Transcript: House debates articles of impeachment
December 18, 1998
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased now to recognize the gentleman from Massachusetts, Mr. McGovern, and I recognize him for two minutes.
HYDE: The gentleman is recognized for two minutes.
REP. JIM McGOVERN (D-MASS): Thank you very much. Mr. Speaker, I have spent most of my adult life dedicated to public service. Twenty- one years go, I began my work in the Congress first as an intern in the other body for George McGovern of South Dakota, later as a staff member for Congressman Joe Mokely (ph) of Massachusetts, and now as a member of the House for Massachusetts.
I am proud to serve my country. I have enormous respect for this institution, and I consider it a high honor and a great privilege to serve in this body. And I have tried to the very best of my abilities to uphold the great traditions of this Congress and the Constitution of the United States.
Unfortunately, those traditions and that Constitution are under siege today. They are victims of an ill-timed, unfair, and partisan process that does a great disservice, not only to the president of the United States, but to the people of this country.
The timing of this debate is wrong. It is wrong for this Congress to publicly and purposely attempt to weaken the commander in chief at the very moment the young men and women of our armed forces are engaged in battle. Waiting just a few days until the bombs to stop falling would not have denied the Republican majority the opportunity to go after this president, but it would have meant a great deal to the soldiers half a world away who are putting their lives at risk for our freedom.
Mr. Speaker, every American is deeply disappointed with the president's behavior. There is no debate about that. But that is not the question before us today. The question is whether or not the president's misconduct warrants tossing aside two national elections, ignoring the will of the people we represent, and cheapening the Constitution.
I believe very strongly that it does not. I believe the president's behavior warrants a tough censure, but the leadership of this House and the deliberate and cynical and partisan maneuver has refused to allow members of Congress to even consider a censure resolution.
I want to vote my conscience, not the conscience of the political arm twisters in the Republican leadership.
Mr. Speaker, the American people want Congress to act on the real issues that face our country: a patient's bill of rights, school construction, saving Social Security. Instead, the majority in Congress will continue their partisan drum beat of scandal, scandal, scandal. I ask for an additional 30 seconds.
CONYERS: Delighted to grant the gentleman that additional time, 30 seconds.
McGOVERN: Thank you. They will use the impeachment vote as a weapon to try to force the president to resign. The goal is not to conduct the business of this country, the goal is not the pursuit of justice. The goal is the elimination of Bill Clinton by any means, and that is wrong.
The destructiveness, the vindictiveness, this blatant partisanship has to end. This entire process by its inherent fairness has brought out the worse in members of Congress. It has made the American people feel more cynical and frustrated and powerless.
Throughout our history, this Congress has risen to enormous challenges and acted with integrity. This is not one of those moments.
The American people are angry because they know this process has not been fair regardless of their opinions of the president's actions. The people expect us to ask responsibly. Vote no on these impeachment articles.
HYDE: The gentleman from Florida.
McCOLLUM: Mr. Speaker, I yield one minute to the gentleman from Missouri, Mr. Talent.
HYDE: The gentleman is recognized for one minute.
REP. JIM TALENT, (R-MO): Thank the gentleman for yielding. Mr. Speaker, I don't think the question before the House is whether the president has acted with integrity in this matter. With all due respect, I think in our hearts we all know the answer to that.
The question is whether we have the integrity to do our duty under the Constitution laws and to stand up for what is right or whether by failing to do that, we are going to become part of what is wrong.
Public officials commit private wrongs. We know that happens. The issue is whether when they are called to account for it in some form, they act honorably and live up to the consequences of what they do, or at least they act according to the minimum standards that we are entitled to expect and insist upon from people who occupy positions of trust.
Mr. Speaker, on this record, it is impossible not to conclude that the president obstructed justice, that he perjured himself, that he flouted his oath of office, that he abused the powers of his office, that he manipulated other high officers of government, and he did all these things first to obstruct a sexual harassment lawsuit against him, and then to cover up the fact that he had committed perjury.
I repeat again -- Can I have an additional 30 seconds? Impeachment is a hard thing, Mr. Speaker, but again, what is at stake here is our integrity. If we do not stand up for something that is clearly right when we have an inescapable obligation under the Constitution to do it, we become part of what is wrong.
I'm not going to vote for these articles because I want to. I'm going to vote for them because I see no other honorable alternative for me to follow than to support these articles calling for the impeachment of the president. And I yield back the balance of my time.
McCOLLUM: Mr. Speaker, I yield 2-1/2 minutes to the gentleman from Florida, Mr. Stearns.
HYDE: The gentleman is recognized for 2-1/2 minutes.
REP. CLIFF STEARNS, (R-FLA): Mr. Speaker has unanimous consent.
HYDE: Without objection.
STEARNS: Mr. Speaker, it is with great sorrow that I take to the floor to express my support for approving these articles of impeachment of the president. Sorrow because we have come to this point in our fair and wonderful country where we have to debate these articles.
