I (and no doubt hundreds of other people) received an e-mail earlier this week from my Congressman, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8), on the subject of impeaching Dick Cheney. Cutting to the chase:
While I understand the sentiments of those calling for impeachment, I am concerned that impeachment proceedings would have the effect of consuming the attention of the whole Congress, and leave little room for us to pass positive reforms and fully address the business of the American people. [...] Should the House engage in impeachment hearings, it would inevitably divert time, resources, and attention from other efforts to pass meaningful legislation to address the many needs of the country.
(I’ve published the full text of the e-mail separately.) Regrettably, Congressman Van Hollen thus continues to espouse the idea that impeaching Dick Cheney (and presumably George Bush) would be a “diversion” based on “sentiments” — rather than a constitutional duty he and other House members are bound by oath to perform.*
I was particularly struck by Van Hollen’s rosy view of Congressional successes to date in reining in this executive branch. After averring that “Congress must conduct aggressive oversight and investigate the Vice President’s and the Administration’s actions,” Van Hollen wrote:
I am pleased that the 110 th Congress is taking its responsibilities seriously. The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, of which I am a member, has already held hearings on waste and fraud in spending on the Iraq War, management of Homeland Security contracts, allegations of political interference with the work of government climate change scientists, political dealings at the General Services Administration, and the leak involving Valerie Plame. We have also issued a subpoena for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to come before the Committee and discuss the Administration’s flawed justifications for the war in Iraq .
Additionally, the Judiciary Committee, under the leadership of Chairman John Conyers, examined Presidential signing statements in its first hearing. They are in the midst of ongoing investigations into the Attorney General’s office and the Administration’s practice of using Republican National Committee e-mail accounts for official government business. The House Select Committee on Intelligence is holding hearings into abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and on issues with the classification of national security information.
He has got to be kidding me.
Frankly, my little girl, her 4th grade pals and I can conduct the kind of pattycake oversight this Congress has — powerless, ineffectual, bordering on the ridiculous. Why, if I’m not mistaken we issued a subpoena just the other day for Condoleezza Rice to appear before us — with results no worse than what Mr. Van Hollen’s committee has achieved to date.
This e-mail arrived after last week’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) rewrite debacle, not before. In the wake of that vote (which I should note that Van Hollen opposed, to his credit) it should not only be rank and file Democrats and constitutional patriots who should be disturbed — it should be Van Hollen.
Recapping, Congress took away the FISA court’s exclusive power to issue warrants for electronic eavesdropping “directed at” foreigners, and then gave it to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales — after they’d conclusively established in both the House and the Senate that Gonzales lies roughly every time his lips are moving.
If that’s “aggressive oversight,” I’m a monkey’s uncle. I will of course continue to listen to Mr. Van Hollen’s views, and seek to understand them and discuss them. But I will not tolerate being taken for a fool.
And more to the point, neither should Mr. Van Hollen. Oversight isn’t just about holding hearings. It needs to involve consequences when you find out the person you’re overseeing is conducting the nation’s business badly, and especially when you find you’ve been lied to. And when Congress finds its constitutional obligation to conduct this kind of oversight is essentially being reduced to farce, it should reach for stronger weapons — like impeachment proceedings.
* The notion that a Congress busy with impeachment hearings and politics can’t meet its other responsibilities is plainly a canard. As pointed out at Takoma Park Impeach Bush and Cheney, the 93d Congress, while most remembered for the impeachment hearings in the House and the investigative hearings in the Senate, was also responsible for landmark legislation such as the Employment Retirement Income Security Act, the Congressional Budget Act, and the War Powers Act.
In what Wikipedia warns is only a “partial list of notable legislation” by the 93rd Congress, I also found such obscure achievements as the Endangered Species Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, along with the Fair Labor Standards Amendment, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, the Amtrak Improvement Act, the Domestic Volunteer Services Act of 1973 (VISTA), the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, the Research on Aging Act, the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1973, the Rehabilitation Act, the Legal Services Corporation Act, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, the National Mass Transportation Assistance Act, the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act, the Privacy Act of 1974 (what were they thinking), the Trade Act of 1974, and the National Health Planning and Resources Development Act.
I hope Mr. Van Hollen will be as impressed and inspired as I was at this record of achievement by a Congress whose attention was allegedly “consumed” by impeachment — and that he’ll no longer argue Congress must choose between impeachment and serving the American people in other ways.