By Shay Totten | Vermont Guardian
Posted April 20, 2007
Editor's Note: This story was updated at 5 p.m. with comments from the Congressional delegation and Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, and Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie.
MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate this morning approved by a 16-9 margin a non--binding resolution calling on the U.S. House to launch impeachment proceedings of Pres. George W. Bush and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney.
The Vermont Senate is the first state legislative body in the country to call on Congress to begin impeachment proceedings. Impeachment resolutions are currently active in Hawaii, Missouri, New Jersey, and Washington. A measure in New Mexico was quashed earlier this year.
The move comes just days after nearly 150 people from around Vermont converged on Montpelier to urge lawmakers to pass such a resolution out of the House and Senate. The emotionally-charged, 40-minute meeting left backers hopeful that something could happen this session.
Today’s resolution was introduced by Senate Pres. Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, and Sen. Jeannette White, D-Windham. The process began last night when Senate Majority Leader Dick McCormick, D-Windsor, introduced a resolution. However, his resolution did not include Cheney. The resolution by Shumlin and White did include Cheney.
The vote took place early in the morning and was over in less than 15 minutes.
Three Democrats — Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Chittenden/Grand Isle, and Sen. Bill Carris, D-Rutland — joined six Republicans in voting against the resolution. One Republican — Sen. George Coppenrath, R-Caledonia, was absent at the time of the vote.
Shumlin told the Guardian that Tuesday's meeting left an impression upon him, and motivated him to respond.
“I was deeply moved by the meeting on Tuesday and I’ve been a supporter of this consistently from the beginning,” said Shumlin. “There hasn’t been a president of the United States of America who has worked harder for impeachment hearings than Pres. Bush, and Vice Pres. Cheney.”
After Tuesday’s meeting, Shumlin said he read, and listened to, news reports and didn’t like what he heard.
“I didn’t like myself and I wanted to find a way to fix it,” said Shumlin. “The neat thing about the Vermont Legislature is that we listen to citizens.”
Shumlin began to quietly work with Democrats, and Republicans, to allow an up or down vote on an impeachment resolution without it being sent to committee.
“It any one senator this morning had asked for it to go to committee, I would have had to honor that request and it would have been dead for the year,” said Shumlin.
Shumlin presided over today's vote as the normal presiding officer — Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie — is out of town for two days. Shumlin did let Dubie know he was going to try to get the measure passed.
Dubie issued a statement decrying the passage of the resolution.
“I lost close friends on Sept 11,” Dubie said. “I am a pilot for American Airlines. I fly out of Boston’s Logan International Airport. The Captain of American Airlines flight 11, John Ogonowski, was my friend. The flight attendants were my friends. After the attacks of Sept. 11, I was deployed to New York City in my job as a US Air Force Reservist, to help in the disaster response effort. I met Pres. Bush when he came to Ground Zero to thank me and the thousands of other workers. The president earned my respect and support that day.
“I do not support this resolution. When it comes to my desk for my signature next week, I will not sign it,” Dubie added.
Dubie's signature is not required for the resolution to go into effect.
White said there was not a word of debate, but a simple roll call vote, which took only a few minutes.
“I think people realized that a debate wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind and if one person had said something and then every person would have to have their say,” said White. “I think people recognized that some of us really wanted to do this.”
White said the resolution will be sent directly to Congress, and not wait for a House vote.
There, the resolution is expected to get a chilly reception, at least from the state’s own delegation.
In a joint statement, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, said they understood Vermonters’ frustration and anger, but cautioned about rushing headling into impeachment.
"As Vermont's representatives to Congress we fully understand and share the frustration and anger of Vermont legislators and many Vermonters with the Bush administration — one of the worst and most destructive in American history,” the trio said in a statement. "Currently, for the first time since Pres. Bush has been in office, there are a number of investigations taking place regarding the actions of the Bush administration, including how and why we invaded Iraq, no-bid contracts, the firing of U.S. attorneys by the attorney general, the assault on constitutional rights and the use of Republican Party e-mails in the White House. Before we talk about impeachment, it is imperative that these investigations be allowed to run their course and we should then follow wherever the facts lead.
"In the meantime, in our view, the people of Vermont want us to focus our attention on such issues as ending the war in Iraq, protecting the needs of our veterans, raising the minimum wage, addressing the crisis of global warming and providing health care to all of our citizens,” they added.
