Transcript: House debates articles of impeachment
December 18, 1998
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to call upon Mrs. Zoe Lofgren, California, member of the Judiciary Committee, and ask that she be granted four minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentlewoman from California is recognized for four minutes.
LOFGREN: The Republican Party in this House has made a tragic decision for the nation, and a decision that will permanently damage our constitutional democracy. The president of the United States had a sexual affair. That was wrong. Then, like many others who misbehave sexually, he tried to hide the affair. That was wrong, too.
But then the greater wrong occurred. The majority decided to give in to the worst within themselves, their abiding hatred of this president. The majority has decided to discard our history, to damage our Constitution and to threaten our future to get the president, all the while pompously pronouncing that they are doing the opposite.
When the founders wrote our Constitution, they provided for the rare remedy of impeachment that the legislative branch could utilize if the elected president should engage in conduct that would threaten our constitutional government. Only once in our 211 years has Congress voted to impeach a president, and in that year of 1868, it was also radical Republicans who misused the tool of impeachment.
Much of the country is watching what we do here with anger, sorrow, fear and disbelief. I share with my constituents the feeling of unreality about these proceedings. The country is waiting for grownups to walk into this chamber and stop this madness, but alas, those Republicans with the maturity and judgment to ask that censure be utilized as an alternative, such as former President Ford and former Senator Dole, have been ignored by the majority in this House.
The outcome appears clear. The Republicans will vote to impeach the president whom they could not defeat at the polls for reasons that do not add up to treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. As a consequence, the Senate and the Supreme Court will be tied up for most of next year. The president will not be able to resign, no matter how you may urge it, because to do so would further destroy the precedents that have protected our country for over two centuries.
This isn't fair to the president, but that shouldn't be our main concern. It isn't fair to the minority in this House, but that's not the main problem, either. This is unfair to the American people.
By these actions, you would undo the free election that expressed the will of the American people in 1996. In so doing, you will damage the faith the American people have in this institution and in the American democracy. You will set the dangerous precedent that the certainty of presidential terms, which has so benefited our wonderful America, will be replaced by the partisan use of impeachment. Future presidents will face election, then litigation, then impeachment. The power of the president will diminish in the face of the Congress, a phenomenon much feared by the Founding Fathers.
Our constituency in this matter includes not just the voters of today, but the future grandchildren of my own children. We have an obligation to generations not yet born to preserve and protect our wonderful system of government. In that obligation, you fail your country today.
Some in the majority have told me they're entitled to their opinion about whether or not the president's misconduct meets the constitutional standard. Some Americans believe aliens will arrive in spacecraft, but it doesn't make it so.
You say the president's deception about sex has destroyed our system of government. Some of you have actually convinced yourselves that's true. The capacity for self-deception is an amazing phenomenon, but the public can see clearly what you are doing here today.
You say that the president's dishonesty about sex has destroyed our constitutional form of government, but the people do not agree. They think that it is you who threaten our country by this cynical and political distortion of impeachment.
As is generally the case, the American people have it right. It's not too late to listen to them. You would honor your own oath of office by doing so.
And I yield back the balance of my time.
SPEAKER: The time of the gentlewoman has expired. The gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I yield 30 seconds to the gentleman from Florida, Mr. Canady.
SPEAKER: The gentleman's recognized.
CANADY: I thank the gentleman for yielding. I must respond to the claim that there are those of us who contend that the acts of the president have destroyed our system of government. That is far, far from the truth.
The question is not whether the president has destroyed our system of -- we know that that has not happened. That's obvious. The question is whether by his conduct, he has undermined the integrity of the law, whether by his conduct he has undermined the integrity of the high office been entrusted to him, whether he has subverted the rule of law, whether he has acted to set an example which is harmful to our system of government.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: Mr. Speaker, I yield three minutes to the gentlelady from Connecticut, Ms. Johnson.
SPEAKER: The gentlewoman from Kentucky -- Connecticut is recognized for three minutes.
JOHNSON: Above the entrance to the Supreme Court are four powerful words: "Equal Justice Under Law." Yet there can be no equal justice without a judicial process capable of reaching to the truth. That's why when one raises their right hand and swears to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, each one of us must do it. That's why perjury is a serious crime. It strikes at the heart of the only process that protects each one of us from false accusations.
I will vote for impeachment not because the president has human frailties, but because he has committed perjury repeatedly and willfully.
