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Capitol Crime of the Century: Time for Congress to Stand Up

by Dave Lindorff

Is President Bush, and is every future president, a dictator, who personally determines what laws are to be obeyed and what laws are to be ignored? Or is the president bound, like the rest of us, by the rule of law and the Constitution? The choice is now squarely before us all.
Who’s minding the store in Washington?

While President George W. Bush was standing before the members of Congress on January 28 laying out his plans, such as they are, for the final year of his second term in the White House, he was also seriously and perhaps fatally undermining the authority of Congress with a new signing statement, attached to the latest National Defense Authorization Act, in which he declared that he would simply violate or fail to comply with four provisions.

Let me say that again. The president states in writing that he is not going to obey and will not be bound by four parts of a law duly passed by the Congress.

Just so you know that we’re not talking about the naming of a bridge or a new ship, the four provisions of the act which the president is going to ignore are:

Now first of all, let’s see what the constitution has to say. Article I, the first actual statement about how our government works, which comes right after the preamble about “We the People,” states unambiguously:

“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”

It goes on to state that:

“Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it becomes a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections, to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration by two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law...If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it.”

Note that there is no asterisk or footnote saying anything about the president having the power to simply ignore those legislative powers or to violate them at will. If he does not veto the entire bill—and in this case he did not, he signed it—it becomes the Law of the Land.

Article I also defines the powers of the Congress expansively, stating that it has the power to lay and collect taxes, to regulate commerce, to coin money, to declare war, ro call forth the militia, and

“to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

Article II goes on to define the powers of the president. It states:

“The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”

It goes on to explicitly define and limit the president’s powers, specifically to being “commander in chief” of the armed forces (not of the country or of the government!), to the granting of reprieves and pardons (except in the case of impeachments), to making treaties (subject to Senate approval) and appointing officers to the cabinet and the courts (all subject to Senate approval).

That is it. There are no other presidential powers in the Constitution. Certainly there is no power granted to disobey or ignore Acts of Congress or to violate the law.

And yet here we have the president, at the start of his last year in office, announcing that he will not obey a law duly passed by the Congress that requires his administration to establish a commission to investigate the rampant corruption among private contractors operating in Afghanistan and Iraq, that he will not obey a law barring him from punishing whistleblowers who disclose such corruption, that he will not obey an order that his intelligence services must respond to requests from Congress for information (about such issues as torture of captives, or spying on American citizens, or destroying documents), and that he will not obey an order banning the establishment and construction of permanent military bases in Iraq, and banning attempts to gain US control over Iraqi oil. Bush's refusal to obey a Congressional spending bill is particularly egregious, as the Constitution clearly gives Congress primacy in matters of finance and appropriations.

Logically one would expect members of Congress in both parties to be up in arms over this illegal and clearly unconstitutional defiance—the more so because both houses of Congress are in the hands of the Democratic Party.

But we have heard barely a peep from the “people’s representatives” at this brazen abuse of power--and certainly no one in Congress, save Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), is calling for action.

The reason: Congress is afraid of impeachment.

It is so afraid to confront this usurper president that, incredibly, its members, Republican and Democrat alike, seem happy to surrender not only their own power, but the power of the institution of Congress, to avoid doing what the Constitution calls upon them to do: to impeach a criminal in the White House who has abused his powers of office, who has violated his oath to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution, and who has broken the law multiple times.

This is an appalling abrogation of responsibility on the part of our elected representatives in Washington, who also took oaths of office committing themselves to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution.

How can these hundreds of cowards and traitors in the Capitol, with straight faces, hold hand to heart and pledge allegiance, as they do at the start of every day in Congress? How can they with straight faces go before their constituents and pose as honorable men and women?

The Constitution is clear. It states that:

“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Please observe that the word is shall, not may.

Now although the evidence is overwhelming, one can nonetheless debate whether the president broke the law when he went to war in Iraq or whether he knowingly lied about the reasons for that war. One can debate whether he broke the law by personally authorizing torture of captives. One can even debate whether he broke the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. These are matters that require hearings in the House Judiciary Committee. But there is no need to hold hearings to decide whether the president has abused his power by declaring his intention to ignore laws passed by the Congress. This is an objective fact. A High Crime has been committed and openly confessed to by the President of the United States. Congress has only to vote on it as an impeachable act to restore its Constitutional authority, and to restore the damaged Constitution.

There is no question here of “diverting” Congress from its important duties. This need not be time-consuming business. Moreover, defending its authority from a usurper is surely the most important thing Congress can do. Neither is there any question of this being “divisive.” Every member of Congress should want to protect the Constitutional authority of the legislative branch from this fatal encroachment which, if unchallenged, renders Congress nothing but a talk shop no better than the local diner. Nor can there be any question about whether the votes are there or not, either to vote for an Article of Impeachment, or even to convict in the Senate. What member of Congress, of either party, would vote to approve and to sanction in perpetuity this or any president’s right to ignore the Constitution and willfully violate laws passed by the Congress—particularly given the likelihood that the next president could be a Democrat?

Here then, is an issue that Congress cannot ignore. Here is an issue that renders ludicrous House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s assertion that “impeachment is off the table.” Here is an issue that should inflame every American citizen. Here is an issue that should be put to every candidate for office, including those running for the office of president:

Is President Bush, and is every future president, a dictator, who personally determines what laws are to be obeyed and what laws are to be ignored? Or is the president bound, like the rest of us, by the rule of law and the Constitution?

The choice is now squarely before us all.

Lindorff speakingAbout the author: Philadelphia journalist Dave Lindorff is a 34-year veteran, an award-winning journalist, a former New York Times contributor, a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, a two-time Journalism Fulbright Scholar, and the co-author, with Barbara Olshansky, of a well-regarded book on impeachment, The Case for Impeachment. His work is available at

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This story was published on February 1, 2008.