Transcript: House debates articles of impeachment
December 18, 1998
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased now to recognize the gentlelady from California, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and distinguished member of the House Judiciary Committee, Maxine Waters of California for three and one-half minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentlewoman from California is recognized for three and a half minutes.
WATERS: Mr. Speaker and members, how must our American soldiers feel to have their commander-in-chief under attack while they are engaged in battle? They have the right to feel betrayed and undermined. Today, we are here in the people's House debating the partisan impeachment of the president of the United States of America, while the commander-in-chief is managing a crisis and asking world leaders for support. This is, indeed, a Republican coup d'etat.
Mr. Speaker and members, Americans all, the Republicans will couch this extremist, radical anarchy in pious language which distorts the Constitution and the rule of law.
WATERS: Bill and Hillary Clinton are the real targets, and the Republicans are the vehicles being used by the right-wing Christian Coalition extremists to direct and control our culture.
The rule of law has been violated in denying the president notice of charges, by the abuse of power in the collecting of so-called "evidence" and the denial of the presumption of innocence.
President Clinton is not guilty of the trumped up charges presented in these four articles of impeachment. Yes, Bill Clinton is guilty of certain indiscretions in his private life. However, he did not commit high crimes and misdemeanors.
Rather, the president is guilty of being a populous leader who opened up government and access to the poor, to minorities, to women and to the working class.
President Bill Clinton is guilty of not being owned by the good old Southern boys or the good old Eastern establishment.
President Clinton is guilty of being smart enough to outmaneuver the Republicans in the budget negotiations, electoral politics and the development and implementation of the people's agenda.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am an African-American woman. I'm accustomed to having to fight and struggle for fairness and justice.
Ken Starr, I know and recognize abuse of power when I see it. You are guilty.
However, I am greatly disappointed in the raw, unmasked, unbridled hatred and meanness that drives this impeachment coups d'etat, this unapologetic disregard for the voice of the people.
My Republican friends, what you do here today will long be remembered and recorded in history as one of the most despicable actions ever taken by the Congress of the United States of America.
I dare the Republicans of this House to allow themselves to move just one inch, and give me and my colleagues the opportunity to vote for an alternative. I dare you to be fair. I dare you to allow us to vote for censure.
I yield back the balance of my time.
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: I yield three minutes to the gentlelady from California, a member of the committee, Ms. Bono.
SPEAKER: Gentlewoman from California is recognized for three minutes.
BONO: Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the articles of impeachment. I want to speak about this difficult issue, not only to my colleagues, but also to the American people.
Although there is much disagreement on this issue, most Americans agree that we must resolve this matter as soon as possible.
BONO: I strongly believe that our troops overseas must be reassured that the business of our nation will not be interrupted by the actions of a tyrant who will not heed the will of the international community.
Despite the clear and convincing evidence that the president of the United States committed perjury before a grand jury -- before a federal grand jury -- lied to the American people, the decision was not an easy one for me or, in my belief, any of my Judiciary Committee colleagues.
Yet I firmly believe that we would not be fulfilling our oath of office as United States representatives if we did not follow our duty as stated in the Constitution.
We need to be realistic about what is at the heart of this vote. The central issue is whether the president is above the law, and whether sexual harassment and civil rights laws remain viable and effective protections for all Americans.
Despite record numbers of women working to support their families, women are all too vulnerable in our society to sexual harassment. If Congress turns a blind eye to the president's behavior, then we are turning our back to those victims of sexual harassment.
Every person, including Paula Jones, is entitled to certain rights under our Constitution. This includes truthful testimony from all parties and that is why we are here, because the president thought he could provide untruthful testimony to obscure the truth, first, in his deposition in the Jones case; and later, in his testimony before a federal grand jury.
The president of the United States is not above the law. I am deeply disappointed that the president failed to uphold the public's sacred trust and his own oath of office.
