Rousseff Turns to Brazil Supreme Court to Block Impeachment

  • Rousseff is the leader for this difficult moment: minister
  • Legislators filed motions to quash request accepted by Cunha

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff.

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

President Dilma Rousseff’s allies took to Brazil’s top court to stop the impeachment process just as opposition leaders made the first steps toward the start of hearings.

Legislators from the ruling coalition on Thursday filed three motions before the Supreme Court to quash the impeachment request accepted by lower house President Eduardo Cunha a day earlier. Two of the requests to halt the process were denied late Thursday.

Also on Thursday, Cunha met with party leaders to distribute seats in a 65-member committee that will recommend whether the lower house should accept allegations made against the president. 

The unfolding drama is gripping the nation as it struggles with an expanding corruption scandal, rising unemployment and surging consumer prices. It also threatens to further polarize Congress as government supporters and detractors square off in what could prove to be a lengthy political and legal battle.

"Rousseff is the leader that will get the country through this difficult moment,” Social Communication Minister Edinho Silva said in an interview in his office in the presidential palace. "We’re talking about a woman who dedicated her life to the consolidation of democracy in Brazil. Her integrity and honesty are recognized even by the opposition.”

Cunha’s Annoucement

The lower house president on Wednesday evening announced his decision to accept one of the 34 the requests to impeach the president on charges that range from illegally financing her re-election to doctoring fiscal accounts this year and last. Rousseff later that night said in a televised address that she has done nothing wrong.

Cunha made the announcement just hours after the ruling Workers’ Party declared it would vote against him on a congressional ethics committee. The committee is considering whether to open a probe that could result in his removal from office following accusations he accepted kickbacks and hid the money in overseas accounts. Cunha denies wrongdoing.

Rousseff’s allies have pledged to fight the house president’s decision in court, on the streets and in Congress. Silva said the government will rally enough backing in Congress to defend her post and continue voting on the austerity measures needed to reduce Brazil’s budget deficit.

Pro-government legislators argued before the Supreme Court that Cunha abused his power in order to protect himself against the charges, adding that he also failed to give Rousseff the right to defense. Supreme Court judge Edson Fachin, who will decide on the third request, sought additional information from the Presidency, the Senate, the Lower House, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Attorney General’s office. He gave the institutions five days to respond.

Complicated Process

In a sign of how long and complicated the impeachment process could prove, lower house secretary and Congressman Beto Mansur spent more than three hours on the floor Thursday afternoon reading out-loud the entire impeachment request. Lawmakers say the reading is a formality required by law.

After the lower house committee makes its recommendation, the plenary will vote on impeachment. If two-thirds of the deputies back impeachment, hearings would begin in the Senate. In that case, Rousseff would have to step down and hand over the reins to Vice President Michel Temer during the deliberations. He would remain in power if the Senate impeaches Rousseff or step aside if she is absolved. The process may last up to 180 days.

Rousseff has "total confidence” in her vice president and doesn’t expect him to make public declarations in support of her administration, Silva said. Temer’s history of leadership and close relationship with Congress and the opposition makes him an asset to the government, he said.

Meanwhile the real posted its biggest one-day gain in a month as traders and some politicians see the impeachment proceedings as a resolution to the political crisis that has been assailing Brazil’s economy.

“The opening of the impeachment process was good for the country," said Mauricio Quintella Lessa, lower house chief of the PR party, which is a member of the ruling coalition. "It’s a problem Brazil needs to solve."

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