House clears the way for impeachment inquiry
Thirty-one Democrats support the GOP resolution
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, October 8) -- The House of Representatives made history Thursday by voting 258-176 to begin an impeachment inquiry into President Bill Clinton.
Only 31 Democrats joined the Republicans to approve a free-ranging probe of perjury and obstruction of justice allegations against Clinton, stemming from his attempts to hide his sexual relationship with ex-White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
The Judiciary Committee will begin work immediately setting up hearings that most likely will begin after the November mid-term elections.
Although the outcome of the vote was all but certain, Democrats and Republicans took to the floor of the House to passionately argue the proposals during a two-hour debate.
"The global economy is crumbling, and we're talking about Monica Lewinsky," Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Florida) protested. "Saddam Hussein hides weapons, and we're talking about Monica Lewinsky. Genocide wracks Kosovo, and we're talking about Monica Lewinsky. Children cram into packed classrooms, and we're talking about Monica Lewinsky. Families can't pay their medical bills, and we're talking about Monica Lewinsky.
"The president betrayed his wife," Wexler added. "He did not betray the country. God help this nation if we fail to recognize the difference."
"This is the crucial business of the country," countered Rep. Bob Inglis (R-South Carolina). "As we go into the next century, the question is, 'Does the truth even matter?'"
Clinton: 'This is beyond my control'
Reacting to the vote, Clinton said he hopes the process could go forward in a fair, timely and Constitutional way, but at this point, "There is nothing I can do."
"I have surrendered this; this is beyond my control," Clinton said during a photo opportunity with his economic team. "I have to work on what I can do. What I can do is to do my job for the American people.
"I trust the American people. They almost always get it right, and have for 220 years. And I am working in a way that I hope will restore their trust in me by working for the things our country needs," he said.
After the vote, Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) told reporters in the House gallery the decision vote was "a victory for the Constitution."
"It's a victory for the process, it's a victory for the Constitution," Hyde said. "So the process is working and with (31) votes from the Democrats, we can build on that. That indicates some understanding of what we are trying to do."
Although Democrats were pleased only 15 percent of their caucus broke ranks, they were still disappointed with their inability to limit the scope of the investigation.
"I think this really is a pretty sad day for the country. We have embarked upon an effort to undo the election," Rep. Zoe Lofgren said during a Democratic news conference after the vote. "The good news is the American people saw it, and they have a chance to do something about it November 3."
Democratic defectors limited
The only mystery of Thursday's House vote was how many Democrats would join colleagues from the other side of the aisle in voting for an unlimited impeachment inquiry. The 21-16 committee vote earlier this week fell strictly along party lines.
Rep. Paul McHale (D-Pennsylvania) became the first Democrat to break ranks and publicly support the Republican proposal.
"Having deliberately provided false testimony under oath, the president, in my judgment, forfeited his right to office," McHale said.
In addition to McHale there were 25 or so Democrats considered most in danger of losing their seat in next month's elections. Add to them another 24 or so Blue Dog Democrats -- moderate Southerners -- and an unknown number of Democrats who are personally offended by Clinton's behavior and those angered at what they see as unseemly White House lobbying.
Beforehand, experts figured there was a universe of as many as 100 Democrats who might vote in favor of the Republican resolution to launch an impeachment inquiry, but most predictions hovered around 50.
Among the 31 Democrats who voted for the Republican inquiry were Reps. Ellen Tauscher of California, Lee Hamilton of Indiana, Robert Weygand of Rhode Island, Leonard Boswell of Iowa, David Minge of Minnesota, Gene Taylor of Mississippi and Virgil H. Goode Jr. of Virginia.
Boswell and Minge are facing difficult re-election races, while Taylor and Goode are the House's most conservative Democrats.
The president's team had sought to limit the number of Democratic defectors to help the promote its argument that the investigation is an attempt by Republicans to reverse the 1996 general election.
The minority fights in vain
Before the House voted to proceed with the Republican proposal for an open-ended inquiry, the members rejected the Democrats' last-ditch attempt to limit the scope and length of investigation by sending the proposal back to the Judiciary Committee for changes
That attempt failed on a 236-198 vote. Ten Democrats voted against the motion and one Republican voted for the Democratic-sponsored motion.
In an attempt to protect their members without ceding the territory to Republicans, the Democratic leadership had tried to promote Thursday's vote not as a question of yes or no, but of how.
"We should be thorough but we should also be prompt," Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Virginia), the chief architect of the Democrats' alternative proposal told House members. "The committee's work should not extend into next year. A careful and a through review can be accomplished between now and the end of this year and our Democratic resolution provides that appropriate limitation on time."
Boucher also asked members to limit the scope of the investigation to the information Independent Counsel Ken Starr has already submitted to the House.
The investigation, as proposed by the Republicans, could extend beyond Starr's report on the Lewinsky matter and would have no deadline for completion.
Many Democrats came to the floor Thursday to support their party's alternative and urge the House to put the scandal behind them.
"It is time to move on, reprimand the president, condemn him. But let's move on," pleaded Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California). "These grossly unfair procedures will only tear this Congress and this nation apart."
"We are all profoundly hurt by what the president has done," said House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri. "But this investigation must be ended fairly and quickly. "
Democrats also chastised Republicans for limiting the debate on the proposal, saying in a matter of such importance every member should have time to speak.
