Transcript: House debates articles of impeachment
December 18, 1998
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to recognize a ranking member of the House, the gentleman from Wisconsin, David Obey, for three minutes.
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Wisconsin's recognized for three minutes.
OBEY: Mr. Speaker, I honestly believe this is the worst day for this institution in this century and history will see it as such.
OBEY: The tool of impeachment was inserted into the Constitution to protect the country from irreparable harm, not to punish the president. Under our system, the proper institution to punish the president if he's violated the law is the court system, a legal institution, not the Congress, a political institution.
The House Republican leadership has said that this is a vote of conscience. And it is denying the right to cast that vote of conscience to those of us who believe that the proper course is to censure not impeach. That decision dooms this House to go down in history as tragically lacking both perspective and fairness.
To those who say censure has no bite, my response is this. I come from the state of Joe McCarthy. Tell him censure has no bite. It destroyed him. Whether the president has committed perjury or not is a legal, technical question that can be decided by a jury and a judge in our court system at the proper time. But there is no question that the president has misled the country and the Congress. That is unacceptable. But in my view it does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense, because the lie essentially grew out of sex, not out of public acts.
If the House ignores that distinction, it fails in its obligation to put the president's act in perspective.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Hyde said earlier in this debate that there cannot be one law for the ruler and one law for the ruled. I agree. But I would say respectfully that this House should not have one standard of judgment for truth telling for leader of the executive branch and another for the leader of this institution, who was found not to have told the truth to this House.
In that case there was no removal from office. There was not even censure. There was simply a reprimand and then reelection by the Republican House majority to the speakership.
Mr. Speaker, for the House Republican leadership, who in effect predetermined the outcome of this vote, by refusing to allow a conscience vote on censure in this instance, is a massive failure of fairness. If the House leadership can only win this vote by denying any alternative, it will have failed the country as much as Bill Clinton has.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: I yield a minute to the gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Barr.
SPEAKER: The gentleman's recognized.
BARR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. While I sincerely doubt that those who continue to bow down before the Holy Grail of censure will let the historical record and precedent interfere with their support for this notion of censure, I would direct those members who still trust historical precedent, would direct their attention to a communication from President Andrew Jackson, the last president who was censured, as he at great length and eloquently set forth in a communication to this body, printed in the official records of this body: Censure, although it may have a place in certain procedures in the Congress, it has no place if it is used as a substitute for impeachment.
BARR: The precedent that applied back in the 1830s, 1834, when that took place, which was the basis for its later expungement in the very next Congress, are just as relevant today. Censure is unconstitutional if in fact it is used or attempted to be used as a substitute for impeachment.
MCCOLLUM: Mr. Speaker, I yield three minutes to the gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Goodling.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Pennsylvania is recognized for three minutes. Without objection.
GOODLING: Thank the gentleman for yielding. I'm saddened that I am witnessing something very similar today that I witnessed 25 years ago when I first ran for this office. The vice president forced out of office. The president forced out of office. But then I'm also reminded of the beauty of our system. Nothing happened seriously. The system operated beautifully. Life went on. No crisis. But again, we're back to something very similar to what happened then.
I began the day by reading an article in a New York newspaper, and I quote: "Two more cops were arrested yesterday on federal charges" -- on federal charges of lying when questioned by the FBI. They were not before a grand jury. They were two highly decorated officers.
And then I turned to the sports page from one of the Washington newspapers, and I read the following, and I quote, "A former Northwestern football player pleaded not guilty and denied lying to federal grand juries." The article also said two other players have been charged with lying.
There are more than 100 people in prison today, in federal prisons, for perjury. Some of those were prosecuted by this administration, and some of those dealt with sex.
Our constitutional system of government cannot survive if we allow our judicial system to be undermined. And again, giving you the three illustrations that I just gave, what are they to think? How are they to be treated differently than anyone else, even if it's the president of the United States?
This vote will be the most monumental I will cast in all 24 years of congressional service. Our republic has weathered two centuries, a civil war, but it cannot weather corruption of its basic tenet, the oath of office. The oath of office is that invisible bond which links the people to their elected representatives, and upon its strength the virtue of this republic stands.
