COME ON, CONGRESS, GET SOME GUMPTION

If the arrogant autocrats of the Bush regime had been depicted in a 1950s B-movie, it would be called: “The Imperial Presidency Strikes Again,” and the movie poster would feature members of Congress cowering at the feet of an all-powerful Bush.

If the arrogant autocrats of the Bush regime had been depicted in a 1950s B-movie, it would be called: “The Imperial Presidency Strikes Again,” and the movie poster would feature members of Congress cowering at the feet of an all-powerful Bush.

Sadly, the image is all too real, for the Bushites are slapping-down Congress once again. At issue is the crass effort by the White House and top justice department officials to turn America’s non-partisan U.S. attorneys offices over to GOP political hacks willing to attack Democratic officeholders. They got caught, but the White House is even refusing to have this politicalization of justice investigated.

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When Congress subpoenaed two top Bush aides who were involved to testify, they defied this perfectly-legal demand. A House Committee then voted to hold the two officials in contempt, but Democratic leaders were skittish about even asking Bush’s attorney general to enforce the contempt citation. When they finally got up the nerve to do so, the attorney general imperiously said no, unilaterally rejecting Congress’s clear constitutional power to investigate such wrongdoing.

Some in Congress meekly say that their hands are tied, that they can’t make a recalcitrant presidency obey the law. But that’s as wrong as it is pathetic. A little-known doctrine called the power of “inherent contempt” gives Congress the incontrovertible right to enforce its own contempt citations – a right that it has exercised before and that has been upheld by the Supreme Court. By “enforce.” I mean that Congress can send its sergeant-at-arms to arrest the White House outlaws, imprison them in a Capital jail, and put them on trial by the Congress itself.

America’s founders intentionally created a muscular Congress. The question is whether today’s leaders have the gumption to measure up to their own institutional power.

“No Investigation for 2 Bush Aides,” www.nytimes.com, March 1, 2008

“Time to Vote Contempt,” The New York Times, February 14, 2008

“Congress Had a Way of Making Witnesses Speak: its Own Jail,” The New York Times, December 4, 2007

“Honey, They Shrunk the Congress,” The New York Times, October 30, 2007

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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