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Transcript: House debate on launching impeachment inquiry

CONTINUED

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE BOBBY SCOTT (D-VA): Mr. Speaker, the motion to recommit will correct several of the most egregious problems with this resolution. If the amendment is not accepted, we will be voting for an inquiry that cannot end. So long as people send allegations to the committee, the committee will inquire and go on and on and on.

The amendment establishes a reasoned approach by which we would consider the allegations before us and come to a conclusion. This amendment would add focus to the deliberations because some of the Starr allegations are not worth inquiring. In fact, the Republican counsel found some of the allegations so flimsy that he didn't even mention them during his presentation to our committee, and many constitutional scholars have already expressed the view that none of the allegations amount to impeachable offenses, and the question isn't even close.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, make no mistake about it, a vote for this amendment is not necessarily a vote for an inquiry, because some who are for an inquiry and others who are against any inquiry, all agree that if you're going to have an inquiry, it ought to be fair.

GINGRICH: Gentleman from Virginia.

BOUCHER: Mr. Speaker, I yield the balance of our time to the Democratic leader, the gentleman from Missouri, Mr. Gephardt.

GINGRICH: The gentleman from Missouri is recognized for three minutes.

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER OF THE HOUSE: (OFF-MIKE)

GINGRICH: Without objection.

GEPHARDT: Mr. Speaker and members of the House, it's almost a month to the day that we stood here and debated whether or not to release the materials that Ken Starr had sent to the Congress. And I tried to say at that time that this was a time of utmost importance to us as a House of Representatives and to all of us as a people.

I said then and I repeat today that we are engaged now in what I believe to be a sacred process. We are considering whether or not to -- ultimately, if we get that far -- overturn an election voted on by millions of Americans to decide who should be the chief executive officer of this country.

The last time we did this, Barbara Jordan -- who I think really became the conscience of the period -- said this. She said: "Common sense would be revolted if we engaged upon this process for petty reasons. Congress has a lot to do. Pettiness cannot be allowed to stand in the face of such overwhelming problems," she said. "So today we are not being petty. We are trying to be big because the task before us is big."

I said the other day that this is a time to be bigger than we really are. We're all human. We all make mistakes. We all give in to pettiness and pride.

We all give in to doing things wrong for the wrong reasons.

But this is a time when our Constitution and our people ask each of us to reach inside of ourselves to be bigger and better than we really are.

In my view, we shouldn't have two resolutions or a resolution and an amendment out here today. I believe if we had succeeded in what we should be doing, we would have one resolution agreed to by all 435 members today.

The question, you see, is not whether to have an inquiry. The question today is what kind of inquiry will this be.

Our amendment is simple, and I think it's common sense. First, it says it must be focused. We operate under a statute that we passed, from the independent counsel, that said there could be referrals from the independent counsel on possible issues of impeachment. And we should take that up. And that's what's before us.

Our resolution says stick with those referrals. It -- and we listened to the complaints of the other side, and we said, well, maybe there will be more referrals. So we've amended the language, and we say if there are more referrals, we will deal with them as we should under the statute.

Second, it must be fair.

Last time we had Watergate, the committee spent a good deal of time considering the standards and the history of impeachment so that all of the members of the committee and on the floor would understand the historic process that we're involved in. None of us do this very often. We don't think about this very often. So it's vital and important that we all know what it is we're doing and whether or not the facts that are out there rise as a prima facie case. That has not been done in this case.

Third time, we say let's get it over by December the 31st -- before the new Congress comes into session. Why do we say that? We say that because we believe deeply that for the good of the country and the good of our people, this must be done by the end of this year -- before there's a new Congress.

And why do we say that? We say it because we live in a dangerous world. The world economy is in a shambles. Our own economy is threatened. Issues like education and health care and economics need to be on the front burner of this Congress. That's what we must be working on.

If we stay here for three, six, nine, 12 months, two years in suspended animation while go over every charge that's out there, we will hurt our country and our people and our children.

Now, Mr. Hyde has said -- and I believe Mr. Hyde -- that we should do this by the end of the year. But he also said, New Year's promises sometimes get broken.

Mr. Hyde has said that we should not be on a fishing expedition. But others in the party I've heard -- even leaders in the party, the Republican Party -- have said, well, we've got to look at Travelgate, and we've got to look at Filegate, and we've got to look at campaign finance, and we've got to look at the Chinese rocket sales.

(APPLAUSE)

And you say it again.

I've really thought a lot about this: I've really thought a lot about it.

I've tried to think to myself what is our problem. And I think I've identified it.

Our problem is we don't trust one another. You say that if you use our language that we're not going to do what we say we're going to do, that we're going to drag it out, that we're going to try to frustrate the purpose of having this inquiry.

And all I say is we have put our words and our actions to follow that belief. We have said, if there are other referrals, we will take them up.

We have said that if we get to the end of the year and we need more time, that you can come to the floor and more time will be granted. You run the House.

But when we see your resolution, we don't see trust because the words that we're looking for -- that we're going to try to get this over by the end of the year that we're going to try to stick with these referrals and not go into everything under the sun and drag it out for two years, and it'll be a two-year political fishing expedition -- those words are not there.

Finally, let me say this: We're all profoundly hurt by what the president has done. He has deeply disappointed the American people, and he's let us all down.

