Transcript: House debates articles of impeachment
December 18, 1998
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to recognize Mr. Tom Lantos, a dear friend of mine from the old Government Operations Committee, distinguished gentleman from California, for four minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from California is recognized for four minutes.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE TOM LANTOS (D-CA): I want to thank my friend from Michigan.
Mr. Speaker, I rise as the only member in the history of the Congress who has lived under and fought against both fascism and communism. Every day I enter this hall, I do so with a feeling of humility and pride, as one who has suffered the pain of living in a police state, and now enjoys the exhilaration of living in a free society.
The question I want to raise today is what distinguishes this Congress from the legislators of despotic countries. It certainly is not the taking of votes because there are always votes, plenty of them, in totalitarian parliaments. Nor is it the eloquence or the erudition or the IQ level of members. Mr. Speaker, what distinguishes this House from the fake parliaments of police states is procedural fairness.
What we ask is the opportunity to vote on censuring the president in addition to the opportunity to vote on impeachment. Democracy not only means the rule of the majority, it also mandates respect for the minority. If our Republican colleagues allow a vote on censure, and even if that vote fails, they will give respect and legitimacy to these proceedings. Should a censure vote prevail, they will allow the voice of the true majority to triumph.
Some of my very best friends sit on the other side of the aisle, and I would defend their right to vote their conscience with my life, if necessary. I find it unbelievable that they want to limit my right to vote my conscience. The censure vote we are seeking is supported by our former Republican colleague, the former Republican president of the United States of America, Gerald Ford, who is renowned for his fairness. The censure vote we seek is supported by the former Republican leader of the United States Senate and the Republican candidate for president in 1996, Senator Bob Dole. The censure vote we seek is supported by the large majority of our fellow citizens.
Mr. Speaker, compromise is the currency of a free society. Self- righteous certitude is the antithesis of democracy. I respect all of my colleagues who will ultimately vote for impeachment, but I ask that they respect the right of those of us who wish to express our disapproval, but who deeply believe that the impeachment and the removal of our president would be a travesty to the principle of proportionality. It would be unfair to him and to his family, and it would be damaging to our national interest.
I ask for another half minute.
CONYERS: I grant the gentleman a half minute.
LANTOS: Thank you very much.
When this debate is over, I hope you will allow all of us to feel that we have participated in a real vote of a real legislature. I ask that we have the opportunity to vote on a motion to censure the president. If the impeachment vote succeeds in this House, come January President Clinton will be on trial in the Senate. But today, my friends, it is this House that is on trial.
I yield back the balance of my time.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: I yield one minute to the gentleman from Arkansas, Mr. Hutchinson.
SPEAKER: The gentleman is recognized for one minute.
HUTCHINSON: I thank the gentleman for yielding.
It's important to address that issue of censure. We discussed this in the committee, and there were numerous constitutional experts that addressed that. Stephen Presser, Raoul Berger (ph) Professor of Legal History at Northwestern University School of Law, wrote a letter to Congressman Delahunt disagreeing about censure, and saying that censure would not be constitutional. He said, "In my opinion, impeachment is the remedy for misconduct."
You go to the University of London, a similar response by Gary MacDowell (ph)...
LANTOS: Will the gentleman yield?
HUTCHINSON: At the conclusion of my minute, I'll be happy to yield -- noted that censure was not a proper constitutional remedy, it would violate the separation of powers. And on to John Harrison, University of Virginia School of Law, by a latter to Representative Delahunt, said that "My view, at this point, is that there are serious constitutional difficulties with congressional censure." And for that reason -- because of the constitutional problems, that was not presented.
I'll be happy to yield.
LANTOS: I appreciate my friend yielding.
The technicalities have been debated ad nauseum and ad infinitum for...
HUTCHINSON: Reclaiming my time. Could I have an additional 30 seconds?
SPEAKER: The time of the gentleman has expired.
