President Bush called him “Mayor,” and they got alone fine, meeting some nine times mostly on education reform before the 9/11 attacks changed the focus of Bush’s presidency. In 2008, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who had served a tumultuous single term as mayor of Cleveland in the 70’s, introduced articles of impeachment against Bush and Vice President Cheney, charging them in 35 separate articles with disobeying international law, taking the country to war with misleading and false information, and a host of violations in how the war was conducted.
“I brought it with no small degree of trepidation,” Kucinich recalled in a lengthy phone conversation with the Daily Beast. “He was always personally very decent to me. This is not something I took any pleasure in. I thought it was important for the American people to be aware we were sent into war based on falsehoods.”
Based on his experience as a lawmaker who sought impeachment as a remedy, Kucinich is candid about warning Republicans what they would unleash, and why launching impeachment proceedings against President Obama would be bad for the country, and bad for the Republican Party.
Kucinich’s lonely quest was short-circuited by the Democratic leadership, which used the media to convey the message. Asked if Speaker Pelosi “shut him down,” Kucinich said no: “I was never asked not to proceed. They made it clear in the media it wasn’t going anywhere.”
Republican leaders today are doing the same thing, using the media to tell their members there will be no impeachment. “That’s why it’s not going to happen,” says Kucinich. “You have to look at it practically.” It’s not politically smart, it’s not in the interest of the country, and it remains to be seen if the articles that would be brought forward are sufficient, he says.
He hears lots of loose talk but no apparent understanding of the arduous process, the hearings that would have to scrutinize each article, and the partisan feelings that would be unleashed on all sides. Is that worth it for a president who will be out the door in two years? Do the Republicans want to alienate important constituencies they will need in 2016? “Impeachment is a riveting event in the history of the country,” Kucinich says. “Everything else stops, it freezes the country. It’s not in the Republican Party’s interest to do that.”
While it’s always possible for any member to introduce an article of impeachment, and you only need one, you don’t need a hundred, Kucinich says, he doesn’t see Republicans being willing to de-stabilize the government—“and if they go forward with impeachment they would be seen as de-stabilizing the government. That’s why you’re not going to see a shutdown,” he adds. “They would be seen as unable to govern.”
And if the GOP wants to take the presidency in 2016, an impeachment effort or a shutdown “would raise questions about whether the Republican Party has the ability to put a steady hand on the wheel of the ship of state,” says Kucinich, though he adds the qualifier that if a presidential act surfaces that is “so egregious it can’t be ignored,” that they have act, so be it.
Kucinich says he talked with “hundreds of people who understand the Constitution and the historical meaning of the facts” to build his case. “This took years, it was not a kneejerk reaction to one thing. It was years in the making.” At one point he had 100 counts before winnowing it down to 35.
“I was not shopping it like some bill that deserves support,” he recalls, emphasizing it was a legal document that needed to be above partisan politics. Asked what kind of support he got from rank-and-file Democrats, he paused before replying with a hearty laugh. “I had a lot of quiet support, very quiet.”
Asked if he sees any parallels between the articles he filed and what the Republicans might be contemplating, he said no, that his suit grew out of his involvement in challenging the Iraq war, and the false justification for that war, and he says he felt no personal animus against Bush. The Republicans he believes are driven at least in part by their intense dislike of Obama.
Motivation aside, a recent poll about executive power and whether Obama has gone too far and should be impeached mirrors the results of polls that asked the same questions in 2006 about President Bush. Then, 48 percent said Bush had gone too far, 34 percent said he was about right, and 14 percent said not far enough. The numbers for Obama are 48 percent too far, 29 percent about right, and 21 percent not far enough.
In September 2006, 30 percent said Bush should be impeached and 69 percent said they didn’t feel that way. For Obama, 29 percent say he should be impeached; 70 percent don’t feel that way.
Republican efforts to defund the implementation of Obama’s executive order on immigration, and the party’s ongoing attempt to deny sufficient funds to implement Obamacare are rooted in the separation of powers. “Anytime Congress funds the actions or the policies of a president, it’s endorsing those policies,” Kucinich says.
Nancy Pelosi voted against the Iraq war but as Speaker of the House, she backed President Bush’s requests to fund the war, often framing it as supporting the troops. She held that position despite considerable opposition from the anti-war left, including protests outside her home in San Francisco. Reminded of Pelosi’s position, Kucinich said with measured calm, “With all due respect to Representative Pelosi, whom I’ve known forever and I consider a friend, PLEASE—You support the troops by bringing them home, not keeping them in the field on a mission that was not based on fact.
“One of the great pretenses in American politics is that we stay at war to support the troops, That is on its face so fallacious and so cynical and dismissive of the troops that it stands as a glaring admission of complicity in the war. Support the troops, yeah, keep them in danger, will you be there when the troops come home and need jobs and health care?”
The Democrats were able to sideline Kucinich and avoid a divisive impeachment battle. Defeated in the Democratic primary in 2012, he is now a political analyst on the Fox News Network, where his views on impeachment should serve as a cautionary tale.