Marital infidelity is not an impeachable offense. Even lying to hide sexual indiscretion is not impeachable. But when the president -- but the president does not have the right to lie under oath, to commit perjury. No one is above the law, not even the president.
I believe perjury does meet at least the definition of high misdemeanor. In my mind, it certainly meets the measure of high crime. In my judgment, our democracy is far more capable of surviving a transition in power than surviving an erosion of fundamental obligations such as that to tell the truth under oath and to treat all citizens equally under the law.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to invite Mr. Joseph Kennedy of Massachusetts to take three minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Massachusetts is recognized for three minutes.
J. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. (OFF-MIKE) revise and extend my remarks.
SPEAKER: Without objection.
J. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
What we're doing here on the floor today and throughout the night is just wrong. It's wrong for a lot of reasons, but most fundamental is the fact that, yes, the president made mistakes. Yes, in fact, he misled his family, he misled the public. And yes, he, in fact, tried to trick even maybe a grand jury. Whether it's perjury or not is a different question. But at its core -- at its core -- this is about an individual, a man in our country who had a wrongful affair. He lied about that affair, and he has asked for forgiveness.
What's incredible is the American people have looked into their conscience and found that forgiveness. People from all walks of life, from every different corner of this country, have found forgiveness. There's only one group of people that I can find that can't find that forgiveness, and that is people that have been locked in struggle over so many questions dealing with the future of this country against President Clinton's agenda over the course of the last four years. And that's what this is all about.
Now, I know that there's a lot of talk about morality today, and I think that's good. I think that's healthy for our country. I think we ought to talk a little bit about morality. But I don't think that the only moral standard in America ought to be about sex. I think there's a lot of moral things about our country, there's a lot of immoral things about our country. And I look around our nation today, and I see little children that don't have enough food in their bellies at night. And when we talk about balancing the budget, what do we do? We cut the food stamp program.
When we talk about trying to stand up and make sure that we have decent school in our inner cities, we have a hellacious debate on the floor of this House. And yet our schools are still terrible. We make pronouncements about these wonderful new changes that we've made in laws, but at its core, the truth is that there are too many people in poverty, there are too many kids that don't have access to health care, there are too many families that don't have enough food in their stomachs. And those issues do not receive even close to the amount of time and effort and energy that we are now putting into trying to impeach the president.
The president has put the wood to the Republicans time and time again.
I ask for an additional minute, please.
CONYERS: I give the gentleman one more minute.
J. KENNEDY: Thanks very much.
The president has put the wood to the Republicans time and time again. He's taken away the issue of crime. He's taken away the issue of taxes. He's taken away so many of the issues that you in the past have had leadership roles on. And so you get angry at him.
That's OK. You can get angry at him. But to dumb down the impeachment process and to allow this to be used not just by you, but by people who will serve after me, certainly, and people that will serve after everybody in this institution, and allow this to be utilized in a partisan political manner is an immoral act on the part of the Republican Party. And I am so sorry that the final vote I cast here on the House floor is going to be over an issue that is so partisan in nature.
Let us come together. Let us find the forgiveness that the American people have found for President Clinton, that his own family has found for him, that so many millions of people across the planet want him to have. Give him forgiveness. Recognize he did something wrong. He is trying to right it. Find in your heart the forgiveness that he asks for.
I yield back my time.
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: I yield five minutes to the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Smith, a member of the committee.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Texas is recognized for five minutes.
L. SMITH: I thank my friend from Florida for yielding.
Mr. Speaker, let's return to the Constitution. Members of this House of Representatives have a solemn task specifically assigned to us by the authors of that Constitution. Whatever happens today, whether the president is impeached or not, our nation is going to endure. We are a strong people, and we have a Constitution that works.
A quarter of a century ago, we had arrived at a similar point. President Clinton's defenders say this isn't Watergate. They are right to the extent that the underlying behavior doesn't involve a bungled break-in of a campaign headquarters. Rather, it involves a reckless relationship in the White House itself with a young employee the president hardly knew.
President Nixon didn't lie repeatedly to a federal judge and then to a grand jury of citizens charged with discovering the truth. President Clinton did. But President Clinton, like President Nixon, did obstruct justice by encouraging others to lie, and both abused their offices by violating their oath to uphold the laws of our country.
The president has escaped accountability for his actions time after time. His intelligence, pleasing personality and way with words have saved him so far. Perhaps the most accurate description of this pattern of behavior is a campaign slogan used by a New York senatorial candidate against his opponent this year: "Too many lies for too long."