GOODLING: Similarly, the virtue of our legal system rests on a simple oath: to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.
I believe the president violated this oath, and by violating the oath, Mr. Speaker, I think he violates the oath of office and we must proceed with these articles of impeachment.
The Constitution clearly states that the course for this body to follow, it clearly tells us what that course is, and it would be an abdication of our duty not to follow that course. Our republic and its institutions must be defended, and this House must send the message that no man, not even the president, is above the law, and therefore, it's my duty to defend the rule of law and support the articles of impeachment.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, if I might -- the requests on our side are so numerous, we still have over 40, and I wanted to read the names of my colleagues, and with apologies for some of the members who have been waiting all morning, and I'd like to indicate that the next members that will be recognized on this side of the aisle are Mrs. Slaughter, Mr. Kildee, Mr. Filner, Mr. McGovern, Mr. McClint (ph), Mrs. Kilpatrick, Mr. Hastings, Mrs. Lowey, Mr. Wynn, Mr. Kucinich, and Mrs. Pelosi.
And I'd like to now yield three minutes to the gentlelady from New York.
Before I do that, I'd like to yield to the gentleman from Illinois, one of our senior members, for a unanimous consent request.
SPEAKER: The gentleman's recognized.
(UNKNOWN): I thank the gentleman. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks including an editorial from the "Chicago Tribune."
SPEAKER: Without objection.
CONYERS: And now the gentlelady from New York for three minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentlewoman is recognized for three minutes.
SLAUGHTER: Mr. Speaker, most of us feel a surreal atmosphere here in America's capital. I envisioned the dome of this magnificent building swathed in black, for this is truly a day of mourning and history will not judge us well. The process that brought us to this point is so fatally flawed -- the process that brought us to this ...
SPEAKER: The gentlewoman will suspend.
The members that are gathered around the ranking members desk will please be seated. In fairness to the woman from New York, she deserves to be heard.
SLAUGHTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
SPEAKER: The gentle woman may proceed.
SLAUGHTER: The process that brought us to this point was so fatally flawed that no once can reasonably feel that justice has been done. The independent counsel's investigation (OFF-MIKE) going on for five years.
Although we find he did not personally participate in much of it, the investigation itself will be debated for years to come. The role of the prophetious (ph) friend, Linda Tripp, who worked in conclusion with both the independent counsel and a civil case lawyer shows how immaturish and how unfair Kenneth Starr's stewardship was to the Office of Independent Counsel.
The harm it has done to due process, the lawyer-client relationship and the secrecy of the grand jury, will be lasting and destructive. The Judiciary Committee did not fulfill its responsibility to independently hear from material witnesses to access their credibility and to allow the president the opportunity to cross examine them.
Instead, it has brought to the floor this highly charged partisan resolution and impeachment has always been reserved as the last resort as the check of an executives abuse of power, not intended to be invoked lightly.
In the Federalist Papers number 65, Alexander Hamilton warned that the prosecution of impeachments will quote, "Connect itself with the preexisting factions and will list all their animosities, partialities, influence and interest on one side or the other. And in such cases, there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt" end quote.
History tells us that Hamilton's fear was realized in the 1986 impeachment of Andrew Johnson, impeached because Republicans did not like his personal habits and his sympathy for the defeated southern states.
History records that his real crime was disagreeing with the majority party. I fear that history will view this 1998 impeachment inquiry similarly. A total controlled majority urges impeachment, not for treason, bribery or other high crimes or misdemeanors, but because they disdained this president for his moral flaws, ranging from military service evasion to flagrant infidelity.
Scholars disagree on whether the Constitution requires an indictable crime. But most agree that at minimum and impeachable high crime or misdemeanor is one on its nature or consequences, that is subversive of some fundamental or essential principle of government.
The allegations against President Clinton, even if proven, are not subversive of our government. The president is not accused of abusing the power of his office or attacking the fundamental freedom of any American. He's accused of lying about and attempting to prevent the revelation of his consentual activities with a White House intern. Were they wrong? Undeniably.
