31 Democrats defect, support impeachment inquiry
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, October 8) -- The outcome of the House's vote Thursday to launch a formal impeachment inquiry of President Bill Clinton was certain before the votes were even counted, despite the fiery, often partisan floor debate. The only suspense was the final tally and how many Democrats would vote for the Republican resolution.
In the end, 31 Democrats abandoned their party's president and supported the GOP proposal for an investigation of Clinton without limits on its length or scope. All Republicans voted for the resolution offered by their Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois.
The vote on the doomed Democratic alternative , which would have sent the resolution back to the Judiciary Committee for changes, fell more strictly along party lines, with only 10 Democrats voting no.
Following the historic final vote, members on both sides of the aisle painted the defections as a victory for their position.
Republicans characterized the outcome as bipartisan, arguing that with both votes combined, all but five members of the House voted for some form of an impeachment inquiry.
On the flip side, Democrats charged Republicans with bullying through an unfair bill and stifling debate, and suggested it was telling that fewer Democrats voted for the resolution than some observers had predicted beforehand.
In the days leading up to the vote the highest predictions counted as many as 100 Democratic waverers, though most estimated the final number would be closer to between 40 and 60.
Clinton said Wednesday each member "should cast a vote of principle and conscience. " Even so, White House aides worked behind the scenes to make their case to Democrats, because the fewer defectors the easier it would be for them to portray the inquiry as politically motivated.
Some defectors framed their vote as giving Clinton a chance to defend himself rather than an intent to impeach him. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said, "Let the president make his case. Give him a chance to clear his name and get back to the job."
Yet what's best for the president isn't necessarily best for Democrats up for re-election next month, and lawmakers in tough races struggled with the decision.
What is unknown is what the political price for a 'yea' or a 'nay' vote will be on the campaign trail. The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll indicates the public already is unhappy with the way lawmakers are handling the situation as Congress' approval rating dropped to 44 percent, down from 55 percentage points in a survey taken September 11-12.
But the national trend doesn't translate in each congressional district. Considered at greatest risk in November are Democratic incumbents in Southern seats or normally Republican districts, since conservative and Republican voters may be more likely to be angry at the president and rally behind GOP House candidates.
Many of those vulnerable lawmakers voted for the inquiry. A majority of them were freshmen.
Rep. Jim Maloney (D-Connecticut) fit the profile of a man in the political cross hairs. He is a moderate Democrat facing a tough re-election race in a swing district. "It is an evenly divided district," Maloney said of his constituents. "You've got as many people who want you to go one way as the other, so the only real answer to that is just do the way you think is the right solution."
Maloney's "solution" was to support the Hyde resolution.
Rep. Bob Etheridge, a freshman Democrat from a Republican-leaning district in North Carolina, is a good example of a vulnerable "Blue Dog Democrat," a moderate Southerner.He has already been criticized in campaign ads for standing by the president and could not risk having a "no" vote cast in that light. He voted for the inquiry.
During Thursday's House debate the harshest criticism of Clinton's sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and consequent attempts to cover up the affair came from a member of the president's own party.
Rep. Paul McHale of Pennsylvania, who has already called on the president to resign and stated publicly beforehand he would vote for the inquiry, said, "We cannot excuse that kind of misconduct because we happen to belong to the same party as the president or agree with him on issues or feel tragically that the removal of the president from office would be enormously painful for the United States of America."
But McHale is safe to speak his mind -- he's retiring. But the line is not so clear for incumbents -- like Reps. John Spratt of South Carolina and Ted Strickland of Ohio -- whose races are expected to be affected if voter turnout is depressed among Democrats. Spratt voted for the resolution, Strickland did not.
Another incumbent in trouble who bucked the trend was Rep. Vic Snyder of Arkansas. His seat has been targeted by Republicans as one of their best opportunities for a takeover, but he came down against an inquiry.
So who were the other presidential faithfuls? No member of the Democratic Black Caucus broke ranks.
Women were also in the president's corner. At the end of the debate a string of Democratic women all rose to briefly go on the record as opposing the Republican resolution. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-California) objected what she called a "pre-Halloween witch hunt."
When the final vote was tallied, only two Democratic women joined the call for an investigation of Clinton: Reps. Carolyn McCarthy of New York and Ellen Tauscher of California.
The Democrats who voted for the Republican resolution for a broad impeachment inquiry include: Reps. Leonard Boswell of Iowa; Gary Condit of California; Robert Cramer of Alabama; Pat Danner of Missouri; Etheridge; Lane Evans of Illinois; Virgil Goode of Virginia; Ralph Hall of Texas; Lee Hamilton of Indiana; Chris John of Louisiana; Ron Kind of Wisconsin; Kucinich; Nick Lampson of Texas; William Lipinski of Illinois; Carolyn McCarthy of New York; McHale; Mike McIntyre of North Carolina; Maloney ; David Minge of Minnesota; Jim Moran of Virginia; Collin Peterson of Minnesota; Owen Pickett of Virginia; Tim Roemer of Indiana; Norman Sisisky of Virginia; Ike Skelton of Missouri; Spratt; Charles Stenholm of Texas; Tauscher; Gene Taylor of Mississippi; Jim Turner of Texas; and Robert Weygand of Rhode Island.
Thursday, October 8, 1998
Transcripts: House debate on launching impeachment inquiry, pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
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