"Why are hundreds of members of this body being denied the opportunity to express themselves?" House Minority Whip David Bonior of Michigan asked. "Today's proceedings are a hit and run."
The House leadership extended the debate on the impeachment inquiry resolution to two hours rather than the one hour originally planned. Democrats requested a total of four hours of debate, but their request was denied.
Republicans searching for justice
Knowing they were in the driver's seat, Republicans took to the floor to condemn Clinton's actions and declare the investigation an important attempt to uphold justice and the Constitution.
"To leave him sitting there is to undermine the very judicial system we have; it is to convey the message that perjury is okay," warned Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Florida).
"It is an onerous, miserable rotten duty, but we have to do it or break faith with the people who sent us here," Hyde said.
"The question asks itself. Shall we look further or shall we look away," Hyde asked. "I respectfully suggest we must look further."
Hyde rebuffed the Democrats' alternative, saying, "Their way imposes artificial time limits, limits our inquiry to the Lewinsky matter and requires us to establish standards for impeachment that have never been established before."
He also rejected the idea that the inquiry has been a partisan attack on the Clinton Administration.
"We differ over the procedural details, not the fundamental question of whether we should go forward." Hyde said. "I do not expect that I will agree with my Democratic friends at each step along the way ... I hope at the end of this long day we will agree on the result."
With an impeachment inquiry officially approved the Judiciary Committee investigation will begin immediately.
Hyde said after the vote that Republican chief investigator David Schippers will lead some "intense strategizing" to decide how many people he needs to depose, and how far afield from the Starr investigation he wants to go.
Hearings could begin shortly after the November 3 elections, and might include star-witness appearances from the likes of Lewinsky or Linda Tripp.
At some point, the House will have to decide whether to formally adopt articles of impeachment, work out some sort of censure deal or drop the whole thing.
During his floor speech, Hyde reiterated his hope that the committee's inquiry would not continue into 1999, but he ruled out doing anything to formally limit its length.
Behind the scenes, there was renewed tension between the White House and House Democrats leading up to Thursday's vote over White House lobbying efforts to shore up support within its own caucus.
The White House denied placing undue pressure on Democrats and in a public statement Wednesday, Clinton said, "I think everybody should cast a vote of principle and conscience."
Even so, the president, Vice President Al Gore and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton all personally made calls to some lawmakers to make their case while White House operatives continued the push on Capitol Hill. Sources say the president is rattling off favorable poll numbers making the case it is safe to oppose an impeachment inquiry.
The administration's anti-impeachment strategy elicited complaints from Democrats who complained to their leadership, dubbing the tactics selfish.
Instead, top Democrats had asked the president Wednesday to help representatives in tough November races by making a public statement giving them political cover to vote yes on the impeachment inquiry. That didn't happen.
More from Starr?
Meanwhile, Starr on Wednesday told Rep. Hyde that Starr's office could release more information to the House in its probe of Clinton.
Starr's letter came in response to a letter from Hyde dated October 2, inquiring if the counsel's office could furnish further information.
"I can confirm at this time that matters continue to be under active investigation and review by this office," Starr wrote in Wednesday's letter.
"Consequently, I cannot foreclose the possibility of providing the House of Representatives with additional substantial and credible information arising from those investigations that President William Jefferson Clinton committed acts that may constitute grounds for an impeachment ..."
Starr cited his September 9 referral in which he wrote that the legal provision covering such information suggests that it "belongs in the hands of Congress as soon as the independent counsel determines that the information is reliable and substantially complete."
"This office will soon make final decisions about what steps to take, if any, with respect to the other information it has gathered," Starr wrote in the September 9 referral. "These decisions will be made at the earliest practical time, consistent with our statutory and ethical obligations."
In his Wednesday letter to Hyde, Starr added that "I am constrained not to be any more specific in responding to your request."
Justice Department looking into Starr documents
Also on Thursday Attorney General Janet Reno said she is reviewing documents from Starr's investigation made public by Congress, after she received a letter from the president's lawyer David Kendall questioning Starr's jurisdiction over the Lewinsky investigation.
Reno allowed Starr to expanded his jurisdiction and to look into the Lewinsky allegations as he requested in January.
"We are reviewing the materials released by the House of Representatives to determine whether any appropriate Justice Department action is required," Reno told reporters.
The attorney general's comments marked a departure from her oft-stated policy of deliberately staying a clear distance from any matter relating to an independent counsel investigation.
Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenberg later emphasized the attorney general's comments merely reflected Reno's routine practice of reviewing all requests received which may require Justice Department action.
Brandenberg said Reno's decision to review the now-public Starr documents to determine whether they are relevant to Kendall's complaints is not unusual. "She often asks for public documents of all kinds to be reviewed if they might interest the Justice Department," he said.
Kendall believes Starr mislead the attorney general in order to get her to approve Starr's investigation of the Lewinsky matter in the first place.
Kendall's October 5 letter to Reno cited news reports which he said "raise troubling questions " about Starr's request for jurisdiction in the case, specifically citing previously unreported contacts by Tripp with the Paula Jones lawyers, by Tripp through intermediaries to the Starr staff, and by lawyers working with the Jones team who were also in contact with Starr's staff.
Reno refused to comment on the contents of the Kendall letter. She also refused to provide any details of her "review," but a Justice official said the review "does not constitute some big investigation".
CNN's Candy Crowley, Bob Franken, John King and Terry Frieden contributed to this report.
Thursday, October 8, 1998
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