C'mon, Oregon, let's impeach the President!

T.A. Barnhart

Or more accurately, let's follow the lead of some Illinois lawmakers and try to force the United States House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings.  While many in the mainstream press, status legal community, and the Republican Party will challenge this idea, the House's own rules seem to indicate that a state can pass legislation committing the House to proceed with impeachment.  Let's have a look at what's involved.

First, of course, the U.S. Constitution.  Quite simply, Article 1 Section 2 states "The House of Representatives shall ... have the sole Power of Impeachment."  Impeachment, according to usconstitution.net, "comprises both the act of formulating the accusation and the resulting trial of the charges."  The U.S. Senate, however, has "the sole power to try all impeachments."  This is straightforward; those who remember Clinton's impeachment proceedings remember the charges were brought by the House, of which the Senate acquitted him.

"Sole power" is an unambiguous way of making clear that the House, and only the House, may conduct an impeachment of the President.  This is not one of the powers reserved for the states or shared by the Senate or available to the judiciary.  The House impeaches the President, and no one else.  But what this statement leaves out is what initiates an impeachment process.  The President can only be impeached for "treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors."  The Senate makes the decision of guilt on whatever grounds the House bases an impeachment charge, but the Constitution does not declare limits on compelling the House to begin an impeachment.

This brings us to the source of the actions of the Illinois lawmakers' actions: Jefferson's Manual. 

"Jefferson's Manual was prepared by Thomas Jefferson for his  own guidance as President of the Senate in the years of his Vice Presidency, from 1797 to 1801. In 1837 the House, by rule which still exists, [my emphasis] provided that the provisions of the Manual should "govern the House in all cases to which they are applicable and in which they are not inconsistent with the standing rules and orders of the House and joint rules of the Senate and House of Representatives."

(from the House Rules, as prepared by the GPO)

In fact, the House Rules Committee states clearly: "... the rules of the House specifically provide that Jefferson's Manual does govern the proceedings of the House where applicable."  In 1998, House Speaker Newt Gingrich stated unequivocably that Jefferson's Manual prohibited House members "from language that is personally offensive toward the president;" Gingrich, wh lusted for Clinton's impeachment, nonetheless turned to the Manual to control the behavior of House members.Parl_manual_sm

In brief, the Manual is a statement of parliamentary procedure.  It is not the law of the land, but House leaders have repeatedly affirmed its authority.  David Dreier, Chairman of the House Committee on Rules, stated before both the 105th and 109th Congresses that the "Manual is designed to provide House Members and staff with a concise, yet informative user guide to the basic legislative process in the House of Representatives."  The Manual serves as an addendum to House Rules, and, as Rep Dreier notes, has been developed throughout the nation's history by distinguished legislators.  As the Senate is bound by its own historic rules – the unprecedented and arbitrary violation of these by recent Republican Senators causing huge protest among both Democrats and neutral observers – the House, too, uses the Manual to determine how it should conduct its business.  Jefferson's Manual is not the law, but it is used by the House to create law.

And Section 603 of Jefferson's Manual – which you can read here  – states "there are various methods of setting an impeachment in motion [including] by charges transmitted from the legislature of a State."  This is the obscure bit of the House's rules being utilized in Illinois.  The reading, for those favoring impeachment of Bush, is that a state can provide "inception of impeachment proceedings."  Like Article 1 Section 2 of the Constitution itself, this wording is quite clear.  A state legislature can bring a charge before the U.S. House of Representatives that would compel the House to begin impeachment proceedings.  This section of the manual lists the others who can bring such charges: a Member or Delegate; charges preferred by a memorial, which is usually referred to a committee for examination; a resolution from a Member and referred to a committee; the President; a grand jury; or from facts developed and reported by an investigating committee of the House.

This is much broader than just the House and represents Jefferson's strong states-rights inclinations.  I have not found report of any existing House Rule obviating the Manual in this regard; members of the House objecting to the action in Illinois make no such reference.  An article in the Chicago Sun-Times has an assistant for Speaker Hastert calling this strategy "ridiculous" but giving no reason why.  At this point, it appears that any state can, at the very least, propose and pass legislation calling upon the House of Representatives to begin impeachment.  If Illinois or another state (hm, there could be a lot of Democrats in Salem in January...) did pass legislation of this kind, the next step would be to submit the possibility to the courts.  A Democratic-controlled House might gladly accept such legislation – it would certainly remove the onus from them to be the instigators of impeachment – but one way or another, as de Tocqueville would remind us, this would end up being decided by the courts.

Whether or not any state has the political courage and ability to pass legislation calling for impeachment in this way remains to be seen.  I have no doubt Gov Pete Sorenson or Gov Jim Hill would sign such a bill; we don't have to be right or in the national majority, but a declaration from the Oregon Legislature, with the backing of a majority of Oregon citizens, would send the message that we reject the Bush plan to rule by fear and in violation of law.  Many of us already believe he has committed high crimes and misdemeanors – I'd simply note the outing of Plame, in which he was involved, and the evil manner in which he pushed for war and the murderous deaths of thousands – and that impeachment is well-deserved.  Perhaps Congress will take that step for us, but I am excited to know that my state has the right to make its own declaration.  For so many reasons, we Democrats must take back the Oregon House and keep the Senate and governorship; nationally we must come as close as possible to winning the Congress.  The time has come to make Bush an ineffective lame duck and to show the world that Americans are determined to pursue justice and peace.  And if Illinois or Oregon can help by starting the process of having this president impeached, so much the better.

(Much thanks to Bart Bolger for bringing this issue to my attention.)

