by Kagro X
So the Gonzo no-confidence vote goes down. Or more precisely, the cloture vote on the motion to proceed that would have allowed the Senate to take up the no-confidence resolution went down. That's where we stood procedurally. The Republicans (and Joe Lieberman) voted to prevent the Senate from going forward with consideration of the resolution.
Here's Joe on his vote:
My vote against going ahead with more debate on this no confidence resolution is not an expression of confidence in Attorney General Gonzales. It is an expression of opposition to spending any more time on a resolution that will accomplish nothing, instead of going ahead with the next item of business, which is energy legislation. If we work urgently together on energy legislation, we can accomplish something that is truly important to the American people. As I have said before, Attorney General Gonzales is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, and it's time for him to really look into his own heart and soul, as tough as it is, and ask whether he should continue in this job. And it is time for the Senate to move on right now to do something about energy prices supplies and energy prices.
You catch that? Technically speaking, Lieberman actually voted to extend debate -- that is, to refuse to end it by cloture. Which is a fine way to express your opposition to spending time on more debate, don't you think? Sort of like supporting the troops by voting to uphold a veto of a funding bill for them.
Of course, the real world effect of the vote is to pull the motion to proceed from consideration, such that the Senate will in all likelihood be free to move on to consideration of energy legislation, or any other measure. But I thought that was an interesting note.
Also of note, Lieberman actually was "right," in that the resolution expressing no-confidence doesn't actually do anything. At least not by itself. It's non-binding, so it can't force Gonzales' removal from office. Only impeachment can do that.
That's why impeachment immediately became the next topic of conversation among observers
here over at Daily Kos, if not necessarily here at The Next Hurrah, home of the lazy cross-posters. And just as quickly, the prospect was dismissed as all but impossible given the outcome of the vote. Just 53 Senators voted for cloture today, far short of the 2/3 necessary for conviction.
But it's worth considering, I think, how different an impeachment vote might actually be, and how differently it might play out. Today's vote, even for some Republicans squeamish about Gonzales' continued tenure in office, was a freebie. That is, there were any number of at least halfway decent excuses not to vote for it, mostly derived from one of the following:
- There really isn't any such thing as a vote of no-confidence in our system;
- The resolution would be non-binding, and therefore in all likelihood (and in the face of this stubborn jackass of a president) would mean nothing;
- The "evidence," despite the numerous hearings, hasn't really been "publicly examined", etc.
Senators voting as the jury in an impeachment trial, however, would find most of these excuses stripped away (not that they wouldn't invent others). There very definitely is such a thing as impeaching an Attorney General, removal from office upon conviction is automatic, and the evidence against him will have been combed over, piece by piece, in a very public trial on the floor of the United States Senate, and beamed across the country on C-SPAN2.
And not just the evidence of which we are currently aware, but very likely much, much more:
For no President can withhold evidence in an impeachment inquiry. Whatever standing the claim of executive privilege may have in other circumstances, it has none here. James K. Polk was the only President between Jackson and Lincoln to enhance the power of the Presidency; but Polk conceded with utmost clarity in a message to the House of Representatives in 1846 that, if the House were looking into executive misconduct with a view to the exercise of its power of impeachment, "the power of the House in the pursuit of this object would penetrate into the most secret recesses of the Executive Departments. It could command the attendance of any and every agent of the Government, and compel them to produce all papers, public or private, official or unofficial, and to testify on oath to all facts within their knowledge."
Putting this confrontation in the context of impeachment, then, may very well result in a very different outcome. But of course, it is by no means a guarantee.
One objection to going down the impeachment path is the fear that absent a conviction, the "administration" will be emboldened to take its abuses of power to new heights. But that not only runs the risk of alienating still more of the jury pool -- there is no prohibition against double jeopardy for impeachment -- it's also very simply hard to imagine what that would even look like with this bunch. They've pretty much had the run of the place to this point. It's hard to conceive of what else they might attempt that wouldn't be so blatant as to rob them of their final measure of support. Not that they've ever failed to surprise me in the attempt.
While it's taken as an article of faith (one which I also question) that a failed presidential impeachment might result in some unpleasant blowback, I don't accept that it's the same for a mortally wounded Attorney General. Especially one tethered to a president with sub-30% approval, and who's already lost seven Republican Senators in the first test vote.
Besides, there are two ways to define a failed impeachment. One is an impeachment that proceeds and does not end in a conviction. The other is one that should proceed but doesn't. Both can be used in the future as vindication of this "administration's" policies. And they will be, I promise you that. In fact, it's already been done, after a fashion. And done almost exactly as historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. predicted 33 years ago:
No doubt [the President's] defenders will claim that he did no more than other Presidents--notably Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt--in moving beyond the Constitution to protect the safety of the nation. They will point out that neither Lincoln nor Roosevelt was impaeched; therefore, [the President] must be in the clear.
So if it's arguable that the long term damages are exactly the same in either case, the question is whether there's some other compelling reason not to head down this path, air out the evidence, and let the president roll the dice on his "administration's" legacy on live, national television before a Senate already on record as openly hostile to Gonzales.