The Washington Legislature Fails to Pass an Impeachment Resolution

The effort to pass an impeachment resolution in this legislative session ended today in Washington. Over 100 people rallied on the Capitol steps before taking seats in the gallery to watch a debate that was scheduled for impeachment and the Iraq war. Curiously, no one defended the President or Vice President. No one stood up to say the allegations were untrue. Yet, impeachment failed because too many believed it wasn't their job to stand up for the Constitution.

The Senate Joint Memorial 8016, which petitioned Congress to begin impeachment investigations of the President Bush and Vice President Cheney, began its journey on February 14th. Freshman Senator Eric Oemig led the effort, along with eight co-sponsors: Senators Fairley, Fraser, Kauffman, Kline, Kohl-Welles, Prentice, Regala, and Spanel.

SJM 8016 focused on the President and Vice President’s use of deceptive information and deliberately misrepresenting the severity of the threat from Iraq to take us into war, conducting electronic surveillance of Americans without any warrant, and stripping Americans of their constitutional rights solely on the discretion of the President. A hearing was held on March 1st , a day after the official cutoff for bills to go forward, so it was dead on arrival.

That did not stop the grassroots impeachment groups, however. The debate was in response to a strong grassroots movement that flooded the legislators with emails arguing for the need to petition Congress to begin impeachment investigations. Today’s debate on a bill that was dead was unprecedented; usually, only bills being considered are discussed on the floor.

Senator Eric Oemig spoke about the need to recognize the truth, now that it has surfaced: the truth about the deception that took us into Iraq, about the violation of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution to every person, and about the use of torture. All of these actions, he said, undermine the Constitution and should be challenged. He spoke in terms of the future. “I would never trust this President with life of my son,” Oemig stated. “How can I trust him with the lives of other people’s children?” He urged fellow legislators not to be afraid of speaking out and acknowledging the truth. Impeachment is the way to ensure that our Constitution is intact for all of our children.

Republican Senator Dan Swecker then spoke. He observed that consideration of national issues on the Senate floor was new to him and he did not believe it was appropriate. “It’s not what we are elected to do,” he stated. Foreign policy is a national issue and he felt strongly that it was an inappropriate topic for the legislature to debate. What was notable, however, was that he did not defend any of the actions of the President or Vice President.

The Senate President pointed out that this was not a debate but that the Senators could ask for a point of personal privilege to share their views. When Senator Adam Kline rose to speak, the President interrupted him twice, reiterating this was not a debate. Kline then spoke from his own experience, as an anti-war activist 40 years ago. We should have learned our lesson from Vietnam, he stated, but clearly, we had not. He noted that this administration deceived the country and used 9/11 as the basis for a war in Iraq. He ended, saying, “there will always be evil in the world. Our fault is for tolerating it.”

When Senator Eide called for a recess, thus stopping further debate, the crowd expressed its displeasure. Some chanted, “Impeach, Impeach,’ while others yelled, “Do your job.” Some called down to the Senators, “Your children will not thank you,” while others repeated, “shame on you.” The State Troopers and legislative guards moved quickly to silence people but everyone was already leaving as they voiced their disapproval.

Certainly, the impeachment supporters expected more of a debate. A few hoped that there would be a vote on the SJM 8016. While the debate certainly could have been extended beyond three speakers, a vote on SJM 8016 was very unlikely. While it is possible for the Legislature to vote to suspend the cutoff date and bring a dead bill forward for a vote, it takes a 2/3 majority to do that.

Senator Eric Oemig met with the impeachment supporters afterwards to debrief what had just happened. He pointed out that the legislative process is slow and does not turn on a dime, but this was a great day. This debate was unprecedented and only happened because they were there. Their efforts helped put impeachment on the table, he said. Senator Karen Fraser, who stood on the side, often shook her head in agreement.

This was not a defeat, he told them. Their work had resulted in getting a bill and a hearing. Today’s debate was another step toward impeachment and he encouraged them to continue their work—to educate more people impeachment and to gather more support.

The organizers of this event, Washington for Impeachment, echoed that sentiment, reminding everyone that we will be back to the legislature next year, if that is what it takes. Linda Boyd, speaking for the organizers, said that they intend to take the impeachment issue to every elected official and that “we won’t stop until we have the whole enchilada!”

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