But I am also saddened by the need for this Congress to arrive at this moment. As we debate this issue, some will argue that impeachment is too harsh a punishment or too inconvenient for our nation. However, it is the only appropriate remedy given to us by the framers of our Constitution.
BONO: As a member of the Judiciary Committee, I must say a final word in recognition of Chairman Hyde. I know that no one could have given the president a fairer hearing.
So I appeal to every American to look deep into their conscience and weigh the consequences for our system of justice. For if we allow the president of the United States to commit felony acts and not be held accountable for his actions... Thank you. I yield back my time.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased now to call a departing member of our leadership from California, Mr. Vic Fazio, and recognize him for three minutes please.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from California is recognized for three minutes.
FAZIO: Mr. Speaker, this is the final moment in my 20-year career here in this House I love so much. And it is by far the saddest one. I'm sad that a reckless president and a Republican Congress driven by blind animus for him, have brought us to this moment in history. This is a moment where legalism reign over human understanding and acknowledgement that we are all sinners before our Lord. And it is even more unfortunate that this debate takes place when our troops are in harm's way.
My instinct is to stand here and plead with you to consider the ramifications of what we'll do, but I fear this vote is a foregone conclusion. Sadly it seems to have more to do with our political affiliations and loyalties than anything else. And it must be said that what we do here today is to some degree driven by revenge.
Some of my colleagues obsess about Slick Willie in the same way that those on my side of the aisle used to about Tricky Dick. Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, Jim Wright, on and on, we do each other in personal terms. Each one of us has been given a most precious gift -- the right to represent some 600,000 American citizens in the House of Representatives. And yet when it comes time to be here for them, we seem to lose track of the fundamental issues of our times and instead focus far too much on petty and partisan battles.
This vote in this time will either unite us and show the country that we are above partisanship and legalistic word games, or it will lay the foundation, I believe, for a growing, permanent divide in this nation where there is a left and a right, while those in the center, the great majority of our people, don't seem to matter.
FAZIO: It's much more difficult to govern here now, to do what is right for this country at this time, to look not to legalisms and parsed interpretations so valued on all sides, but to place the actions of our president in the proper context, to censure those actions without undeniably and irrevocably harming our democracy by lowering the threshold of impeachment. But we won't allow that vote today.
Many here have suggested that this is not about sex. That's a very convenient decision for some to make. If it's not about sex, then you might think it is less hypocritical to sit here in judgment of this president.
I might add, this nation and its people have suffered greatly from the partisan battles that have only grown stronger in recent years. Gerry Ford, upon assuming the presidency after Watergate, said "our long national nightmare is now over." And when resigning his speakership, Jim Wright called upon his colleagues to end what he called "mindless cannibalism."
But today, we find out nightmares continue and political cannibalism thrives and grows stronger. Sadly, it was the late Vince Foster who recognized: "In Washington, people's lives are destroyed for sport."
My friends, I ask you to put aside the partisanship, the legalisms, and yes, the latent hypocrisy. The American people deserve a clean slate for the next Congress to build upon and renew its trust and public confidence. This is your chance.
Unite this country with your vote against impeachment today, and put an end to his open-ended and mindless process of destroying the lives of good and decent people who, yes, are flawed and all too human.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: I -- thank you, Mr. Speaker. I yield one minute to the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Brady.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Texas is recognized for one minute.
BRADY: (OFF-MIKE) revise and extend (OFF-MIKE).
SPEAKER: Without objection.
BRADY: Some Americans aren't watching these proceedings. Instead, in hushed courtrooms across this country, families slashed apart by violent crime and innocent people wrongly accused are staring intently at a witness stand, and they are praying.
BRADY: For many, their best hope, perhaps their only hope for justice, depends upon that witness telling the truth, the full truth, under oath. Truth does matter. And if it is no longer the duty of the president to tell the truth under sworn oath, can we require it of any American? The answer is no, which is why justice, hope and the Constitution demand that today we vote yes.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I'd like now to recognize a departing member in our leadership, Barbara Kennelly of Connecticut, for three minutes.
