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Friday, April 6, 2007Nancy Pelosi has persistently violated her duty to exercise her speaker powers in accordance with the Constitution and the current "106th Congress House Rules Manual" (House Document 106-320).
In short, she has fostered what is known as "tyranny by the majority" - and violated House Rules that give her the duty to maintain order, civility, and decorum, and to foster "comity" (a word rarely used these days, meaning "mutual respect").
The "House Rules Manual" includes Jefferson's "Manual of Parliamentary Procedures," originally drafted by the founder of the Democratic Party when, as vice president, he presided over the Senate from 1797 to 1801.
In 1837 the House, provided that the provisions of Jefferson's Manual should "govern the House in all cases to which they are applicable and in which they are not inconsistent with [subsequently adopted rules]."
Jefferson's manual, which is still in effect, was a codification of 18th century "common law" and re-affirms that House Rules are "the only weapons by which the minority can defend itself . . . and by a strict adherence to which the weaker party can only be protected from those irregularities and abuses which these forms were intended to check, and which the wantonness of power is but too often apt to suggest to large and successful majorities."
Currently, Pelosi, who is second in line to the president, often describes herself as a partner in his power - a higher role than the Constitution grants to the vice president, who is first in the line of secession - and whose only official duties are confined to presiding over the Senate.
Pelosi Oversteps the Electorate
In closing the recent debate on the $125 billion Emergency Defense Appropriations bill's provision to bring our troops home from Iraq next year, Pelosi - purporting to speak for the entire electorate - proclaimed "The American people have lost faith in the president's conduct of this war . . . The American people see the reality of the war; the president does not."
Both before and after the debate she has also often derided him for waging "a war without end." As Democratic Sen. Patrick Moynihan once noted "Members of Congress are entitled to their own opinions - but not to their own facts." Mrs. Pelosi's false assertion of a national consensus was then belied by a role call vote of 218 to 213.
The facts are that she presides over a House divided by both the war in Iraq and a political culture war at home. She obviously wants to win the domestic political war against the Republicans by setting a deadline for the Iraq war.
Another fact is that when she first became speaker she pledged to curtail the "earmarking" of appropriation bills with pork. Yet she encouraged her longtime Democratic ally John Murtha to use his powers on the Appropriations Committee to load the bill with $24 billion of earmarked pork. The New York Times of March 24 described it as "largely aimed at domestic program unrelated to military expenses [and] was added by Democrats to make the bill more acceptable to lawmakers."
Similarly, the Senate later approved a similar pork laden measure in a party line vote of 51 to 47, with Sen. Lieberman the sole Democrat siding with the Republicans. Despite the fact that, with defense funds due to expire in May, Pelosi then used her powers to recess until April 29 - which even her liberal supporters in the media have characterized as an exercise of partisan brinkmanship.
Pelosi's Syrian Mistake
She also denied a request by President Bush (who has primary constitutional authority over the conduct of foreign policy) that as the third-highest official of the United State she not make an official visit to Syria, which our government has officially declared to be a "terrorist state."
On a high profile televised visit to Syria, she conferred with President Bashar al-Hassad. She not only purported to speak for the American people in opposing Bush's policies and the Iraq war, she purported to have spoken for Israel. As reported in the Jerusalem Post, "[Israel's] Prime Minister Office issued a rare 'clarification' Wednesday that, in gentle diplomatic terms, contradicted U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's statement in Damascus that she had brought a message from Israel about a willingness to engage in peace talks."
As a result of her defiance of the president and persistent confrontation of his foreign policies, Democrat Leon Panetta, the former chief of staff to President Clinton, was quoted in the April 2 New York Times as cautioning that if the Democrats "go into total confrontation mode on other than [domestic issues] where they just pass bills and the president vetoes them, that's a recipe for losing seats in the next election."
Ironically, history is now repeating itself. Our first woman Speaker Pelosi may well deserve to become the second Democratic speaker to be compelled to resign from Congress.
The prior history of Democratic Speaker Jim Wright is now being repeated by Nancy Pelosi - perhaps by a loss of memory of the House Democratic caucus, which forced Wright to resign.
After Wright became speaker five South American presidents had agreed on a peace plan which the Reagan administration vigorously opposed.
Anti-Sandinistas and Contra hardliners became incensed when they learned that Speaker Wright had secretly sat in on a meeting between Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo the Catholic leader being asked to mediate the peace. The Washington Post wrote "[Wright's] approach marks a dramatic shift in the running of the House and in the role of the House speaker as Washington's No. 1 Democrat."
As described 10 years later by Wright's own chief of staff: "[Then] Republican Minority Whip Trent Lott described Wright's participation in foreign affairs as "The most arrogant abuse of power I've ever seen . . . Dick Cheney of Illinois, [then] chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, got so mad at Jim Wright that he began to wax nostalgic about the warmth and affection for the previous speaker, Tip O'Neill. 'There are no such feelings for Jim Wright,' he observed." Then-House Minority Leader Newt Gingrich began filing numerous accusations of malfeasance by the speaker in the House Ethics Committee.
In the end Jim Wright resigned.
With the unanimous endorsement of the Democratic caucus the House then voted to replace him with Democrat Tom Foley - who restored the traditional civility and comity that had prevailed under Democratic Speakers Sam Rayburn, John McCormack, Carl Albert and "Tip" O'Neill.
Currently, with public respect for professional politicians at an all time low, and the financing of presidential campaigns at an all time high, the moral authority of both the Democratic Party and the GOP is diminishing. In my view, the longer Nancy Pelosi remains our party's leading spokesperson the more her penchant for political warfare and non-compliance with Jefferson's "Manual" will enhance the chances of Republican control of Congress and/or the White House in 2008.
She will serve our party and the nation best by resigning.
Jerry Zeifman served as Democratic Counsel of the House Judiciary for 17 years. He has recently published "Hillary's Pursuit of Power." For his other books and articles go to his Web site, Jzeifman.com.