Can they be punished through the legal system? Absolutely. Should he impeach -- be impeached? No.
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: I yield two minutes to the gentle lady from Florida, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen.
SPEAKER: Gentle woman from Florida's recognized for two minutes.
ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks.
SPEAKER: Without objection.
ROS-LEHTINEN: Our courts of law and our legal system are the bedrock of our democracy and of our system of individual rights. Lying under oath in a legal proceeding and obstruction of justice undermine the rights of all citizens who must rely upon our courts to protect their rights.
ROS-LEHTINEN: If lying under oath in our courts and obstruction are ignored, or they're classified as merely minor offenses, then we have jeopardized the rights of everyone who seeks redress in our courts.
Lying under oath is an ancient crime of great weight because it shields other offenses, because it blocks the light of truth in human affairs. It is a dagger in the heart of our legal system, and indeed in our democracy. It cannot, it should not, it must not be tolerated.
We know that a right without a remedy is not a right. And if we ignore, allow or encourage lying and obstruction of justice in our legal system, then the rights promised in our laws are hollow. Our laws promise a remedy against sexual harassment. But if we say that lying about sex in court is acceptable and indeed even expected, then we have made our legal -- harassment laws nothing more than a false promise, a fraud upon our society, upon our legal system and upon women.
All that stands between any of us and tyranny is law. The rule is contemplated in our social compact and backed up by our courts. If we trivialize the role of truth in our judicial system by simply assuming that everyone will lie, then we trivialize the courts themselves, we trivialize the rule of law.
The office of the presidency is due great respect, but the president, whomever may hold that office, is a citizen with the same duties to follow the law as all of us, as all of our citizens. The world marvels that our president is not above the law, and my votes will help ensure that this rule continues.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I yield to the distinguished gentleman for a unanimous consent request.
SPEAKER: The gentleman is recognized.
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Thank the gentleman for yielding. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to the resolution and ask unanimous consent to submit my statement for the record.
SPEAKER: Without objection.
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Thank you.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I now would like to recognize a Michigan comrade, Dale Kildee from Flint, for two minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentleman's recognized for two minutes.
KILDEE: Mr. Speaker, most members of this House serve their country without ever being called upon to address two of the most awesome questions that could come before this body. They are the question of war and the question of the impeachment of the president of the United States.
During my time in this House, I have been handed both bitter chalices. However, in our consideration of the Gulf War, this House rose to its very best; full, fair and thorough debate took place. And no matter how one voted at the end of that debate, everyone agreed that it was one of the finest hours of this House.
KILDEE: Today, our deliberations lack that fundamental element of fairness. Most of us believe that the president's behavior and actions were wrong and he deserves censure. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to consider and vote on a resolution of censure of the president of the United States.
This unfair gag rule deprives us of the right to vote for the solution which the majority of our citizens support. Someone quoted Tip O'Neill in Breslin's book. I want to remind you, that was a private conversation, not the rule of the House, a private conversation long before Tip O'Neill became speaker. He became speaker in 1977, the first vote I cast.
This unfairness in this rule, the unfairness in depriving us to the right to vote on censure, is in sharp contrast to our moment of greatness when we debated the Gulf War in 1991.
This House deserves better, and the American people deserve better. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: I yield two minutes to the gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Ewing.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Illinois is recognized for two minutes without objection.
EWING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ladies and gentlemen of the House, I rise with a heart that's heavy and filled with concern for our presidency, concern for our system of basic justice, and concern for our great nation.
The charges against the president are serious, and they are substantiated -- perjury, by lying to a federal grand jury; perjury, by lying in a deposition; obstruction of justice; abuse of power. The evidence in support of these charges is clear, overwhelming and, for the most part, undisputed.
The Oval Office is a part of the people's house, which is a symbol of American honor, of America's dedication to what is right, and to justice for our people and all people throughout the world.
Our president's conduct in many ways impacts our nation, impacts the ability to lead at a time when leadership is needed, perhaps as much as ever in our history.