SPEAKER: Gentlewoman from Connecticut is recognized for three minutes.
KENNELLY: Thank you very much.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to oppose these articles of impeachment, and I do it secure in the knowledge that this is the right decision.
This is the last issue I will address after 17 years in this body, after thousands of votes, only a very few of which I regret. And I do not want to regret this incredibly important vote, and that is why I have taken it so seriously.
When John Quincy Adams, following his term as president of the United States, ran and won a seat in this House, he was criticized by his friends because this was beneath his status as a former president. He explained that it is always the highest honor to serve in the House of the People.
Mr. Speaker, no honor will rain on this House today if we vote to impeach. Let's be honest with ourselves. A vote to impeach on the basis of the facts and materials assembled by the Office of the Independent Counsel is a vote to lower dramatically and unalterably the bar to future impeachments.
Until now, the House has very much held a high standard for impeachment, keeping with the constitutional dictum that impeachment be reserved exclusively for high crimes and misdemeanors.
There is so much discussion now about what is a high crime. Let us think about what was not. Remember President Reagan and Iran Contra: four laws, serious laws, broken.
KENNELLY: Remember Harry Truman taking over the steel mills, sending troops into Korea without the -- without letting the Congress telling him it was OK. Herbert Hoover and what happened there and with the Federal Reserve funds.
But there was no impeachment, Mr. Speaker, because, as serious as these allegations appeared at the time, impeachment never became a serious proposition.
Collectively, our predecessors in this body understood fully both the necessity of impeachment as the ultimate bulwark against the potential tyranny of the executive, but also the very real threat of impeachment it presents to the structure of our government if improperly or too readily used. Impeachment was the means of last resort.
Mr. Speaker, we have not -- we should not vote to impeach today because it is neither necessary or in step with precedent. Voting to impeach today is to participate in an assault on the institution of the presidency and our delicate system of checks and balances.
I will vote no on all articles of impeachment for the sake of our posterity, and I urge my colleagues to do this today for the future of the country, for the future of the United States of America.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: I yield two and a half minutes to the gentleman from Missouri, Mr. Hulshof.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Missouri is recognized for two-and- one-half minutes.
HULSHOF: I thank the gentleman. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Members of the House, if the president of the United States simply committed adultery, then that, indeed, is a matter that should be reserved to his family. If, on the other hand, the president of the United States committed perjury or other illegal acts, then that matter must necessarily be reserved to this Congress.
I agree that the private failings of a public man deserve neither debate nor reprimand from this body, and yet public misconduct committed by that same official deserves punishment of the fullest measure.
Based upon my solemn review of the evidence and historical precedents, I am firmly convinced beyond a doubt that William Jefferson Clinton used every conceivable means available to him, including perjury and obstruction, to defeat the legal rights of another citizen who claims she'd been wronged and who sought redress from our justice system. And in that way, the president's private indignities became indignities against the Constitution by which we're governed.
Our third branch of government has rightly said no individual is above the law. No single citizen can determine or judge the merits of another case, save those clothed with the cloak of judicial interpretation. And yet the president committed -- under penalty of perjury, bore false witness under oath, and Ms. Jones's rights to due process were violated.
And that result, members, is bad enough in itself, but I believe reached constitutional proportions when the denial of the civil rights of another citizen is directed by the president of the United States.
Mr. Speaker, what we say here today will be but paragraphs, perhaps even footnotes, in the pages of history yet to be written by those to come. What we do here will be indelibly imprinted upon the American tradition. Let not this House grant a pardon to the president for his criminal offenses. Let not history look back on this day and say, "There, on that date, America surrendered the rule of law."
MCCOLLUM: I yield the gentleman an additional 30 seconds.
SPEAKER: The gentleman is recognized.
HULSHOF: There can be no presidential executive privilege to lie under oath. And regrettably, my oath of office, my sacred honor, requires from me a vote of aye on the resolution before this House.
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