Sunday, July 15, 2007

Slow motion impeachment

History is full of unnecessary wars, wars that were undesirable for all concerned but happened nevertheless because the sides found themselves in a situation where war appeared to be the only course left.

If George W. Bush is impeached it will be as a result of a similar set of circumstances. It is not in the interests of the Democrats to remove a deeply unpopular and widely discredited President from office. But the administration is doing its best to ensure that they have no other choice.

At the center of the issue is the theory of the unitary executive, the doctrine that a Republican President is supreme above all other branches of Government. Needless to say, the doctrine does not apply to Democrats.

Having advanced this ludicrous theory for six years the Republican party is now in a bind. If they continue to support the Whitehouse they risk creating a precedent that they are likely to regret. Meanwhile the Whitehouse advances the peculiar view that the doctrine of separation of powers puts the executive branch above scrutiny or accountability.

In particular the attempt to cover up the Gonzalez/Rove/Whoever US Attorney firing mess is now threatening to make a worse situation into a disaster. Congress issues a subpoena, the Whiteouse thumbs its nose. The next step is contempt procedings which the Whitehouse appears to assume will not go anywhere as long as they get to pick who prosecutes whom.

The judicial branch handling of contempt proceedings is however a recent practice and one that Congress created for its own convenience. Congress can at any time hear a contempt of Congress case and pass sentence itself.

The breaking point then comes when Bush pardons whoever is found to be in contempt. It would be a foolish step to take, but one that it is hard to see Bush not taking. He has got away with so much, it is hard to see how he would back down.

The distinction that Bush, Cheney and Rove are unlikely to grasp is that the Republicans in the Senate may allow him to thumb his nose at the courts with the Libby pardon, but thumbing his nose at Congress is something else entirely.

The clock is running out, certainly. But as the clock runs out the Republican party is forced to look beyond the Bush administration and the Iraq fiasco and how they might rebuild their party. They might well prefer six months of a President Pelosi and a chance of keeping three or four seats in the Senate they would otherwise lose to six months of Bush scandals and a possible war with Iran.

By this time next year the GOP nominee is almost certainly going to be running against the Whitehouse. The Senate cacus will follow.

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