House Democrats on Tuesday narrowly managed to avert a bruising debate on a proposal to impeach US Vice President Dick Cheney after Republicans, in a surprise maneuver, voted in favor of taking up the proposal.
Republicans, changing course midway through a vote, tried to force Democrats into a debate on the resolution sponsored by longshot presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.
The anti-war Democrat, in his resolution, accused Cheney of purposely leading the US into war against Iraq and manipulating intelligence about Iraq's al-Qaeda ties.
The Republican tactics reversed what had been expected to an overwhelming vote to table, or kill, the resolution.
Midway through the vote, with instructions from the their leaders, Republicans one by one changed their votes from yes -- to kill the resolution -- to no, trying to force the chamber into a debate and a for-or-against vote on the proposal.
At one point there were 290 votes to table. After the turn-around, the final vote was 251-162 against tabling, with 165 Republicans voting against it.
"We're going to help them out, to explain themselves," said Representative Pete Sessions, a Republican. "We're going to give them their day in court."
Democrats countered by offering a motion to refer the proposal to the House Judiciary Committee for further study, effectively preventing a debate on the House floor. That motion passed by a largely party-line vote of 218-194.
The White House, in a statement, said Democrats were shirking responsibilities on issues such as childrens' 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 head in wonder about the priorities of this Congress."
Kucinich has long pushed for a vote to impeach Cheney, but has failed to win the backing of the Democratic leadership. After Kucinich introduced the resolution, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, immediately moved to kill it.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "has said that impeachment is off the table and that the new direction Congress is focused on [is] responsibly and honorably redeploying our troops out of Iraq, covering 10 million uninsured children and meeting our national priorities long neglected by the Bush Administration," said her spokesman Nadeam Elshami.
The resolution said that Cheney, "in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully executive the office of vice president," had "purposely manipulated the intelligence process to deceive the citizens and Congress of the United States by fabricating a threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to justify the use of the US Armed Forces against the nation of Iraq in a manner damaging to our national security interests."
The 11-page resolution also charged that Cheney purposely deceived the US about an alleged relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda and has "openly threatened aggression against the Republic of Iran absent any real threat to the United States."
House approval of an article of impeachment sends the issue to the Senate, which has the constitutional authority to try and, with a two-thirds vote, remove a person from office.