MCCOLLUM: I yield an additional 30 seconds to the gentleman.
SPEAKER: Gentleman's recognized for 30 seconds.
HUTCHINSON: I think the gentleman's point was also, in fairness, and has been read earlier today, going back to 1974 on this House, the Democrat Speaker refused to allow a vote on censure in reference to President Nixon. And so there's a precedent for what has transpired, as well as the constitutional consideration.
I yield back.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Chairman, could I yield the gentleman an additional minute? And would he yield to me briefly?
LANTOS: I will be delighted to yield.
CONYERS: Could I point out to my distinguished scholars and members of the Judiciary Committee we're not debating -- we're not trying to solve this problem within this debate. Sir, let's bring up the motion, and you can debate its constitutionality or its unconstitutionality. You surely must know that there have been censures in our American history.
I yield to the gentleman.
LANTOS: There isn't a person in this body on either side who does not clearly understand that this body has every right to censure the president. And to hide behind these phony technicalities demeans this House. You know as well as I do that a censure vote could be taken, would be legal, would be constitutional and would carry.
MCCOLLUM: I yield the gentleman an additional 30 seconds.
HUTCHINSON: Appreciate the sincerity, but censure is being used, in this case, as a marketing tool to the American public to sell them on the idea that there is a simple, easy way to avoid our constitutional responsibility, and I think that we should stick with the Constitution.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan. The gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: I yield 30 seconds to the gentleman from California, Mr. Riggs.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from California is recognized.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FRANK RIGGS (R-CA): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I just wanted to interject at this point in the debate, colleagues, that as part of my own personal deliberations, in the last 48 hours I've spoken to both former President Ford and Bob Dole. Both men emphatically told me that they -- and of course, both are former House members -- that they would vote to impeach, that they felt it was the duty of the House. Barring a public acknowledgement, an admission by the president that he had lied under oath and perjured himself, it was the duty of the House to vote for the articles of impeachment.
MCCOLLUM: Thank you.
SPEAKER: (INAUDIBLE) has expired.
MCCOLLUM: I yield two minutes to the gentleman from Utah, Mr. Cook.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Utah is recognized for two minutes.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE MERRILL COOK (R-UT): I thank the gentleman from Florida.
Mr. Speaker, the argument has been made that lying about sex is different and doesn't qualify as a high crime and misdemeanor. I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think that the law requiring you to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth means you can tell the truth that's convenient or the truth only about certain things. A lie is a lie. A lie to a government and a lie in a sworn deposition is equally a lie and equally a violation of the law, whether it's about sex or whether it's about national security.
Others who have lied under oath have been criminally charged. In the last two years, three people in my state of Utah have been charged, convicted and sentenced for lying under oath. They faced the consequences of their actions, and they took their punishment. How can we now tell the American public that a lesser standard applies to the president of the United States, the chief administrator of the laws of this country?
Some have argued that by voting for impeachment we are lowering the bar for impeachment. I disagree. I think we are, instead, affirming that democracy is truly the cornerstone of this great country. We are saying that the American people who have, as Mr. Hyde so eloquently put it this morning, believed, fought and sacrificed this past 227 years for the rule of law believe that all are subject to that law, not just the poor, the minorities or those without affluence or influence, as some cynics have claimed in recent years, but all, including the man who holds the most powerful and influential office in this country.
To me, that doesn't lower the bar for impeachment, it raises the standard for democracy.
I yield back the remainder of my time.
SPEAKER: (OFF-MIKE) of the gentleman has expired.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker.
SPEAKER: The chair will remind all persons in the gallery that they are here as guests of the House and that any manifestation of approval or disapproval of proceedings is a violation of the House rules.
The gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, the gentlelady from Florida, Mrs. Carrie Meek, has waited patiently for her turn and I'd like to recognize her for three minutes at this point.
