a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

A town hall meeting on Capitol Hill

Posted by Thomas Nephew on September 23rd, 2007

[crossposted in adapted form from Takoma Park Impeach Bush and Cheney]

On the morning of Thursday, September 20, over two dozen impeachment supporters from Takoma Park, Garrett Park, and elsewhere in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District crowded into a meeting room in Longworth House Office Building for a wide ranging discussion with Rep. Chris Van Hollen.

State Senator and constitutional expert Jamie Raskin and Takoma Park Mayor Kathy Porter were among the delegates, who also included Lisa Moscatiello, Thomas Nephew, and Hank Prensky from Takoma Park, Warren Kornberg and Jim Agenbroad from Garrett Park, and Alan McConnell from Silver Spring, to name but a few.

Rep. Van Hollen was presented with a folder containing the Takoma Park City Council impeachment resolution, a list of signatories for the Garrett Park referendum, the agenda and attendance list for the meeting, prepared statements by several of the delegates, books on impeachment by Elizabeth Holtzman and John Conyers and his Judiciary Committee staff — and, in a small gesture he appreciated, a small box of “Impeachmints” candy bought at “Now and Then.”

What came next was basically a town hall meeting on Capitol Hill.

In prepared statements by Lisa Moscatiello and others, as well as in frank give and take, we told Rep. Van Hollen that impeachment must be tried and can succeed. While we regret he doesn’t agree with us (yet!) we’re encouraged by the fact that he really listened to us at length — the meeting was scheduled to last just half an hour, but went to nearly twice as long — and that he promised continued dialogue with us about this issue.

Van Hollen said he agreed on the merits of the issues Lisa and others raised such as torture, warrantless wiretapping, and indefinite detentions, but felt that between the courts and congressional oversight, these issues were being addressed. He didn’t agree that Congress had been “silenced,” and argued that a failed, “botched” impeachment attempt would be worse than none at all. He thinks that impeachment might not get a majority in the House at this time — although he did say it could get a majority of Democrats.

The congressman – who is head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – observed that by January the primaries would be underway. Warning about the effect on the elections, he asserted that the political benefit was questionable – impeachment appeals to the base, but not the general electorate.

“A single throw of the dice”
None of that went unchallenged, to put it mildly. Warren Kornberg asked “we wonder if you see what you’re staking on a single throw of the dice—on the outcome of the next election.” Regarding Van Hollen’s seeking “the best possibility of advancing our agenda,” I said Van Hollen’s bedrock obligation wasn’t to pass legislation, but was “in your oath of office: to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies.” In a tense exchange, Hank Prensky asked whether Van Hollen was waiting for more co-sponsors to H.Res.333, Kucinich’s bill calling for Cheney’s impeachment; Van Hollen replied that he resented that. Garrett Park’s David Haley said he’d left the Republican Party and voted for Van Hollen, but that independent voters like him would react if they see Congress has let Bush run off with the Constitution.

It was an extraordinary meeting, in my opinion. If he didn’t know it before, Representative Van Hollen knows now that he’s got some serious disagreement with his position on impeachment. The full texts of the joint statement and prepared statements delivered at the meeting are on the Takoma Park and Maryland 8th CD Impeach Bush Cheney web sites. For now, have a look at this excerpt from a recent article by John Nichols in The Nation:

The unfortunate reality of the moment is that a Democratic Congress that was elected to restore a measure of balance to the federal stage has responded to necessity with caution. But that does not change the eternal reality of the Republic, which is that this “opposition” Congress has a simple, basic, yet essential Constitutional duty. Members of the House and Senate must impeach and try a president who is assaulting the most basic precepts of the American experiment. Anything less is a mockery of the document they swear an oath to defend – and an invitation to this and future presidents to further unchain the dogs of war that the founders struggled so mightily to contain.

Tipping Point
In her remarks to Congressman Van Hollen, Mayor Porter said the impeachment movement was one of the biggest grassroots movements she’s witnessed in Takoma Park. And it’s spreading: Garrett Park residents have taken up the cause, forcing a referendum on the issue in upcoming city elections. The Montgomery County Council may consider a similar resolution as well.