While I recognize that this country, and yes, my legislative district in central Illinois is deeply divided on what we should do here, no thoughtful person who has visited with me about this grave question really questions the facts surrounding the president's conduct. But the decision is very difficult. How then do I come to a decision in this matter?
Well, as I look into the eyes of my grandchildren, or as I attempt to stand tall in the councils of my own family with my adult children, I know that I can follow but one course. That course allows me to put aside all fear for my own political future or that of my party. I must vote for what I believe is right, what is fair, what is appropriate, and what is demanded to address the consequences of the actions of President Clinton. I must vote for impeachment. I yield back the balance of my time.
CONYERS: Speaker, I'd like to recognize now the gentleman from California, Mr. Filner, for two minutes.
HYDE: Gentlemen is recognized for two minutes.
REP. BOB FILNER, (D-CA): I ask unanimous consent to revise...
HYDE: Without objection.
FILNER: I rise today to vote no on impeachment. And in this way, I am voting yes to protecting our Constitution. It is we who oppose this travesty today who are, in fact, supporting our Constitution.
In the view of the framers, impeachment is reserved for those who undermine the fundamental, political, and constitutional structure of our union.
While President Clinton's behavior was both reckless and indefensible, it is not impeachable. It is this Congress that is subverting the Constitution by trivializing the impeachment process.
We've heard much today about the rule of law. All of us here today respect the rule of law. But the aim of the rule of law is justice, a word that I never, ever heard from majority members on the Judiciary Committee or here today. In this case, justice demands something in between no action and the national agony of impeachment.
That something has been called censure and is a course of action supported by most Americans. It's a course of action supported by a majority of this House were we allowed to vote on it, yet the Republican leadership is so obsessed with getting this president, they won't even allow this alternative to be debated.
Why don't we get out vote of conscience? Where is the rule of fairness? Our vote today must not only produce justice, it must bring America together. It must heal America.
The questioning of the president's motives in Iraq are only the beginning of a distrust and a suspicion that will engulf this nation during a long impeachment trial.
We must bring closure to this sorry chapter in our history as quickly as possible so we as a nation can move on to deal with our domestic and international problems.
I urge this Congress to immediately censure the president, begin the process to heal the breach of trust that engulfs us. Vote no on the impeachment resolution. Yield back.
HYDE: Gentleman from Florida.
McCOLLUM: I will yield 2-1/2 minutes to the gentleman from North Carolina, a member of the committee
HYDE: Gentleman from North Carolina is recognized.
REP. HOWARD COBLE (R-NC), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding. Two quotes of relevance of my colleagues, Oliver Wendell Holmes said sin has many tools, but the lie is the handle which fits them all.
Nearly a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt observed we can afford to differ on the currency, the tariff, and foreign policy, but we cannot afford to differ on the question of honesty if we expect our republic permanently to endure.
Honesty is not so much a credit as an absolute prerequisite to efficient service to the public. Unless a man is honest, he said, we have no right to keep him in public life. It matters not how brilliant his capacity.
Some anti-impeachment proponents, Mr. Speaker, have accused those who plan to vote for the articles before us of hating the president. I have no hate toward President Clinton, but it is my belief that the president did, in fact, commit perjury. And we can ill afford to turn a blind eye to this offense. If we do so ignore it, what sort of precedent do we establish with subsequent matters involving perjury arise and must be resolved in a fair and impartial manner.
Much anxiety has been expressed, Mr. Speaker, about tying about the country if this matter is transferred to the Senate for adjudication. This, in my opinion, is not well founded. If the House impeaches, the Senate has wider latitude and more flexibility than we in the House.
The Senate is obliged to commence the trial, but it could terminate prior to conclusion. The Senate could impose a penalty, it is my opinion, without removal, or the Senate could convict and remove.
The Senate is capable of discharging the duty in one of several ways in limited time. The people's House is the body charged with the duty of accusing, and this is the duty we will discharge.
If the impeachment articles before us fail, it will have been the will of the House. If the impeachment articles before us are passed, the Senate will then discharge its duty. The process will have been well served. I yield back my unused time to the gentleman from Florida.
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