SPEAKER: The gentlewoman from Florida is recognized for two minutes, without objection.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE CARRIE MEEK (D-FL): Thank you. Mr. Speaker, my colleagues, I stand to voice my dissent and my disagreement...
SPEAKER: The House will be in order.
MEEK: Mr. Speaker and my colleagues, I rise to give my strong opposition to the articles of impeachment that have been brought before us today. I know what has caused this to happen. I've watched it. It took me 129 years to get to this Congress because of some folks interpreting thte Constitution.
I've heard a lot about the Constitution today. But the same people that are interpreting it wrongly today were obviously there long many years ago when it was misinterpreted, and when some folks were left out.
How many more good people are going to have to lose their reputation because of what I'm seeing here in this Congress? Good men are losing their reputation every day here. Who will be next because of this stride, this stride for gonadal (ph) agony. You're going in the wrong direction in this Congress.
Because of this biased interpretation, a man who has served this country very well is now up for impeachment. Too many of you have a "gotcha" syndrome. You want to do your best to get Mr. President. I saw it from the very beginning with every kind of "-gate" there was in government reform.
There was a tailgate, there was a Post Office-gate. Every "- gate" imaginable was brought before that committee long before this impeachment started, but it was the beginning of the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton.
You haven't liked him from the very beginning. I have tried to find out why. You dislike him, but you can't get him the manner in which you tried before, so now you're going to use this gonad-driven impeachment process to try and get him. It's unfair, it's tainted.
I have some familiarity with this unfairness and injustice that we see in this country. You cannot escape it. Every American knows that this impeachment process is partisan. if you look at the votes of the very good judiciary hearings you had -- I watched it, I read everything I could -- it is partisan. It goes against the history of this country.
The Republican majority has chosen time and time again to exclude the Democrats. We are asking only for a chance for censure. That's what we're asking for. It doesn't mean we're going to win that, but at least you could give us that opportunity. You are out of touch with the people of this country, you are out of touch with the Constitution.
And I say to the rest of you, now is the time to try and give censure to man who has given something for this country and give all of us who seek fairness and justice for this country. it wasn't only set out for you. It is for all the people.
You believe in the Constitution so strongly, act on it.
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Florida.
McCOLLUM: I yield 30 seconds to the gentleman from Virginia, Mr. Goodlatte.
SPEAKER: The gentleman is recognized.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE BOB GOODLATTE (R-VA): I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I ask unanimous consent that a letter received from Senator Bob Dole date today be placed in the record...
SPEAKER: Without objection.
GOODLATTE: ... and I will read a part of that.
"It is entirely appropriate for the U.S. House of Representatives to debate and vote on Articles of Impeachment at this time." And he later says, "I also believe that quick, positive action in the House could improve chances for a timely resolution of this matter in the U.S. Senate."
So to those on the other side who have been invoking the name of Senator Dole, I would point out that he believes it's appropriate for us to take the action we're taking today.
I thank the gentleman.
McCOLLUM: I yield at this time one minute to the gentlelady from North Carolina, Ms. Myrick.
SPEAKER: Gentlewoman from North Carolina is recognized for one minute.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE SUE MYRICK (R-NC): Just before the November 3rd election, my five-year-old grandson Jake asked his mother if we were going to be electing a new president and upon being told no, we already have a president, Jake replied, "No, we don't. He lied." You know, such principles from the mouths of babes.
As sad as this is for our nation, this action is necessary so that all of us can continue to not only uphold but teach those basic truths and basic right and wrong in our houses and most assuredly in this House.
Yes, to err is human, but to lie and deny and vilify rather than that, we need to confess and repair and repent. Just remember, the children are watching.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased now to recognize, from Illinois, Reverend attorney Jesse Jackson, Jr. for three minutes.
