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House Democrats Wary of Impeachment, Censure

Last week’s unexpected move by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) to seek a censure of President Bush over his domestic wiretapping program has drawn a strikingly cool reaction from his fellow Senate Democrats. Apparently, most House Democrats are feeling equally wary about censuring or impeaching the president.

Even as the liberal blogosphere lights up with calls for Bush and others in his administration to face penalties over conduct from wiretapping to the decision to go to war in Iraq, House Democratic leaders have gently but firmly tried to steer the talk into less strident territory.

At her weekly press conference Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “I have concerns about the practice that the administration engaged in, but I think it’s important for the committees of jurisdiction to do the investigation to establish what the practice was, compare it to what the law is, and make a determination from there. Any motion to censure at this point, I think, is one that I would not support.”

If the leadership continues to step back from this particular fight, it will have to clamp down on several pieces of legislation already filed that are potentially explosive, particularly if they are re-submitted after a Democratic takeover of the chamber in the November elections.

Last December, John Conyers (Mich.), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, introduced separate censure resolutions for Bush and Vice President Cheney, accusing each of failing to comply with requests for information about the runup to the war in Iraq. Each resolution has attracted just more than a dozen co-sponsors, all of whom occupy some of the most liberal turf in the Democratic Caucus.

Conyers also introduced legislation that would create a committee to determine whether there are grounds to launch impeachment proceedings against Bush. That measure has 29 co-sponsors.

There were rumblings last week that House Republican leaders might bring one of Conyers’ resolutions up for a vote, in an effort to force the Democratic leadership to either stand with its base and risk alienating the broader national electorate, or join with Republicans in opposing the measure, thus allowing Republicans to paint any censure or impeachment movements as fringe efforts.

But as of press time, there were no firm signs that House GOP leaders will pursue this course. If that holds, the ball will be in the Democrats’ court.

And if Pelosi’s call for patience and

information-gathering is an effort to buy time and push a dicey topic to the margins until after the election, she may get some cover from influential voices on the left.

“I think that the House has an exceptional oversight responsibility here, in which we have to move forward to get information from the administration about domestic wiretapping, and I don’t want to make any conclusions until we’ve seen all the evidence,” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a leading Congressional critic of the war and the administration.

However, one common rallying cry among House Democrats is that the chamber’s ruling Republicans have willfully shirked those oversight duties. If the GOP leadership remains uncooperative with Democratic demands for investigations and hearings, it could hasten sentiment within the 203-member Caucus to introduce articles of impeachment against the president.

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