Vt. Senate urges Bush impeachment
By DANIEL BARLOW Vermont Press Bureau | April 21,2007
MONTPELIER – In a stunning reversal, the Vermont Senate approved a resolution early Friday morning calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
The vote makes the Senate the first state legislative body in the country to call for Bush's impeachment. At least nine other states have similar resolutions pending.
The 16-9 vote urging the U.S. Congress to begin impeachment hearings came without debate. The vote fell mostly along party lines, although three Democrats joined six Republicans in opposing it.
The approval comes after weeks of pressure by impeachment activists on Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, who has said he supports Bush's impeachment but thought the body lacked sufficient time this session to vote on it.
Attention now turns to the Vermont House, where an impeachment resolution introduced early in the session this year has gone untouched in that body's Judiciary Committee. House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, has been a vocal opponent of an impeachment resolution.
Still, Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, one of the issue's strongest supporters in the House, said Friday he and others are collecting signatures for a new resolution identical to the one passed by the Senate Friday.
That resolution should be introduced on the House floor next week, possibly on April 25.
Shumlin said a bipartisan effort in the Senate brought the resolution to a swift vote Friday morning. A single senator could have moved to send the issue to the Judiciary Committee, which would have delayed the vote until next year, but none did, he said.
"I've always been a supporter of impeachment and today we joined the nearly 40 Vermont towns that voted for this during town meeting," said Shumlin. He was influenced by testimony earlier this week from impeachment supporters, he said.
The symbolic gesture — which says senators have "serious questions of constitutionality" regarding the administration's foreign and domestic actions — was a Senate resolution only and will not be forwarded to the House, although supporters expect the issue to be raised in that body next week.
James Leas, a South Burlington attorney who has been organizing impeachment rallies at the State House, called the vote a victory for the grassroots movement, which sprung out of the tiny Windham County town of Newfane last year.
"This really shows the value and importance of citizen participation," Leas said, referring to Tuesday's rally, which brought 130 impeachment supporters to the State House. "Peter Shumlin's conscience won out and he moved forward and took action."
Sen. Kevin Mullen, R-Rutland, one of the six Republicans in the room Friday morning who voted against the resolution, said he was disappointed Shumlin wasted the time of legislative staff to prepare the measure.
"Vermonters are looking for us to address rising property taxes and other meaningful issues and not resolutions that are essentially meaningless," Mullen said. "It's time to go back and talk about those real issues."
Symington, speaking to reporters from her office Friday, said she would send the issue to a House committee if it is raised next week. Even if it does come to a floor vote, she and other House Democratic leaders said, it is unlikely to pass.
"I think the outcome would be different in the House," said Symington, who said she "deplores the actions and policies" of the Bush administration but believes the Vermont Legislature should focus on local issues over which it has authority.
Rep. Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln, who sponsored a House resolution in February calling for an end to the Iraq War, agreed that House Democrats may not have enough votes to pass an impeachment resolution.
"The proponents of impeachment had a victory today," Fisher said. "I ask them to consider how it might be different on the House floor … because it may not be as easy or possible as it was in the Senate."
Robert Roper, the chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, said the Senate vote perpetuates the image that the state's values and beliefs are "out of the mainstream." He criticized Shumlin for proposing the resolution.
"It really just looks like Shumlin caved to please the impeachment supporters," Roper said. "He shucked and jived until he had no choice but to offer the resolution."
Friday's Senate vote came when Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, a Republican who normally presides over the chamber, took a scheduled absence to look at colleges with his son in California.
Shumlin presides over the Senate when Dubie is gone, and he said he contacted the lieutenant governor Thursday night to inform him of his plan to introduce the resolution. Shumlin said Dubie's absence had nothing to do with the timing of the vote.
Dubie said Friday he would have sent the resolution to the Senate Judiciary Committee, just as he would do with any "complex or controversial" bill.
"I do not support this resolution because I do support the president," said Dubie, a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve who attended Bush's speech at Ground Zero in New York City days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Vermont impeachment supporters – a grassroots coalition that has been building since Newfane voted at its 2006 town meeting to remove Bush – had been pressuring the Legislature to vote on the issue in hopes it would trigger a vote in the U.S. Congress.
Citing a provision in Jefferson's Manual of Parliamentary Practice, an 1801 handbook written by then-Vice President Thomas Jefferson, supporters hoped that a "yes" vote in the Vermont House and Senate would force the U.S. House, where presidential impeachment hearings would begin, to propose that legislation.
Shumlin said he agrees with supporters that passage by both houses of the Vermont Legislature would require the U.S. House to take up the issue.
"This strengthens their case," he said.
But Symington disagreed with the validity of the parliamentary procedure. Legal staff informed her that the procedure only references past impeachment practices relating to appointed federal positions serving within the same state as the legislature, she said.
"My impression is that this manual has been misunderstood," she said.
Still, Vermont's congressional delegation – including U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, its lone congressman in the House — is not interested in pursuing impeachment in Washington, at least not unless the numerous investigations the Bush administration is now facing produce evidence of any impeachable offenses.
Hours after Friday's state Senate vote, Welch and Vermont's two U.S. senators – Patrick Leahy and Bernard Sanders – released a joint statement saying they "fully understand and share the frustration and anger of Vermont legislators and many Vermonters with the Bush administration – one of the worst and most destructive in American history."
The statement added, "Currently, for the first time since President Bush has been in office, there are a number of investigations taking place regarding the actions of the Bush administration … 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."
Impeachment supporters will hold a rally today outside of City Hall in Burlington at noontime to drum up support for action in the Vermont House and U.S. Congress.
Contact Daniel Barlow at Daniel.Barlow@rutlandherald.com.