SPEAKER: Without objection, the gentleman from Illinois is recognized for -- is recognized for three minutes.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JESSE JACKSON, JR. (D-IL): Republican say the underlying issue is not about sex, it's about perjury. The Democrats say the underlying issue is about sex -- a private consensual relationship -- and the president lied about it, possibly committing perjury in the process. But since lying about sex is not an act involved using his official position against the state, as Nixon did, Democrats say Clinton's sins do not reach the constitutional standard for impeachment.
That is the essence of the arguments we've heard presented by members of Congress and the Judiciary Committee, but underlying the pending Clinton impeachment is neither sex nor lying nor perjury, but American history itself. Essentially the same economic and political forces that drove the presidential impeachment process against Andrew Johnson in 1868 are driving the impeachment process 130 years later.
There has been a role reversal. The Republicans of 1998 were the Democrats of 1868, but the underlying issue is essentially the same -- reconstruction. The first reconstruction was at issue in 1868. The second reconstruction is at issue in 1998.
It couldn't possibly be about the standard. Congress determined that Mr. Nixon's failure to pay taxes and his lying about failure to pay those taxes did not meet the constitutional standard, while felonious. Mr. Clinton's actions, while potentially felonious, does not reach the constitutional standard. So we look to history for the answer.
People keep asking me every time I step outside of this Congress, "Why does the African-American community keep sticking with Bill Clinton?" When legal slavery ended, this why: there were nine million people in the old Confederacy, which was led by the Democratic Party. Then the Democratic Party was defined in exclusive terms: slaveholders protected by states rights governments.
Four million people -- southerners -- were uneducated and untrained former slaves who wanted to be brought into the mainstream of America. That did include poor and working class whites who wanted to be brought in.
The identification of Lincoln and the Republican Party with ending slavery led Southern Democrats to refer to Lincoln as the "black president" and the Republican Party as the "black Republican Party." Former Democratic Confederates upheld and resisted the big, centralized Republican federal government and wanted to get the government off of their states' backs so they get all -- get right back to their old states rights ways.
Senator Andrew Johnson was a Tennessee Democrat who had refused to join his Southern Democratic confederates and stayed with the northern Unionists. Lincoln, concerned about preserving and reunifying the union, the nation, following the war, he led and appointed that Democrat to become vice president.
When Lincoln was killed, President Johnson focused on putting the Union back together, but not on building a more perfect union for all Americans, and unlike Lincoln and the Republicans, he was willing to preserve the union by leaving some Americans behind, sacrificing the rights and interests of the former slaves.
This is why, as a result, those northern angry Republicans investigated a vulnerable Johnson who, not unlike Bill Clinton, had personal foibles, to try to come up with an excuse to impeach him. It was a partisan attack by Republicans on a Democratic president in order to preserve undertaking the Republicans' first reconstructive economic program.
Today's conservative-based Republicans' target is not -- I ask the gentleman to yield me an additional minute.
CONYERS: Would a half a minute suffice?
JACKSON: It would suffice, sir.
CONYERS: Thank you.
JACKSON: Today's conservative-based Republican target is not Bill Clinton, it's second reconstruction, especially the liberalism of Democratic President Lyndon Baines Johnson, but also ultimately including the big government economic programs of FDR.
Let us not be confused. Today Republicans are impeaching Social Security, they are impeaching affirmative action, they are impeaching women's right to choose, Medicare, Medicaid, Supreme Court justices who believe in equal protection under the law for all Americans.
Something deeper in history is happening than sex, lying about sex and perjury. In 1868, it was about reconstruction and in 1998, it's still about reconstruction.
I yield back the balance of my time.
SPEAKER: The time of the gentleman has expired.
McCOLLUM: Mr. Speaker, for the purpose of unanimous consent request, I yield to the gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Linder.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN LINDER (R-GA): Mr. Speaker, this is the 20th session in which I've been casting votes in legislative chambers, and the saddest. I ask unanimous consent to submit a statement on behalf of all four Articles of Impeachment.
SPEAKER: Without objection. Gentleman from Florida.
McCOLLUM: I yield one minute to the gentleman from Florida, Mr. Canady.
