Cheney's Impeachment Literally Fell 'Off the Table'
Maybe now we know what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) meant when she said impeachment was "off the table."
Lawmakers' voting cards on the issue were literally just that -- off the table -- during Tuesday's brouhaha when Republicans briefly hijacked control of the chamber with a procedural maneuver and thrust the Democrats perilously close to debating a resolution on impeaching Vice President Cheney.
Offered by long-shot presidential candidate Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), the unusual resolution would have resulted in the shortest impeachment debate ever -- one hour -- followed by a final vote on impeaching the unpopular vice president. Knowing how little Democratic leaders wanted to handle Kucinich's hot potato, Republicans began switching their votes late in the process, hoping to shame Pelosi and Co. into a debate that the GOP believed would expose the radical left in the chamber.
Republicans began siding with Kucinich against the tabling of his resolution, resulting in scores of GOP members lining up to switch their votes. With the House's electronic voting system shut down as the tally neared its final minutes, the only way for Republican lawmakers to change their position was to use old-fashioned voting cards, which, of course, slowed the proceedings further.
And then something happened purely by accident during the nearly two-hour disruption that helped gum up the works even more: A stack of red voting cards fell between a crack in two adjoining desks on the dais. (Red cards signify a switch to a "nay" vote; the green ones mean "yea.") Clerks used rulers, pencils and anything else they could find to fish the cards out so the vote could be concluded.
The House clerk's office didn't respond to requests for comment about the tie-up, but a Republican aide who was privy to the mishap said: "Accidents happen, but accidents in the middle of votes to debate impeachment don't happen every day. Unfortunately for the Democrats, it was that kind of day."
Impeachment: Dead or Alive?
While Republicans embarrassed Pelosi by siding with Kucinich -- once all those switched voting cards were fished out of the chamber's crevices -- Democrats successfully passed a motion to scuttle the hour-long debate and officially send the impeachment issue to the House Judiciary Committee. Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) have declared it dead on arrival there.
But Rep. Stephen I. Cohen (D-Tenn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, predicts that the panel will hold hearings. "I get that impression," he said. "The issue is still alive."
Cohen is a co-sponsor of the Kucinich resolution, which has three impeachment articles against Cheney. All told, 14 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, including the chairman, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), initially voted with Kucinich, signaling some level of impeachment interest on the panel.
Once Cohen realized what Republicans were up to, he sided with the leadership and voted to send the issue to the committee. "You don't impeach anybody in a kangaroo court," Cohen said. "That in and of itself is an impeachable offense."
For now, the official word is that Cheney can sleep tight. No impeachment in sight.
A statement from the committee indicated that the panel is "very busy" with other issues, but it added that the "committee staff should continue to consider, as a preliminary matter, the many abuses of this Administration, including the Vice President."