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Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2006 10:04 pm

Cut-and-run Democrats

New congressional leadership disinclined to beat on Bush

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Untitled Document For the past week, Democrats have been beating their chests, declaring that their reclamation of Congress, as well as the majority of governorships around the nation, is proof that Americans are fed up with the Iraq war and scandal after Republican scandal. But apparently the Democrats aren’t interpreting the results of the midterm election as a signal that Americans want change in the White House or at least to make President George W. Bush and other administration officials answer some tough questions. There’s a reason the president is unpopular. Bush’s 38 percent job-approval rating reflects his inability to keep members his own party — much less some of the most unstable regions on Earth — disciplined. Things have gotten so bad that Bush gave close family friend and advisor Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld the boot the day after the election.
Now that they’ve got the administration right where they want it, some of Bush’s staunchest foes have decided not to deliver the coup de grâce. Impeachment, they say, is no longer an option. “No, that’s not on the agenda — it is not on the agenda. If we make punishment and political retribution a hallmark, we’re not going to get reelected,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a fierce Bush critic and the next majority whip, tells Illinois Times.
Indeed, Democrats’ very narrow margin of victory this year could be taken to mean that even though Americans want change, they’re not willing to give Democrats that much slack.
The new majority party’s rationale seems to be that although the midterm elections served as a referendum on the president and Iraq, its mandate is “Govern from the center.”
On Friday, Bush met in the Oval Office with Durbin and the next Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. During the meeting, Illinois’ senior senator says, he, Reid, and the president discussed issues faced by the lame-duck and new Congress, including Iraq.
“I think the president got the message,” Durbin says. “He knows he can’t move forward any significant legislation without the Democratic Congress working with him. We know we can’t pass an important bill without his signature — so we’re in this together.”
Speaking in general, Durbin points out that his party has the majority in the Senate by two votes, which means the Democrats will lead and chair the various committees. Senate rules are written so that controversial legislation, such as articles of impeachment, needs 60 votes to pass. When the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton began in 1998, Durbin said that although he would vote for acquittal, he did support a strong censure resolution.
“What has occurred here is a personal and family tragedy,” Durbin told colleagues in closed deliberations on Feb. 12, 1999. “It is not a national tragedy which should result in the removal of this president from office.”
Perhaps Durbin and his fellow Democrats have forgotten that, undoubtedly hurt by the Clinton scandal, the Democrats lost the White House in 2000 to Bush, who — to paraphrase former presidential nominee John Kerry, and make a long story short — got us stuck in Iraq. Now more than 2,850 American soldiers have been killed, Iraq has plunged into civil war, and the National Intelligence Estimate reports that the internationally unpopular war has made our nation less safe. Talk about a national tragedy. But the Democrats say they’re ready to move past that. Last week, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat poised to take over the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee, which would initiate an impeachment trial in that chamber, said that he and future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California, agree that impeachment should be taken off the table. In response to a resolution proposed in March by U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., to censure the president, Durbin indicated that although he didn’t think censure talk was a “valuable discussion” at the time, he couldn’t rule anything, including impeachment, out.
It’s now ruled out, Durbin says: “The American people want the president and his agencies to be held accountable — what’s happened in Iraq with Halliburton and the rest of them is inexcusable — but, you know, we watched this political circus involving President Clinton and the impeachment trial. Americans should never have had to face that then, and our feeling now is ‘Let’s get down to business — let’s do the things that are important for this country.’ ”
Referring to U.S. troops, Durbin says, “they’re our best and bravest, and they’re dying every day; we need to do something to make sure that they can come home.”
Well, there is something we could do. The Democrats just aren’t willing to do it.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com
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