Last week, I listened to the president's most recent apology, and I agree with him. I cannot imagine a greater agony than being ashamed before your family and friends, but emotions can't change the evidence or the facts, nor should they control our actions.
If the president won't resign, we must go forward. Our entire justice system rests on the rule of law. Without it, we would not enjoy a civilized and democratic society. To carve out exceptions for anyone, particularly the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, would be to undermine this rule of law.
For the benefit of our country, to set an example for our children, our grandchildren and future generations, we must maintain our high ideals. That the president has failed to meet the standard does not mean we should lower it.
Our constitutional duty in the House is to decide whether to impeach or accuse the president of wrongful actions. The Senate's duty is to render judgment and decide punishment. So if a sanction other than removal from office, such as censure, is ever considered, it should be initiated by the Senate. And ultimately, any outcome must be supported by the American people.
This is not a decision to go forward because of a private relationship. It involves the most public of relationships, that between a citizen and the justice system and that between the president and the American people. It's about honor and telling the truth. It's about respect for the law, respect for the office of the presidency, respect for the American people, respect for the officers of the court, respect for women and ultimately, our own self-respect.
Mr. Speaker, I'm going to yield the balance of my time to my friend and colleague from Texas, Mr. Bonilla.
BONILLA: I thank my friend from San Antonio for yielding.
Mr. Speaker, this is a nation founded on rules and laws. We are a young country, but we are the greatest that has ever existed. America is strong and gets stronger because we are passionate about our laws, of which no one is above. If you're a mayor, a police officer, a senator or a president, you must obey the law just like any other citizen.
American law and our system of justice relies on truth, truth presented by witnesses sworn before God. Those who have appeared before grand juries in this country know it's a daunting experience, knowing that if you stumble, if you lie, you could commit perjury and maybe wind up in jail.
Thousands of Americans have been prosecuted and have criminal records because they perjured themselves like the president. The president's own Justice Department regularly prosecutes Americans for perjury, and yes, they are prosecuted for perjury in cases of sexual harassment.
We are not talking politics here. In politics, a president may lie to the American people on television, in town meetings and even in political ads. I think that's wrong and so do most of my colleagues, but that's not against the law and that's not a reason to impeach. Voters are the ultimate judges in those cases, but here we are talking about the law.
As we search our conscience today to cast our votes, let's remember the rules and laws on which our nation was founded. No one is above the law. Let's vote to uphold that American principle today.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan. The gentleman...
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker...
SPEAKER: The gentleman yields back his time. Gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to call upon the congresswoman from the Virgin Islands, Dr. Donna Christian-Green, for three minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentlewoman is recognized for three minutes.
CHRISTIAN-GREEN: Thank you.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a solemn, fearful and heavy heart as I face the stark reality that this House and lame duck Congress will -- is going to disregard the will of the American people and, to quote this week's "Hill" newspaper, "unleash the awesome power of impeachment in a blatantly partisan manner" for what hardly measures up to high crimes and misdemeanors. It is what this body is about to do while we are at war that comes closer to meeting that constitutional standard than anything our president is charged with.
How will the sober hand of history judge us?
My colleagues, the American people overwhelmingly continue to oppose the impeachment of their twice-elected president. They are no fools. They recognize the blatant unfairness of the process, and while they do not condone what the president did, they understand that he has committed no impeachable or constitutional crime.
But we don't have to just go by popular opinion. More than 400 historians and constitutional scholars have opined that the allegations set forth in the Starr report do not cross the threshold of "high crimes and misdemeanors" warranting impeachment under the Constitution.
I agree with the comments I've heard as early as this morning that this is not about the president's behavior with Monica Lewinsky, but neither is this about so-called legitimate charges of perjury, obstruction of justice or abuse of power. It has been clearly shown time and time again that none of that occurred.
What this is about is a purely partisan attack on Bill Clinton the man, on Bill Clinton the people's president, and make no mistake, it is also about a very popular first lady.
By his own admission, the president has sinned. He was contrite and has asked for our forgiveness and the forgiveness of the American people. It is time for us to come together as a nation, support our troops in the Middle East and put this matter behind us. The American people want and need us to get back to work on the issues that will improve their quality of life.
This is a season of peace. I hope against hope that my words and the words of others who have called for forgiveness and healing in this time can soften the hearts of my colleagues who would seek to throw our nation into turmoil over politics.
I urge my colleagues to heed the wishes of those who sent us here to tend to their concerns. Make real and true the claim of conscience and constitutional responsibility. Don't lower the bar for impeachment. Reject this partisan impeachment process. We should have a censure vote, but if that will not be allowed, then vote for the Constitution, vote for this country. Vote no on impeachment.
