WASHINGTON — The impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney was the last thing that House Democratic leaders wanted to confront Tuesday, even though a determined band of anti-war House Democrats was eager to force the issue.
Then, in a vote that stunned even the anti-war forces, the House of Representatives — helped in no small part by Republicans eager to debate the issue and portray Democrats as radical — voted 251-162 to keep the Cheney impeachment measure alive. The majority was formed by 165 Republicans and 86 Democrats.
The measure's next, and probably last, stop is the House Judiciary Committee, which Democrats control. The House voted 218 to 194, on a largely party-line vote, to send the measure there.
That was done to end the debate. Speaker Nancy D. Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., adamantly oppose the measure. They say it takes time and energy away from more pressing concerns. They also don't want to engage in an impeachment debate that riles partisan passions going into a presidential election year. Pelosi's ruled out impeachment since she became speaker in January, saying the nation doesn't want to go through such a spectacle again.
"Pelosi did not want what she considers the party's radical element to control the agenda, but Dennis Kucinich called their bluff," said Michael Franc, a political analyst at Washington's Heritage Foundation.
Rep. Kucinich, D-Ohio, a long-shot 2008 presidential candidate, was the chief backer of the impeachment resolution.
He may have played into GOP hands, even as he made Pelosi appear unable to control her own troops.
"Republicans would love Democrats to take positions that appear to be extreme," said Gary C. Jacobson, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego.
The White House echoed that theme, saying in a statement that Democrats should be dealing with important matters like children's health insurance. (President Bush has twice vetoed a bipartisan bill increasing children's health insurance.)
"And yet they find time to waste an afternoon on an impeachment vote against the vice president. ... This is why Americans shake their heads in wonder about the priorities of this Congress," the White House statement said.
Kucinich's resolution said that Cheney is "in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the office of vice president" and that he has "purposely manipulated the intelligence process to deceive the citizens and Congress of the United States by fabricating the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to justify the use of U.S. Armed Forces against the nation of Iraq in a manner damaging to our national security interests."
It also challenged Cheney on Iran, saying he has "openly threatened aggression" against that country "absent any real threat to the United States."
Even if the Judiciary Committee begins a formal investigation, it's unlikely to result in Cheney's impeachment. A two-thirds Senate vote would be needed to oust him.
But the process would dominate the nation's politics and likely alienate moderates courted by both parties in 2008. As Franc put it, "that story would be on every front page every day."
ON THE WEB