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    First off, I have no problem with the idea of impeaching Bush.

    Some of the comments however, seem bent on critizing one gubernatorial candidate and holding up two other as the answer to all our worries. I have to wonder if this is a publicity stunt.

    I didn't have any idea though that a state legislature could do that. My guess is 90% of American's have no clue about those provisions. So in that context, I thought it was interesting.

    Here's the catch, let's say the US House is still controled by Republicans (something that is quite possiblity going to happen). For argumentive purposes let's say Washington state passes a bill similar to what your talking about (the reason for using Washington in this example is to remove any arguments about Oregon politics). What happens if the Repubican's who control the US House simply ignore it?

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    OK, we need a state legislative pro to chime in here - but I'm pretty sure that a legislative memorial doesn't get signed by the governor. It's a sense of the legislature kind of thing, not a law.

  • Garlynn (unverified)

    While I agree with the sentiment of this post, and I agree that we should do it, I must point out the obvious:

    If we impeach Bush, we get Cheney.

  • Suzii (unverified)

    Unless we impeach them both. There's a movement on in the California Assembly to that effect.

  • Garlynn (unverified)

    ...but then you get the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert. Well, I guess that would be a start, but on the other hand, it might give ole' Dennie a better leg up for re-election in 2008, which would not be a very pleasant scenario, either.

    I'm not against impeachment, I'm just tossing out the likely consequences. It could, potentially, just go from bad to worse, if successful. Of course, the likelyhood of it being actually successful is virtually nil, so just getting the process to occur up to a certain point, and getting it into the media, would probably inflict more damage and be ultimately a better long-term strategy than actually seeing the full impeachment proceedings run a successful course.

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    Do you have any information on that? A bill number or who is sponsering the bill?

    I'm curious about it, although it seems like a long shot.

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    If anyone's interested, here is some information:



  • Kagro X (unverified)

    Damn, that's a terrific piece of work there, T.A.! What a nice piece!

    I'd be pleased to see Oregon join in, and would love to help out as I've done in some of the other states.

    I'm aware of resolutions endorsing the Conyers resolution, H. Res. 635, having passed in the Democratic Committees of Multnomah and Josephine Counties, so the sentiment is there, and perhaps the example provided by Karen Yarbrough in Illinois, Paul Koretz in California, David Zuckerman in Vermont, and soon (we hope) Jim Ferlo in Pennsylvania will inspire someone in your legislature to join in. At this stage, just the introduction of a bill generates increased attention and excitement.

    More such resolutions from local Democratic party organizations, DFA-type activist groups, and most especially (as in Vermont) the State Democratic Committee can only help embolden your legislators.

    Anyone interested in kicking off such an initiative is more than welcome to drop me a line. I'd love to hook you up with other activists I've come across in my "travels," show you other resolutions that have been offered elsewhere, introduce you to others who've already done this, or whatever you might need. Or hell, just watch!

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    For those who need some good ole' musical motivation, today Neil Young released an amazing album "Living in War" that is a powerful indictment of this administration and could be the leading edge of an amazing social movement this summer and fall. He is streaming the entire album for free from his website:


    The album has 10 songs:

    After the Garden Living with War Restless Consumer Shock and Awe Families Flags of Freedom Let's Impeach the President <---------------- Looking for a Leader Roger and Out America the Beautiful

  • Gregg (unverified)

    Nice thought, but not in my lifetime. Yaaaaaahhhhhhhnnnn. Ummm I'm sleepy. GBC

  • askquestion1st (unverified)

    Gregg - Can't tell from your juvenile cynical style of commentary whether or not you understand that it all depends on the fall elections. That's the problem with being a smart-aleck: No one actually believes you're very smart, they just wonder how dumb you really are.

    If the Dems take either chamber of the U.S. Congress they will have subpeona power and it is a certainty the adminstration will be impeached because of the revelations that will come out. The real question is whether the Dems have the competence to win, and sadly that is far from clear. That doesn't diminish the importance of turning up the pressure on at home to get all electeds to take sides desipite their self-serving proclivities to try to avoid that.


  • Suzii (unverified)

    It could also be a strategic move to affect the November results:

    • A state legislature refers a bill of impeachment to the House.

    • The House is required to cease all other business in order to address the bill (as I understand it, it goes to a committee of the whole) so every member has to go on record on the question or explain to the constituents what seemed more important than showing up for this debate.

    • Any Congresscritter who opposes the bill but doesn't live in one of the remaining Red states (Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska) has just handed the opposition a soundbite for a TV ad on an emotional issue.

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    That would be nice if we won back one of the two. I don't remember how many we are down in terms of either chamber. If we don't win at least one of the two, I can tell you it will probably kill any momentum in terms of the 2008 election.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    All of the state-by-state polling right now suggests that Democrats will not take back either chamber. And that is largely traceable to the fact that we don't have a message that resonates with voting majorities right now. That's something I would offer that anyone in any forum such as Blue Oregon should give some conscious thought to.

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    That wouldn't surprise me at all. Yes, the message is getting muddled and it's going to cost us. This means 2 more years of Bush unchecked and ready to do anything he wants. You would think with those stakes the party would figure out where it's going.

    It also means in that we have very little momentum going into 2008.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    David English -

    I agree with you it gives us little momentum for 2008. I'm still hoping though that there is still enough time before November for us to collect our thoughts and get out there with a message and a campaign that will flip enough House races our way. It looks tough, but if we can't beat this party of the corrupt and criminal, it sure seems like this experiment in democracy is all but over for our lifetimes.

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