I yield back the balance of my time.
ARMEY: Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of (unintelligible).
SPEAKER: Gentleman may proceed.
ARMEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I'll be very brief.
Mr. Speaker, as I understand the rules of the House as it governs the discourse in the House, it is very clear and it has been a time- honored tradition that has served this House well that we not, in House debate, make disparaging remarks or characterizations of the motive of other members of the chamber.
I must say I'm very saddened to report, Mr. Speaker, having listened to several speakers, that I've seen, frankly, quite caustic and harsh characterizations of the motives of the members.
We ask each member to look into their heart and each member that does so knows that only God can do so also. And I would ask the speaker, would it be appropriate, Mr. Speaker, for me to ask you on behalf of the dignity of this chamber to exercise the authority of the chair to remind the members of these protocols and respects and perhaps, if necessary, enforce them so that we on this side may not find ourselves compelled to raise it as a point on the floor during the debate?
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: Mr. Speaker, I recognize the gentleman from Alabama, Mr. Bachus for five minutes.
SPEAKER: Gentleman's recognized for five minutes.
BACHUS: Mr. Speaker, I ask permission to revise and extend my remarks and to add extraneous material. Unanimous consent.
Mr. Speaker, Congress has arrived at the time when we and the nation must look beyond the polls, the media and beyond the political rhetoric and consider the grave matter of voting on the impeachment of the nation's president. We stand at a moment of defining action, one that will require each of us to state for the record our commitment to the principles involved in this case.
As the gentleman from Florida, a member of the minority, said earlier, our decision is not about Bill Clinton, it is not about personalities, it is not about partisanship, it is not about Republicans or Democrats. Popular opinion and polls cannot dictate our course of action. Duty, honor and obligation must. Ageless principles must.
On this solemn occasion, I will vote for impeachment. People, politics and polls change, presidents come and go. Fundamental principles do not.
My vote is based on the following principles. The first, a commitment to the truth. It is essential to a just society. A commitment to the truth is the foundation of our democracy and our freedom.
The second, actions and behaviors matter. Only God can search and sift the soul. Because we cannot read the heart, we must rely on actions and behaviors. Certain actions and behaviors are inconsistent with the office of president.
Third, forgiveness does not absolve one of responsibility for actions, nor relieve one of the consequences of those actions.
Earlier, I asked for unanimous consent, and I at this time would like to submit for the record an article out of "The Wall Street Journal" entitled, "Religion should not be used as a political tool," signed by 85 religious scholars. In that, it says, "We challenge the widespread assumption that forgiveness relieves a person of further responsibility and serious consequences." I commend this article to all my colleagues and introduce it here.
SPEAKER: Without objection.
BACHUS: ... our children must have positive role models. Someone has said more now than ever. There is a standard of conduct below which our leaders must not fall.
In conclusion, I commend to you the words of George Washington at the eve of the battle of Valley Forge: "Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest may repair. The event is in the hands of God."
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I recognize now the gentleman from Ohio, Mr. Tony Hall, for three minutes.
SPEAKER: Without objection.
HALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise in opposition to these articles of impeachment. The president is guilty of conduct unbefitting his office, however despite his actions I do not believe they rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors which is the requirement the Constitution sets for removal from office.
Within this House, as throughout the nation, there is a mood of anger and frustration and betrayal. Retribution through impeachment may feel right today, but the long-term harm it will cause our government outweighs filling the immediate satisfaction.
I also strongly object to the provision in the articles which disqualifies the president from holding any future office, and it goes on to say other things, but what it essentially means is almost anything that is commissioned, that has any kind of federal monies in it -- XYZ Commission, a nonprofit organization -- he cannot fulfill that as a result of this particular clause.
This goes too far. It's too severe. The House does not have the moral authority to judge that the president is forever unredeemable.
A strong resolution of censure is the appropriate response by the House of Representatives, and let the House go on record condemning the president in the strongest terms. Censure is a harsh enough punishment that expresses the profound disappointment of the American people, and it will stay with the president for the rest of his life and throughout history. Censure will spare the nation the agony of a Senate impeachment trial and the possible removal of the president.
I regret that the House leadership will not permit a censure resolution from coming to the House floor for a vote. This denies the House the opportunity to work its will.
Impeachment is not the answer to the challenge the House faces in responding to the president's action.
Thank you. I yield back the balance of my time.
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