by John Nichols
There have been far too few accountability moments since Democrats retook control of the U.S. House and Senate in January, 2007.
But one came Thursday, when the House voted 223-32 to hold former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas to testify before Congress in relation to the firing of nine United States Attorneys in 2006.
A pair of resolutions – one that directs the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C. to bring criminal contempt charges against Bolten and Miers to a grand jury and another that authorizes the House general counsel to bring a civil suit against the White House to settle the question of whether the testimony of Bolten and Miers should be covered by executive privilege – received the backing of 220 Democrats and three anti-war Republicans (Ron Paul, the renegade presidential candidate from Texas; Wayne Gilchrest, who lost his seat in a Maryland primary Tuesday; and Walter Jones of North Carolina).
The move was opposed by 31 Republicans and one Democrat (Texan Henry Cuellar, who backed Bush for reelection in 2004 and this year backs Hillary Clinton.) At the behest of House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, 163 Republicans were recorded as “not voting.” Ten Democrats did the same.
Thursday’s House decision was historic, not just for its specific response to the lawlessness of two prominent members of the Bush-Cheney administration but for its broader message. With this action, Congress is beginning to reassert itself as a separate and equal branch of the federal government.
If the imperial presidency is to be ended, however, it will take more than an accountability moment.
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John Nichols’ new book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson hails it as a “nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the ‘heroic medicine’ that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to ‘reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'”