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A Jolly Good Show, but the Wrong Side of the Pond

Sen. Chuck Schumer, aspiring to the House of Commons.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, aspiring to the House of Commons. (C-span2 Via Associated Press)

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By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Give him a sword and a tunic, and Chuck Schumer would have made a passable Oliver Cromwell as he stood on the Senate floor yesterday.

The New York Democrat, playing a British parliamentarian, had come to seek a "vote of no confidence" in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- and thereby deal a blow to the imperial reign of President Bush the Second.

"We have a sacred, noble obligation in this country to defend the rule of law!" said the honorable Member of Parliament from High Dudgeon. "Without rule of law, without democracy, without rule of law being applied without fear or favor, there is no freedom!"

There was one big problem with Lord Protector Schumer's plan: The American system of government does not have no-confidence votes. That's what they do in Britain and other places with prime ministers and Houses of Commons and that sort of thing.

"This is not the British Parliament, and I hope it never will become the British Parliament," protested Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.), the chamber's No. 2 Republican. "Are we going to bring the president in here and have a question period like the prime minister has in Great Britain?"

The Senate Republican war room even distributed some talking points about the separation of powers -- written by James Madison in 1789.

Facing little risk of an actual beheading, Bush seemed happy to play King Charles to Schumer's Cromwell. Asked about the no-confidence vote while traveling in Bulgaria, the president made it clear: We are not amused.

"They can try to have their votes of no confidence, but it's not going to determine -- make the determination -- who serves in my government," Bush said.

My government? Only in America would the president turn himself into a king on the very same day that the Senate decides to become a parliament.

Though the Justice Department's inspector general is investigating politicization at Gonzales's department, Bush single-handedly exonerated his attorney general. "There's no wrongdoing," he determined from Sofia, repeating his statement of authority: "I'll make the determination if I think he's effective or not, not those who are using an opportunity to make a political statement on a meaningless resolution."

The unusual circumstances of the no-confidence vote brought awkward behavior. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) showed up wearing a tuxedo, even though it was not yet evening. Freshman Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) referred to the Senate's presiding officer as "Madam Speaker." Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), under scrutiny in a Justice Department corruption probe, voted "present."

The House, meanwhile, has shown no interest in taking up a no-confidence vote. It spent yesterday on more pressing matters, such as House Resolution 354, recognizing "the official 50th anniversary celebration of the beginnings of marinas, power production, recreation, and boating on Lake Sidney Lanier, Georgia."


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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