The House and the Senate have voted in favor of a 2008 withdrawal date for American forces in Iraq. Despite this, and the growing opposition to the war within the American electorate, President Bush refuses to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq by any particular date.
It is now clear that Mr. Bush intends to keep American forces in Iraq no matter how much Congress or the American public object. But two other things are also becoming increasingly clear: First, America will not win the war in Iraq before Mr. Bush leaves office in January 2009. Second, the Republican Party is likely to suffer a major defeat in the November 2008 elections so long as the prospects for an American victory in Iraq remain poor.
Not surprisingly, this poses a real problem for Republican senators and House members who would like to get re-elected next year. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska has raised impeachment as an option for solving this problem. There are probably many other Republicans who would dearly love for Mr. Bush to be ousted but won't say so openly. Democrats also would like to impeach Mr. Bush, if only they could.
The Constitution, however, allows the president to be removed from office only on impeachment for, and conviction of, "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." It makes no provision for removing a president from office because he is incompetent, stupid or just unpopular. Maybe it should have, but it doesn't.
Although the House can vote to impeach on the basis of a simple majority, the Constitution states that conviction by the Senate requires the concurrence of two-thirds of the members present. The Republicans can easily prevent this.
In addition to this high bar, there is also the little problem that the impeachment and removal from office of Mr. Bush would result in Vice President Dick Cheney becoming president. Nobody who wants Mr. Bush removed from office wants the irascible Mr. Cheney to replace him.
Removing Mr. Bush through impeachment, then, seems as impossible as winning the war in Iraq.
There is one other constitutional mechanism for removing a president. The 25th Amendment (ratified in 1967) provides for power to be transferred when the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. However, this can happen only if the president himself declares that he is unable to perform his duties, or if the vice president and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide do so.
Needless to say, neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Cheney and a majority of the Bush Cabinet is likely to do this. Nor is Congress likely to agree on the "such other body" that would declare Mr. Bush incapable of performing his duties.
And, of course, even if any of these unlikely methods of declaring Mr. Bush unable to perform his duties could be achieved, it is Mr. Cheney who would take over.
The only way this could change is if enough Senate Republicans joined with Senate Democrats to first remove Mr. Cheney from office and then remove Mr. Bush. This scenario, however, is even less likely than an American victory in Iraq.
So politicians can talk about impeachment all they like. The bottom line is that America is stuck with Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney until January 2009. And Republican candidates for national office are stuck with the consequences of the Bush administration's unwillingness to change course in Iraq as they face the 2008 elections.
Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University. His e-mail is email@example.com.