The move by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich to open a House debate on the question of whether to impeach Vice President Cheney turned into a imbroglio for the Democratic leadership of the chamber Tuesday as mischievous Republicans joined dozens of Democrats in rejecting a move to table the resolution.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had thwarted Kucinich’s efforts to convince the Judiciary Committee to take up his proposal to hold the vice president to account for lying to Congress and the U.S. public in order to enter into a war in Iraq, and for trying to mislead again in order to start a war with Iran. So the Ohioan used a privileged resolution to bring the impeachment question up before the full House.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, then moved to table Kucinich’s resolution. "Impeachment is not on our agenda. We have some major priorities. We need to focus on those," said Hoyer, echoing Pelosi’s position that presidential accountability is "off the table."

That should have been the end of it. But it wasn’t.

A combination of more than 80 Democrats who apparently sincerely favored taking action against Cheney and Republicans who thought that an impeachment debate would embarrass Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders blocked the motion to table.

Only 162 members — 27 Republicans and 135 Democrats — supported Hoyer’s call to table the resolution. A total of 251 members — 86 Democrats and 165 Republicans — opposed it.

What followed was wrangling between Kucinich and Hoyer on whether to refer the resolution to the Judiciary Committee. The majority leader wanted to bury the articles of impeachment in committee, while Kucinich keep angling for a debate on the House floor.

That set up more votes, as Democratic leaders scrambled to block Kucinich’s moves.

C-SPAN covered it all, with its anchors breathlessly trying to keep up with the vote switches and political intrigues.

It took two more roll calls before members completed the procedural business of sending Kucinich’s articles to the Judiciary Committee — on a final vote of 218-194. That was technically a "win" for Hoyer, but the day belonged to Kucinich. After all, the Ohio congressman and Democratic presidential contender had succeeded — albeit briefly — in getting impeachment on the table.

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John Nichols is the author of THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders’ Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines 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.’"