Rep. John Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. He joins us on the phone from Detroit.
"I’ve got the Constitution in one hand and a calculator in the other," House Judiciary Chair John Conyers (D–MI) said today on Democracy Now! when asked about the possibility of impeachment. Conyers said hearings could "make the record clear that there has been a great deal of violation of the sworn oath of office, abuses of power ... but there isn’t the time for it." He also said he doesn’t think there are enough votes in the House and Senate to support impeachment. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Conyers, it was interesting to see you at this major rally in Newark on Saturday. About more than a thousand people were there. It was the largest demonstration against war and violence at home for decades in Newark. Now, you spoke at the rally. Interestingly, people were there who had been arrested in your office, the 45 in July who had been arrested because they were calling for you to continue to back the call for impeachment of President Bush. What is your response?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, my response is that we have several things to do in — I begin this part of our conversation by indicating that I have nothing but the highest regard for Cindy Sheehan. But the question of how we orchestrate moving a congressional schedule forward of accomplishments — we’re pretty proud of what we’ve done in eight months after having no control over the agenda for 12 years. We also are trying to make sure that we don’t bring resolutions or hearings that would put the election in jeopardy. We could close down the Congress — I have been in more impeachment hearings than anybody in the House or the Senate. And our legislative attempts to reverse so many things would come to a stop. And it is doubtful if we wouldn’t go into an election with not one, but at least two attempts to remove the top executive officers in the country, I don’t think that that can happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Conyers, on the issue of the warrantless wiretapping, on the one hand you’ve had the Democrats going after Gonzales fiercely for the Bush administration’s secret warrantless domestic surveillance program, yet signing off on the recent bill that the Bush administration had pushed for for further warrantless wiretapping.
REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, the leadership was, of course, against the bill, and the majority of Democrats voted against the bill. But we’ve got this consideration: We’ve got 233 Democrats; 40 of them are Blue Dogs, that is, conservative Democrats that frequently vote Republican. And then we have another group that are new to the Congress in their first term elected from red state congressional districts, which they felt that they would not be able to come back, and we couldn’t get them over. So we didn’t have all of our Democrats. It was not a solid position. But the leadership, Pelosi and I and Reyes, the head of the Intelligence Committee, we pleaded with everybody to vote with us in caucus, and we weren’t able to persuade some of the new members, and we weren’t able to persuade some of the Blue Dogs.
AMY GOODMAN: Why would impeachment hearings put the election in jeopardy?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, because unless I’ve got the Constitution in one hand and a calculator in the other, so I’ve got any kind of hearings on removing both the president and the vice president — or putting it in reverse, remove the vice president and then the president — within the months remaining, would require 218 votes in the House of Representatives. That’s my calculator giving me this information. And then, in the Senate we need two-thirds to convict. Notwithstanding all of my progressive friends that would love to see me start impeachment hearings, those votes I do not think exist in the House of Representatives or in the U.S. Senate.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Congressman Conyers, if you weren’t holding your calculator, if you were just deciding whether impeachment was called for here, what would be the reasons you would list?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: What would be the reasons that I would what?
AMY GOODMAN: What would be the reasons you would list for impeachment, if you weren’t holding your calculator, just holding the Constitution?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: Oh, OK. Well, to me, we can accomplish probably as much as we would need to to make the record clear that there has been a great deal of violation of the sworn oath of office, abuses of power, through the hearings and inquiries that we can conduct. But it isn’t that — and no one has ever heard me suggest that we don’t think that there is conduct that could be proven to be impeachable.
But when Ron Dellums and Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug and William Fitts Ryan of New York, when we — Parren Mitchell — when we introduced an impeachment resolution, the first one against a sitting president in over 75 years, when Richard Nixon was being investigated, it was at the beginning of his term. And although he had been overwhelmingly re-elected, there was time for us to have the hearing. This — the timing of an administration which will go down in history as probably one of the most disappointing, there isn’t the time here for it.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Conyers, we will leave it there, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. I want to thank you very much for joining us on this day after the announcement that Alberto Gonzales had resigned as attorney general, effective September 17. Thank you.
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