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Confidence v. No Confidence

It looks like we’re on the “confidence” theme this week. I admit that I came down pretty hard on Paul Vallely in my article, “Former general confuses US with UK,”  mocking his call for a vote of “no confidence” on President Obama in the House of Representatives. Granted, I correctly noted that such a vote has no legal significance, but I did not fairly label it what it really is, a political ploy. (The idea that a vote by a majority of the Republican-controlled House would result in an Obama resignation is  ludicrous.) In this country, the political party in power governs, and the opposition tries to get them out. And those out of power in Washington today use every trick they can to make the Obama Administration look bad, and this “vote of no confidence” scheme should be viewed as what it is, politics.

One of the reasons that I wanted to back off a little on the current “no confidence” move is that it is not just something that right-wing nut jobs cooked up in their anti-Obama program. The other side tried the same gambit when it was the Bush administration in power. Turn the clock back to May of 2007 and read this from Think Progress:

Last week, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) called on the Senate to hold a no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The White House and its conservative allies quickly derided the vote, calling it “nothing more than a meaningless political act.” This morning on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called it a “gotcha game.”

So what happened with that move? A resolution of no confidence was introduced, but even though  53 Senators voted to debate the issue (38 opposed), it fell shy of the 60-vote supermajority necessary to fend off a Republican filibuster. Although the “no confidence” vote was not held, Gonzalez did resign (for more on this controversial figure, check out the Wikipedia).

Folks like me on the Internet try to get good information, but we don’t govern the country, or try legal cases. If I make a mistake, the only consequence is a little hit on my credibility. When it comes to members of Congress, they have to make real decisions that affect real people, and their standard of correctness must needs be far higher than mine. When Congress needs a legal opinion, they may seek guidance from the Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress, and that’s exactly what some did in 2007 regarding the “no confidence” question, resulting in the production of this report: “No Confidence” Votes and Other Forms of Congressional Censure of Public Officials from June of 2007.

The report concludes (in part):

Aside from obvious symbolic, political or publicity implications, there are no specific legal consequences in the passage of such a resolution, nor is there any legal significance or consequence for the Senate or the House to choose one phrase of disapprobation or condemnation over another, or to include or not to include the concept or expression of a loss of “confidence” in an official.

The report is of particular interest in its tabulation of historical resolutions of this type, going back to 1973.