by Matthew Hay Brown
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wasn’t able to table the articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney, but he appears to have found another way to kill them.
After Republicans voted to force a debate on the measure introduced today by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Democrats voted to refer it without further discussion to the House Judiciary Committee, where Chairman John Conyers has expressed his reluctance to take the matter up.
The articles of impeachment proposed by Kucinich charge Cheney with misleading Congress and the American public into the war in Iraq, and trying now to mislead lawmakers and voters into a war with Iran. The Ohio Democrat, who is also running for president, has gathered 21 co-sponsors for the effort.
Party leaders have sought to avoid debate on an issue that divides their base. But Hoyer’s attempt to table the matter ran into opposition from Republicans, who wanted to see just such a spectacle.
"We're going to help them out, to explain themselves," Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, told the Associated Press. "We’re going to give them their day in court."
In what amounted to a game of legislative chicken, Republicans looking to force a debate were joined by Democrats who back impeachment to defeat the motion to table, 251-162.
Then Hoyer moved to send the measure to committee. That tactic reunified Democrats: those who back impeachment can say they moved the process along; those who don’t can say they sent it off to die. Before the vote, Conyers had warned that impeachment could open a split that could disrupt the majority for the remainder of the 110th Congress.
That motion passed in a largely party-line vote, 218-194.
Hoyer, caught off guard by the GOP maneuver, called it “a continuation of Republicans’ gotcha games that achieve nothing more than short-term entertainment for themselves.”
“I am surprised that Republicans would treat an issue as important as the potential impeachment of a vice president of the United States as a petty political game,” he said in a statement.
And the House moved on to a happier subject for Democrats: The Water Resources Development Act -- a veto by President Bush that Congress can override.