But this investigation must be ended fairly and quickly.

It has hurt our nation and it's hurt our children. We must not compound the hurt.

I've asked every Democratic member in these last days -- I've asked every member to search their heart and their conscience, and to vote for what in their heart and their mind and their conscience they think is right.

And I come to the floor today to ask every Republican member to do the same.

This should not be a party vote today. This should be the attempt of every one of us -- humble human beings -- who come to this majestic place where we settle our differences peacefully and not with violence, to say that I am voting for what in my heart and my mind is the best for the country and the best for the American people.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: The gentleman from Wisconsin.

SENSENBRENNER: Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to the motion to recommit and yield one minute to the gentleman from Florida, Mr. Canady.

GINGRICH: The gentleman from Florida is recognized.

CANADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

As we consider the motion to recommit, I would ask that the members of the House on both sides of the aisle step back and consider the fact that what is proposed in the motion to recommit is without any precedent.

There is no case in the 200-year history of the impeachment process in this country in which a process similar to the process which is proposed here has been followed -- none at all. And I believe that's something that we should take very seriously.

I believe we also have to be aware that if we adopt the motion to recommit, we are setting a precedent today, and I believe it would be a terrible precedent -- a precedent that would be fraught with the potential for harm stretching far into the future of our country.

Now, consider the process that this motion sets up. First, we are required to assume the truth of allegations which the president and his lawyers vigorously deny. I don't think that's the right thing to do. We should find out what the truth is.

But while we're following this process, we put aside the weighing and the balancing of the facts and the judging of the credibility of witnesses.

Having put aside out duty to weigh the facts and find the truth, we are then called on to make a solemn determination concerning whether impeachable offenses were committed if the assumed facts, which are denied by the president, are at some later point determined to be true.

This simply does not make sense. It will only cause delay. It has never been done before and it shouldn't be done now.

I would ask the members of the House to reject this contrived, ill-conceived procedure in the motion to recommit.

We need to follow the precedent established in 1974 -- the precedent that the gentleman from Missouri has asked us to follow.

We should support the resolution recommended by the Judiciary Committee.

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: Gentleman from Wisconsin.

SENSENBRENNER: Mr. Speaker, I yield my self the balance of the time.

Mr. Speaker, the question before us, in this motion to recommit, is whether we should make ourselves slaves to the clock or attempt to find out the truth.

And let there be no mistake about it: Nobody's conduct is under investigation here but that of the president of the United States. And if he did not commit the allegations that have been sent forth to us by the independent counsel, we would not be faced with discharging our awesome constitutional responsibilities.

This should not be a race against the clock. And don't take my word for it. Take the word of a respected senior Democratic member on the other side of the aisle, the gentleman from Indiana, Mr. Lee Hamilton, who said yesterday -- quote -- "I've had a lot experience with investigations. Time limits create large incentives for delay" -- unquote.

Do not give anybody an incentive to delay and string this out by establishing an arbitrary time limit.

Now my friends on the other side of the aisle have said that this will be a never-ending investigation. And they haven't read the 20th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

The 105th Congress goes out of business on January 3rd, 1999. This resolution expires with the 105th Congress and would have to be renewed by a vote of the House on the opening day of the 106th Congress. So all of the arguments over here have been about just three days.

And I think that the gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Hyde, in following the Rodino precedent, and just almost adopting the Rodino resolution word for word has done the right thing.

Now on February 6th, 1974 was the last time this House of Representatives had to do the sacred duty of commencing an impeachment inquiry. The resolution upon which Mr. Hyde's pattern was introduced by Chairman Peter Rodino of New Jersey.

There was bipartisanship on the Republican side of the aisle in commencing an impeachment inquiry along exactly the same lines against a Republican president. That vote was 404 to four.

I would ask my Democratic friends to be as bipartisan today as the Republicans were back in 1974 by rejecting this motion to recommit and joining with us to discharge our constitutional duty and move the previous question.

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: Without objection. The previous question is ordered and the motion to recommit. The question is on the motion. All those in favor say aye?

MEMBERS: Aye.

GINGRICH: Those opposed, no?

MEMBERS: No.

GINGRICH: The no's have it.

BOUCHER: Mr. Speaker?

GINGRICH: Gentleman from Virginia.

BOUCHER: I ask for the yeas and nays?

GINGRICH: All in favor of the yeas and nays will rise? Clearly, a sufficient number having arisen, the vote will be taken by electronic device. All those in favor will vote aye, those opposed will vote no.

(OFF-MIKE) the last 15 minutes.

(VOTE) GINGRICH: All time having expired, the yeas are 198. The nays are 236. The motion to reconsider -- recommit is defeated.

GINGRICH: (OFF-MIKE) adoption of the motion. All those in favor say "aye."

RESPONSE FROM MEMBERS OF CONGRESS: Aye.

GINGRICH: Opposed, no.

RESPONSE FROM MEMBERS OF CONGRESS: No.

GINGRICH: The ayes have it. Gentleman...

(UNKNOWN): (OFF-MIKE) a recorded vote.

GINGRICH: All in favor of a recorded vote will rise. A sufficient number having arisen, the vote will be taken by electronic device. It will be a 15-minute vote.

(VOTE)


Investigating the President

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Thursday, October 8, 1998

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