The Founders Gave Us a Tool for Taking Down a Dangerous President

Almost 10 years ago Bill Moyers Journal hosted a freewheeling discussion about impeachment with conservative scholar (and Clinton impeachment article author) Bruce Fein and journalist John Nichols of The Nation. The impetus was a newly released poll that showed some 45 percent of Americans favored starting the impeachment process for President Bush and Vice President Cheney. 

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Among the “high crimes and misdemeanors” the pair were accused of perpetrating were many related to civil liberties and obstruction of justice in the wake of 9/11 and the Iraq War. Of course, impeachment never proceeded against Bush and Cheney. Fein and Nichols were clear about the proper use of impeachment — not as a bludgeon or an axe striking off the head of state — but as a cure for what ails a very troubled executive.

We asked John Nichols for his perspective on this video, given our current political situation. This is what he had to say: 

Those of us who have for many years worried about the imperial presidency regularly warn that an absence of checks and balances will, invariably, lead to the expansion of presidential powers. 

Impeachment is an essential check and balance — arguably the most essential, and powerful, if the process is completed with the resignation or formal removal of an errant official. When members of the legislative branch fail to initiate the impeachment process for reasons of political calculation of circumstantial caution, they contribute to the expansion of executive branch authority. Partisans can almost always come up with excuses for avoiding the impeachment process. But when they do, they set the stage for future abuses. In effect, they encourage the imperial presidency to become more imperial.

The failure to impeach former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney for the high crimes and misdemeanors that characterized their tenure sent a signal that lawlessness…

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