Jamie Raskin’s Fresh Take on Impeachment (watch video here >>)

Senator Jamie Raskin during his 2006 campaign On Thursday, April 26th State Senator Jamie Raskin hosted a forum at Montgomery College called “Impeachment: Constitutional and Political Questions.” His talk was packed with historical and political information about the impeachment process. The discussion that followed was enthusiastic and spirited, even heated at times, but all who came to learn more left with a good start in the basics and much to think about in the coming months.

Raskin laid out the historical and constitutional foundations of impeachment, with some key quotes from Jefferson, Madison and Lincoln about the dangers to a people of going to war. He explained that one of the reasons that the framers gave so much power, particularly the power to declare war, to the people through their representatives in Congress, was that they wanted to keep the country out of war if at all possible. Historically, heads of state such as kings, emperors and presidents have led the charge to war without personally having to bear its costs, and therefore Congress was granted this power to place a check on that tendency.

Much of the background information Raskin provided on the constitutional framework, the historical precedents, and the long litany of impeachable offenses by the Bush administration was familiar to impeachment activists, and laid a solid foundation for those new to the subject. But Raskin also added some fresh ideas to the debate, and in the coming weeks we will be building on some of his ideas in these pages.

As a constitutional scholar and a progressive who is also an elected official, Raskin was in a unique position to address the political realities facing legislators who, while sympathetic, are inherently cautious about being put on the spot by the impeachment question. Particularly for progressive legislators in swing districts or states, having an impeachment resolution on the agenda is about as welcome as getting a letter bomb in the mail. If you “open it,” whatever you decide will either alienate your base or possibly scare moderates, neither of which you can afford to lose if you want to keep your seat.

Therefore, Raskin argued that it is essential to try to come up with an impeachment “frame” that is positive, and also to be able to present legislators with a well thought out plan for what happens the “day after” an impeachment. Impeachment can’t be a stand-alone issue; it has to be just one component of a comprehensive and positive plan.

“You’ve got to figure out a language of impeachment that makes sense broadly to people and doesn’t scare people to death about a constitutional crisis. In other words, you’ve got to be able to point out that, on the contrary, impeachment is the way out of a constitutional crisis that is already in progress.

“This means that you’ve got to think several moves down the chessboard about what exactly will happen. You’ve got to be able to have, for example, an answer to the question, ‘Do we really want Dick Cheney to be President?'”

“Set forth a really clear scenario of how this is going to help the country. If it’s just a cry from the heart from progressives about, ‘How can you do this to us? Impeach, impeach,’ then that’s what scares people, because then it looks like it’s going to be used as a club to beat up legislators. And then someone like Nancy Pelosi is going to be in a position where she has to say, ‘I can’t get involved in that because I’ve got to save eighteen or twenty new states that we’ve got. These people are in marginal districts and we can’t make them look like they’re crazy.'”

One of the positive frames that Raskin suggested is to argue that the process “isn’t a distraction from the change you are waiting for in 2008, but rather it is the beginning of that change.”

He pointed out that, when the Republican Congress impeached Clinton, they “ran away with the political agenda,” as the entire country was preoccupied with Monica Lewinsky and the Ken Starr investigation. Then-Governor Bush used this to his advantage by repeating again and again the line, “I will never disgrace the Oval Office,” which immediately gave everyone a mental image of the Oval Office and exactly how Clinton had “disgraced” it.

For Democrats, taking hold of the agenda could mean the difference between national healing and national calamity. Raskin suggested that it looks as though Bush is simply trying to “run out the clock” by stonewalling on investigations and refusing to sign bills to end the war. If this strategy of digging in is allowed to continue, then by 2008, should the Democrats win the Presidency, they will inherit a war and a world that may be way beyond repair.

Let’s take Jamie Raskin’s suggestion to heart and try to come up with a plan for change that takes impeachment as its starting point but expands out from there to encompass broader reforms and lasting social progress. This is an invitation and a challenge to use these comment pages to brainstorm together and come up with a positive “language of impeachment.” Comment away!


20 Responses to “Raskin Forum”

  1. 1 Anita May 1, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    I’m under the impression that if Bush and Cheney are both impeached, then the succession amendment kicks in and Nancy Pelosi is third in line for the presidency. If Cheney is impeached first, then Bush could appoint a substitute VP (confirmed by the Senate) who could step in when Bush is impeached, a la Ford after Nixon. Since I see impeachment as a non-partisan, save-the-Constitution effort, I would be content to have a Republican place-holder president until 2008, when I’m fairly confident a Dem will win the election. But if that place-holder were to pardon Bush/Cheney without there being investigations/consequences (also a la Nixon), I’m afraid the damage to the republic would continue and worsen.

    I do believe Republicans would be more likely to support impeachment if they didn’t see it as a partisan power grab.

  2. 2 Lisa M. May 2, 2007 at 3:34 am

    I would tell the Speaker that having a constitutional crisis is a great opportunity to focus on citizenship education for everyone. One of the reasons that this administration was able to get away with so much for so long was that they counted on people being disengaged and ignorant, about their rights, about the media, about the constitution, etc. So that would be a top priority, a campaign for citizenship education. I also believe that one of the biggest mistakes of this Administration has been a total disregard for oversight, accountability, paying attention to scientific evidence and other means of predicting and evaluating outcomes. I would suggest that she allow the impeachment of Cheney to go forward first, allow Bush to pick a rational republican Vice President, and then impeach Bush. In my scenario, somehow we would end up with a split Democratic/Republican Vice President and President, and for the remainder of the ‘term’ we could focus on bipartisan issues such as the ones I’ve mentioned – auditing, reforming, engaging in honest debate about what to do about the various military, environmental and economic messes we are in. There would be maximum transparency and maximum measurability. There could be a cabinet composed of members of both parties, with special care to include non-ideological ‘honest broker’ types. Maybe the Speaker could start quietly reaching out to rational republicans now and offer them some kind of deal if she should become interim president. But they’d have to be qualified for any position they were given (or else they could be named ambassador to the OSCE or something)

  3. 3 msarthur May 7, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    Another thing to remember is that a lot of people equate impeachment with removal from office. It is really more like an indictment, and a way to get at the facts. If you present it that way to the unconvinced they might see it as a route to the truth, and not a road to upheaval.

  4. 4 Amy May 25, 2007 at 5:28 am

    so, they could feasably be impeached but not leave office (like Clinton)? Is Pelosi’s refuse to “put it on the table” because she doesn’t want to alienate those constituents and others that voted her into power? I think now is the most important time for a constitutional crisis – when over 70% of the citizens of US are unhappy with Bush Administration.

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