VERMONT - The reverberating call to impeach President George W. Bush is causing cracks in Vermont's antiwar movement, with activists divided among themselves and from the state's congressional delegation.
Over the past two years, 40 Vermont town meetings have passed resolutions urging Congress to conduct an impeachment inquiry. Wordings vary, but the measures generally charge that Bush violated the Constitution by misleading the country into war in Iraq and by condoning torture of detainees abroad and ordering illegal wiretapping at home.
The state's two U.S. senators and sole House member should heed their constituents' demands that Bush be put on trial, says Dan DeWalt, the Newfane selectman who is leading the statewide impeachment drive. Activists in this camp are also targeting the Vermont State Legislature, which, they say, has the power to force Congress to debate an impeachment resolution.
But Vermont's representatives in Washington and legislative leaders in Montpelier remain unwilling to try to force Bush out of office.
Congressman Peter Welch supports investigations of Bush's policies but believes impeachment hearings "would likely sidetrack the goal of ending the war," says his spokesman, Andrew Savage. Voters in Welch's hometown of Hartland approved an impeachment resolution last week.
Senator Patrick Leahy has convened hearings to investigate Bush's pre-war claims related to Iraq, notes Leahy spokesman David Carle. Asked if findings from these inquiries might lead Leahy to favor impeachment, Carle said, "The Democratic-controlled Congress is only two months old. Let's see where this leads."
Senator Bernie Sanders' office did not respond to requests for comment on the broadening support in Vermont for impeachment. DeWalt says he has also been snubbed in his efforts to discuss the issue with the senator's staff. "Bernie Sanders has good qualities," DeWalt suggests, "but he's decided his oath of office to defend the Constitution is less important than political calculations."
Stymied by the Welch-Leahy-Sanders refusal to endorse the initiative, which they view as marginal, the impeach-Bush movement is now focused on Vermont House Speaker Gaye Symington. If she permits a vote, DeWalt predicts, the Vermont Legislature will approve a pro-impeachment resolution. He says that a parliamentary manual written by Thomas Jefferson in 1800 and still adhered to by the U.S. House would require Congress to debate the measure.
In Symington's view, however, "Impeachment is a distraction from the work of getting us out of Iraq." Noting that the legislature has already approved a troops-out resolution, the speaker says the House should now devote its time to state-centered business. "I have heard overwhelmingly from Vermonters that they don't want their legislature to be working on what they perceive to be federal concerns," says Symington, whose hometown of Jericho approved an impeachment resolution last week.
Some antiwar activists agree that pushing for impeachment is a waste of time. "It's not feasible," says Anne Hoover, a veteran peace campaigner from Middlebury. "Nothing would get done in Congress between now and 2008 if this gets taken up." Hoover adds, however, that "Bush certainly deserves to be impeached."