WASHINGTON -- Three of the 10 US House members from Massachusetts have signed a resolution calling for an investigation and the possible impeachment of President Bush, placing them among a small minority within the Democratic Party who are supporting the long shot effort.
Representative Michael E. Capuano, a Somerville Democrat, last week joined Representative John F. Tierney, Democrat of Salem, and Representative John W. Olver, Democrat of Amherst, to cosponsor the resolution.
Capuano acknowledged that the bill has ''no chance" of succeeding as long as Republicans control Congress and a majority of Democrats -- including party leaders -- have serious reservations about the idea, fearing a backlash at the polls this fall. But Capuano said it's important to show that the president is not above reproach.
''If all my suspicions are held up, then, yeah, impeach him in a heartbeat," Capuano said. ''If we were lied to to go to war -- if that's an established fact -- that is an impeachable offense. I can't think of a higher crime or misdemeanor."
The resolution has been quietly gaining support since Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, filed it last year. Conyers's bill demands a special committee to probe the Bush administration's ''manipulation of prewar intelligence," ''retaliating against critics," and ''encouraging and countenancing" of torture. The committee would subsequently advise whether there are ''grounds for possible impeachment."
Still, only 29 of the House's 201 Democrats have signed on, along with Representative Bernard Sanders a Vermont independent. No one in the House's Democratic leadership has endorsed the resolution, and Bush's toughest critics within the Massachusetts delegation have pointedly avoided it.
The lack of significant support for the resolution reflects Democrats' worries about how to attack the president and avoid angering voters in a year where they have high hopes for electoral gains. Most Democrats want investigations of the administration's drive for war, but they stop short of using the word ''impeachment."
''The first thing that we need to do is to effect appropriate oversight so we know the facts, then decide what the facts lead us to do," said the House minority whip, Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland. ''This Congress has been a complicit, complacent, cover-up Congress."
In the Senate, the resolution by Senator Russell Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, to censure Bush -- a step short of impeachment that has no legal ramifications -- has not found a single cosponsor since it was introduced two days ago.
When Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, offered on Monday to hold an immediate vote on Feingold's resolution, Democrats quickly retreated, insisting that it first work its way through the cumbersome committee process.
''If the Democrats continue to say no to voting on their own censure resolution, then they ought to drop it and focus on our foreign policy in a positive way," Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said yesterday. ''Delay and distraction are a disservice to the American people."
Even supporters of Conyers's resolution in the House are careful when referring to the word impeachment. Tierney said its inclusion in the Conyers resolution is ''unfortunate," adding that he backs the resolution only as it relates to the need for oversight of the Bush administration.
''We need to have facts before anybody starts screaming for impeachment," Tierney said. ''I'm not even sure that it's healthy at this point. We've been through that recently."
In 1998, the Republican-controlled House impeached President Clinton on perjury and obstruction of justice charges in votes that hewed closely to party lines. Many Democrats blasted Republicans for what they saw as a political attack -- and relished the political price the GOP paid when they lost seats in Congress that year.
That memory lingers with many Democrats, including some liberals who otherwise might have agreed that the president should be impeached. Representative James P. McGovern, a Worcester Democrat, said the resolution is ''tempting," but would distract from the party's goals of winning House and Senate races this fall.
Representative Barney Frank, a Newton Democrat, said many of his constituents aren't happy that he passed on signing Conyers's resolution.
''This is an understandable emotional response from people who are very angry," Frank said. ''But why do we want to energize George Bush's people?"