That isn't likely to stop House members from attempting to vote on an identical resolution to the one passed today in the Senate.
Rep. Dave Zuckerman, P-Burlington, will spend today and Tuesday collecting signatures from House members to introduce an identical resolution in the chamber.
“We will take the same language the Senate passed today, collect signatures today and Tuesday, and turn it in Tuesday afternoon, which gives people around the state time to call their representatives and ask them to sign it; we would then have it on the calendar for Wednesday and the speaker will either let it be voted on or have it sent to committee,” said Zuckerman. “In respect to the senate action, many of us are quite pleased they took the vote, but it’s clear that it only happened because citizens got involved.”
Impeachment backers were thrilled with the move, and now turn their attention to the House, where an impeachment resolution has been sitting in the House Judiciary Committee for weeks.
“I think what impressed the legislators [at Tuesday’s meeting] was the critical importance of stepping up to the plate at this moment in history,” said Barry Aleshenick of Guilford, who attended Tuesday’s meeting. “We need the House to follow suit, because the entire nation has its hopes in a state like Vermont to lead the nation in this incredible historical moment and to have the moral imperative to get us out of what we’ve been in. For the Senate to take the first step this morning is just wonderful.”
All eyes are now on the House, where House Speaker Gaye Symington has not been willing to have the resolution taken up because it would distract lawmakers from more important work on education funding, health care, among other issues.
Currently, a resolution with 20 co-sponsors remains in the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. William Lippert, D-Hinesburg, and has yet to receive a hearing despite more than 100 calls in favor.
At Tuesday’s meeting with impeachment backers, Symington reiterated her steadfast belief that a resolution supporting impeachment was not the solution when asked what could change her mind. “I don’t disagree with your goals, but I don’t believe that this is the way to achieve them,” she said.
Rop Roper, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, was pleased that the GOP contingent in the Senate stood together, but believes the move will only distract legislators from more pressing matters.
“I’m very proud to say that all of our Republican senators held together and did not support the resolution,” said Roper. “Peter Shumlin has caved into a small, vocal minority of the population that is way out of the mainstream. All this is going to do is divide and distract our legislators when they need to be finishing up some very important business at the State House.”
The nation’s eyes have been turning to Vermont since Town Meeting Day, when 38 towns passed resolutions calling for Congress to introduce articles of impeachment against Bush and Cheney. Since then, supporters have been urging state lawmakers to pass a similar measure. Recently, the popular comic strip Doonesbury profiled Vermont’s impeachment efforts during a six-day run.
Shumlin has been also facing increased pressure from his county constituents, many of whom have sparked the impeachment movement in Vermont.
At the meeting with impeachment supporters Shumlin said, “I would welcome anyone to introduce the resolution and I will vote for it.”
That is a different position than Shumlin took earlier this year in public statements, including in statements at a monthly meeting of the state committee of the Vermont Democratic Party. He said earlier that if the resolution made it to the Senate it would receive immediate hearings; however, all of those statements were made before Legislative Counsel said that the resolution did not have to start in the House. In recent weeks, Shumlin has said that there is not enough time remaining in the legislative session to take up the resolution.
“He had to do something because he was facing a lot of pressure in his county,” said Rep. Darryl Pillsbury, I-Brattleboro, and a cosponsor of an impeachment resolution in the House. “I was very surprised by the vote as it came up pretty quickly, and I didn’t even know about it. I’m very happy though.”
Pillsbury and Zuckerman said if the new resolution is sent to committee again, it is likely that they would ask the House to pull it out and put it to a floor vote.
Impeachment backers hope the Senate resolution, coupled with a measure from the House, would send a message to the nation.
“We’re not standing here as Vermonters and impeaching the president, be we are sending a message and denouncing the actions of this administration,” said Aleshenick. “It’s a matter of getting the ball rolling and that’s what I said on Tuesday and then see where it goes.”
What: Impeachment rally
When: Saturday, April 21
Where: Burlington City Hall
Details: Supporters of the impeachment resolution will gather to thank senators for their vote today, and to urge people to call House members to support a similar resolution, and to call on U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, to introduce a bill in Congress that would start impeachment proceedings.