CANADY: I thank my colleague for yielding.
There is much in the statement of the gentleman from Illinois to which I could respond. I do want to focus on one particular point that he made, which we have heard repeated time and time again concerning the impeachment proceedings against President Nixon.
It is claimed that the Judiciary Committee decided that tax fraud by President Nixon was not an impeachable offense. The record simply does not bear that out. It is true that the committee rejected an Article of Impeachment based on tax fraud against President Nixon, but it is equally clear that the overwhelming majority of the members of the committee who expressed an opinion on that subject said that they were voting against that article because there was insufficient evidence to support tax fraud.
CANADY: And I'd like to quote what the subsequent chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Brooks, a Democrat, said in that context. He said, "No man in America can be above the law. It is our duty to establish now that evidence of specific statutory crimes and constitutional violations by the president"...
SPEAKER: Well the gentleman yield?
CANADY: May I have another 30 seconds?
McCOLLUM: An additional 30 seconds.
UNIDENTIFIED REPRESENTATIVE: Will the gentleman yield to a response?
SPEAKER: The gentleman has an additional 30 seconds.
CANADY: "And constitutional violations by the president of the United States will subject all presidents now and in the future to impeachment. No president is exempt under our U.S. Constitution and the laws of the United States from accountability for personal misdeeds anymore than he is for official misdeeds."
And I think that we on this committee, in our effort to fairly evaluate the president's activities, must show the American people that...
UNIDENTIFIED REPRESENTATIVE: Will the gentleman yield?
CANADY: ... that all men are treated equally under the law. Now, that was the view that was adopted by Mr. Conyers also, who supported the tax fraud article, Mr. Rangel and various other members on the Democratic side.
CANADY: ... all presidents now and in the future to impeachment.
No president is exempt under our U.S. Constitution and the laws of the United States from accountability for personal misdeeds anymore than he is for official misdeeds.
And I think that we on this committee in our effort to fairly evaluate the president's activities must show the American people...
HORN: Will the gentleman yield?
CANADY: ... that all men are treated -- treated equally under the law. Now that was the view that was adopted by Mr. Conyers, also, who supported the tax fraud article, Mr. Rangel and various other members on the Democratic side.
HORN: Will the gentleman yield?
CANADY: I will yield two minutes to the gentleman from California, Mr. Horn.
SPEAKER: Let me make an announcement. Let me make an announcement for all members. We began this debate under the unanimous consent agreement at 12:15 and so far, the Republican side has a total -- has consumed a total of 60-1/2 minutes and the Democratic side has 59-1/2 minutes. So I believe we are moving along nicely.
The gentleman from California is recognized.
HORN: Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to extend my remarks with a larger statement. Mr. Speaker, censure did not change Andrew Jackson. We have heard a lot about censure during the Jackson administration.
When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee Indians, Jackson was heard to say about the sitting chief justice, well, John Marshall has made his decision. Let's see if he can enforce it.
Obviously, the court could not enforce it. They don't have the Army, they don't have the federal marshals. So much for censure. Censure would have about as much effect on the behavior of presidents as a parent yelling and shouting at a teenager. As we know, that does not usually change behavior.
The other point that I'd like to make is we have heard an awful lot of talk about the repeal of the 1996 election. We have heard a lot of talk in the Shays town meeting about a coups occurring in America. This is utter nonsense.
After all, the president of the United States picked his vice president in 1992 and 1996, and he picked him for issue compatibility. And certainly Vice President Gore would have that should the Senate vacate the office of president. And I would suggest that that argument falls.
The president must subject himself to the rule of law that effects all our citizens, and this should be a warning to all presidents that when you break the rule of law, you violate federal laws, be it perjury, suborning witnesses, whatever it is, that you might endanger yourself with impeachment.
Let's do the right thing. Let's vote for the articles of impeachment. I yield back the balance of my time, Mr. Speaker.
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