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News | House Speaker to allow floor vote on impeachment

By Shay Totten | Vermont Guardian

Posted April 24, 2007

Read House Speaker Gaye Symington's full statement here

MONTPELIER — Reversing weeks of steadfast disapproval to take up a resolution calling for Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings of Pres. George W. Bush and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney, Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington said Tuesday she would let such a measure come to a vote tomorrow on the House floor.

That vote will take place tomorrow afternoon when the House convenes at 1 p.m.

Until now, it was largely believed that Symington, of Jericho, would have any additional resolution or bill sent to committee, like she did with a similar bill introduced earlier this year. That bill, with 20 co-sponsors, has languished in committee, the same fate likely to be had by any similar measure.

Symington has long believed that the impeachment measure would be too distracting, and would force lawmakers to take time away from other issues, such as property tax reform and health care.

“I have come to believe that regardless of whether the House votes on impeachment or not, it has already come to take significant time and attention from the House’s work. I now believe that by bringing the resolution up for a vote, we can address the issue of impeachment as a full body and then move on to the work ahead in the final weeks of the session,” Symington said Tuesday in a statement.

Symington made it clear she plans to vote against it, just as she voted against a similar measure taken up at her town’s annual meeting in March. The measure there passed despite her vote against it.

Tomorrow’s vote comes just days after the Vermont Senate passed a resolution on April 20 by a 16-9 vote, becoming the first state legislative body to call for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney.

Since then, several House members, including Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, have been gathering signatures on a resolution identical to the Senate version. As of late Tuesday, 26 House members had signed onto the resolution.

"I appreciate her willingness to allow a vote, and it will be interesting to see how the vote turns out – I suspect that we'll lose, which is unfortunate," said Zuckerman. "This is not a vote about whether you like, or don't like, this president. This is about precedent and whether we think its OK to allow any president to act like a king and thumb his nose at our laws. If we allow that to happen without investigation, then we'll set a precedent for future presidents to follow."

The Senate vote came 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. An emotionally-charged, and impromptu, 40-minute meeting with Senate Pres. Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, and Symington left backers hopeful that something could happen this session, but weren’t sure what, or when.

The April 20 resolution was introduced by Shumlin and Sen. Jeannette White, D-Windham. 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.

Supporters of impeachment plan to show up en masse tomorrow in an effort to lobby House members. They will also take time to thank senators who voted in favor of the April 20 measure.

“If they don’t pass it it’s not the end of the world,” said Dan DeWalt, a Newfane selectman and the person credited with drafting up the first Town Meeting Day resolution back in 2006 to call for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. Since then, DeWalt has helped other towns get such measures on the ballot in Vermont, and now in other New England states.

“A majority of Vermonters and a majority of Americans are in favor of vigorous investigations to see if Bush is guilty of impeachable offenses, more than the investigations right now that are just tinkering around the edges. We hope that the Legislature will reflect that sentiment,” DeWalt said.

At the April 17 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.

She reiterated that sentiment in her statement today.

“Over the past weeks I have heard from many Vermonters about this issue. Many have spoken about upholding our constitution and seeking justice for the country. I feel justice would be best served by getting our country back on track, caring for its people, rebuilding its relationships with other countries, and repairing the fiscal damage of the Bush Administration,” said Symington. “The constitution stresses the balance of power necessary to make our democracy work. Impeachment may be needed where checks and balances fail. That is not the case now, and instead of choosing that disruptive and divisive option, we should support the legislative branch of our government as its members work to hold the executive branch accountable for their misguided policies and mismanagement. We should not short circuit that process of accountability.”

Regardless of tomorrow’s outcome, backers hope that Vermont’s grassroots effort will inspire at least one member the House to introduce a resolution of charges against Bush and Cheney.

Section 603 of the Manual for House Rules provides that state legislatures can file charges with the U.S. House. If just one congressman or woman agrees to use that as a basis for a privileged motion for impeachment, it would go to directly the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, where impeachment proceedings are initiated. However, the committee would not be forced to take up the measure.

It is unclear if the Senate resolution, on its own, would satisfy this stipulation of the House rules.

In the past two years, 40 towns, the state Democratic Committee, and several county Democratic committees have approved some form of resolution calling upon Congress to launch impeachment hearings.

Vermont’s congressional delegation remains cool to the concept and is likely to ignore any Vermont-led measure.

In a joint statement issued late Friday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, said, "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.”