain a navy; To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces; To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress..."

If that makes it sound as if control over matters military was placed squarely in the hands of the House and Senate, then the founders succeeded in communicating their intent. James Madison and the other authors of the Constitution were exceptionally blunt about their hope that the the president would serve as a mere commander-in-chief, implementing the directions of the Congress with regard to the targets or military actions, the characters of those actions and their durations.

The founders bluntly stated their fears about executive excess in a time of military conflict. "War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement," warned Madison, who explained that, "In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venal love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace."

The Constitution was written "to chain the dogs of war" by founders who believed it essential that the endeavor be "run by committee" -- with the legislative branch fully empowered to check and balance the ambition, the avarice and the vanity of the executive.

Only in the spin-driven politics of the post-9/11 era could Cheney and Bush continue to peddle their fantasies about executive supremacy and an imperial presidency. They have taken advantage, masterfully at some points, brutally at others, of an on-bended-knee Washington press corps and a spineless Congress to control the dialogue and the direction of the country for more than four years. And, in so doing, they have sunk the nation deeper and deeper into the quagmire that is Iraq and the disaster that is their approach to a world that no longer trusts or even understands the actions of the United States.

Cheney and Bush have gotten away with a lot. But they have not succeeded in erasing the Constitution.

On Tuesday, the primacy of the essential document will be reasserted, as Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold chairs a full Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the topic of "Exercising Congress's Constitutional Power to End a War."

"Congress holds the power of the purse and if the President continues to advance his failed Iraq policy, we have the responsibility to use that power to safely redeploy our troops from Iraq," says Feingold, a Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution. "This hearing will help inform my colleagues and the public about Congress's power to end a war and how that power has been used in the past."

Among the witnesses Feingold intends to call are Duke University School of Law professor Walter Dellinger, the former Solicitor General of the United States, Louis Fisher of the Library of Congress and several other Constitutional scholars

But the purpose of the hearing is anything but academic.

"I will soon be introducing legislation to use the power of the purse to end what is clearly one of the greatest mistakes in the history of our nation's foreign policy," explains Feingold, who in recent weeks has emerged as the most ardent advocate for using the power of the purse to force a shift in administration policy.

When that legislation is introduced, there will be those who suggest that Feingold and his allies are moving the country toward a "Constitutional crisis"--with Congress demanding the redeployment of troops from Iraq and Bush refusing.

In fact, the crisis has already occurred. The executive branch is operating far outside the limits of the authority afforded it by the Constitution.

Congress has not only the power but the responsibility to restore the system of checks and balances, and with it an appropriate regard for the founding document of a great yet threatened republic.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

Edwards's Iran Problem

George W. Bush is upping the ante towards a war with Iran. And a number of prominent Democrats seem to be telling the President to go all in. Take one recent example: John Edwards.

During a speech via satellite at a security conference last week in Herzliya, Israel, Edwards joined the chorus of those threatening the Iranian government. "Iran threatens the security of Israel and the entire world," Edwards said, echoing a line peddled by many neoconservatives. "Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons."

A few moments later, he strongly hinted at the need for possible US military action. "To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table," Edwards said. "Let me reiterate – ALL options must remain on the table."

Such a provocative speech seems out of character for the ‘08 contender, at least in political terms. As he's moving left on Iraq---by calling on Congress to deny funding for an escalation of troops and advocating the immediate withdrawal of 50,000 US soldiers---why is Edwards veering right on Iran?

There's a few possible explanations. One, Edwards sincerely believes in a more confrontational Iran policy. Two, he's pandering to win the support and money of hawkish "pro-Israel" voters and donors. Three, he's trying to impress the foreign policy intelligentsia by talking tough.

No matter the rationale, speeches like these won't help Edwards with Democratic primary voters and could potentially injure his presidential prospects. Preventing a war with Iran is as important as getting out of Iraq to many in the peace movement. Indeed, those goals are now intertwined. Edwards can't have it both ways.

The Politics of Motherhood

Today's New York Times has a cover story about women politicians and the politics of motherhood.

As a woman, a wife, a mother, a step-grandmother of four, and the editor of a political weekly, I have strong yet conflicted feelings about this charged subject. Earlier this month, in my Editor's Cut blog, I tried to sort out my conflicted feelings about this very subject--provoked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi's use of motherhood and its images on her first day in office.

In that piece, I admitted that I was still sorting out my thoughts and asked readers what they thought. Their responses reflected a a wide range of opinion on an issue that resonates on many levels. But in today's media, there's not much space for nuance or for conflicted feelings about that trifecta of subjects: politics, women and motherhood. And when I read what the Times article chose to quote, it seemed like it was slotting me into a category--not trying to explore the nuances of this large subject.

For anyone who understands that there's no right answer, no single or easy way when it comes to being a woman in public life, please read my full blog post, Pelosi: Mother, Grandmother, Speaker --and the many fascinating reader responses--about the politics of motherhood.