I think there will be a tipping point for Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic leadership, and all of Congress, and I think we helped push things a little closer to that on Thursday.

Mr. Van Hollen’s rosy view of this Congress’s ability to check Bush and Cheney is difficult to accept. The shameful “Protect America Act” cave-in on FISA in August actually has us going backwards on one of the key issues Bush deserves impeachment for. And just this week, Congress proved more willing to censure a grassroots organization for exercising free speech about a disastrous war than it has been to punish the President and Vice President who deceived this country about that war in the first place.

Still, I think we can succeed if each of us takes some time right now to call Rep. Van Hollen at 202-225-5341, or your own Congressperson at 202-224-3121. Then call him or her again early next week, and again and again and again in the weeks ahead.

Urge them to honor their oaths of office by supporting the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney. Urge them to start by co-sponsoring H.Res 333, the resolution calling for Dick Cheney’s impeachment.

EDIT, 9/24: I stop referring to myself in the third person re my “oath of office” statement.

11 Responses to “A town hall meeting on Capitol Hill”

  1. janinsanfran Says:

    Interesting that your Congresscritter is the head of the DCCC. Every time they call for money, I tell them “no” because I see no sign that Democrats are doing anything except waiting for the next election and whining that they don’t have the votes.

  2. eRobin Says:

    It was an extraordinary meeting, in my opinion. If he didn’t know it before, Representative Van Hollen knows now that he’s got some serious disagreement with his position on impeachment.
    He proabably did not know before – and now he knows that you guys are smart, prepared, convincing and invested – not a fly by night group that can be ignored. Meetings with Reps is one of the hardest things to get and the best way to be heard – especially if you want to play nice and think you’ll get movement that way.
    It’s moving forward that’s tricky. And public display is considered a threat to the rep but if he doesn’t do what you want him to, then what are your choices really? How are you guys at writing op-eds and letters to the editor? Those are middle grounds that are very effective.

  3. eRobin Says:

    Should be “Any public display …”

  4. eRobin Says:

    Oh – and editorial board meetings work sometimes.

  5. Thomas Nephew Says:

    It’s moving forward that’s tricky.
    Agreed! We’re putting our heads together about that. An op-ed or interview/story may be in the works, for starters. Editorial board meeting is an interesting idea — though picking the paper would be a challenge. WaPo seems unlikely, Sun a bit far off, Gazette… I’ve always had a bit of a Republican impression of them. Hmm.

  6. Cricket Says:

    You might have a shot at the Post if the op ed is signed by someone with some visibility. That could include Jamie or perhaps Mayor Porter. Don’t bother otherwise!

  7. » » Gordon Clark (Green-MD-8) on Congress and impeachment Says:

    […] votes, and found him to be at least a patient and polite listener, if not a very receptive one, in our meeting about impeachment with him last year. But since his “no” vote against the Iraq War six years ago — […]

  8. » Blog Archive » My big fat grassroots weekend Says:

    […] UPDATE, 9/24: WorldWideWeber has a nice post about the demonstration, and here’s a post about how the meeting with Van Hollen went. UPDATE, 10/1: Of course there’s an web site! As you might expect, […]

  9. » Blog Archive » A delicious yummy mess of pottage Says:

    […] Pelosi prattled on about once — serious liberal Democrats like Harold Meyerson and Chris Van Hollen and Eric Alterman nodding sagely at her side.  Well, Alterman came later, but I’m being […]

  10. » Blog Archive » The other debate this Thursday — Gordon Clark and Chris Van Hollen Says:

    […] main example, for me, is that Van Hollen joined Democratic leadership in stonewalling the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney.  I remain convinced that this was nothing less than a violation of […]

  11. » Blog Archive » Takoma Voice impeachment op-ed piece Says:

    […] with Van Hollen, urge impeachment of President,” a piece I wrote that builds on the “A town hall meeting on Capitol Hill” blog post here a couple of weeks ago. The piece combines a report about the basics of that […]

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