My colleagues, we are bound together as citizens of this great nation. And as citizens, we are all answerable to the same laws, including Mr. Clinton. The president is more than America's chief law enforcement officer, he is also the trustee of the nation's conscience.
It is a fact that sworn testimony can literally mean the difference between life and death. Should we betray the rule of law by sweeping these activities under the rug? If the opponents of impeachment wanted to avoid this process, they should have mounted a vigorous, vigorous defense of the president by refuting the facts in the Starr report.
The Minority Leader Gephardt mentioned trust, fairness, forgiveness, and values, but I did not hear him mention the word "truth."
Those against impeachment have not contradicted one word of testimony contained in over 60,000 pages of sworn evidence, not one scintilla. Those against impeachment should make their case.
Are we to conclude that the actions outlined in these four articles of impeachment are permissible behavior for a chief executive officer? Any military officer from general to private would be court- martialed. Any private citizen would risk prosecution. Any church leader, CEO of a Fortune 500 company, high school faculty member, or community leader would not face censure; they would be fired for similar conduct.
Impeachment does not decide the guilt or innocence of the president. We do not need to have beyond a reasonable doubt to move forward.
STEARNS: Our duty in the House is to decide if the available evidence indicates that the Senate should consider removing the president from office. I believe that there is sufficient evidence to approve articles of impeachment and to send these -- this process to this next step.
Through this vote, we shall announce how we stand on the Constitution and the rule of law. Are these outdated concepts to be ignored when convenient, or are they the guiding principles of our American civilization?
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased at this time to recognize the gentlelady from Michigan, Mrs. Kilpatrick, whose district borders my own, and who has waited very patiently. I'm pleased to yield to her two minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentlewoman's recognized for two minutes.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE CAROLYN KILPATRICK (D-MI): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Permission to revise and extend.
SPEAKER: Without objection.
KILPATRICK: On January 3rd, 1997, I stood in this chamber, this wonderful House of Representatives, and took the oath of office to uphold the Constitution from both foreign and domestic aggression. I'm happy to say to you, as I stand before you, entering my second term, as I did in the Michigan legislature 18 years, upholding the Constitution.
This act that we are doing today is unconstitutional. The Constitution is very clear. This is not a high crime or misdemeanor. It bothers me that some of my colleagues on the other aisle have said we're using a marketing tool by asking for censure. Most of the American people want the president censured. Most of the American people, some nearly 70 percent, do not want him impeached. Why, then, today, we, who represent the people of these United States, are before you with four articles of impeachment? I think it's a travesty.
It's the wrong day. We have troops, young men and women under 25 years of age, risking their life on foreign soil today for us to uphold justice for all of us. It is the wrong day that we are before you with these articles of impeachment.
It is the wrong way. We are not even allowed to vote, to debate the issue of censureship. Is this a democracy, or are we moving to a totalitarian country, where our rights are taken away from us? This is a very serious moment in our history. Let us not be trivialized or trivialize the process. A marketing tool? I don't think so. Censureship is what we want the opportunity to debate. Censureship is what we want the opportunity to vote on. Unfortunately, the Republican majority will not let us have that opportunity.
Mr. Speaker and members, vote no. Vote no on this ridiculous, insane affront to our Constitution.
I yield back.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: Mr. Speaker, I yield two minutes to the gentleman from Colorado, Mr. McInnis.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Colorado is recognized for two minutes.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT MCINNIS (R-CO): I thank the gentleman from Florida.
You know, in this country, we operate on what is called and our foundation is built upon what is called the rule of law. We all know our history, and our history says that we came to this country to go away from a king. Under the rule of law in this country, we say that the law is the king. The king is not the law.
We have one president. That position of president of the United States demands the highest public trust. Why the highest public trust? Because we have only one president.
Now, I have read with interest the Democratic censure, and I read -- I quote parts from it, "that the president violated the trust" -- "violated the trust of the American people, lessened their esteem for the office of the president and dishonored the office for which they have entrusted to him." It goes on. The president, quote, "made false statements concerning his reprehensible conduct with a subordinate and took steps to delay discovery of the truth."
And you say to me, after you draft that kind of document, that that individual now qualifies for the position of the highest public trust? Any of you people out there that are going to stand up and vote against this, tell me what you would do in your community, what side you would stand on, what kind of letter you would -- report you would give to a newspaper reporter if it were a local school teacher. There isn't a school teacher in this country that would step into the classroom ever, ever again with this kind of conduct, with this kind of misleading inaccuracy.
Take it from a school teacher. Take a police officer, some of you. Show me. Give me a demonstration, anywhere in this country. And those are positions of public trust, not positions of the highest public trust. We owe it to our current generation and to future generations to retain the standards of the presidency, and those standards rise far above an individual.
Let's comply and stick with the rule of law. The law is the king. The king is not the law.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to yield to the gentleman from Massachusetts, Mr. Markey, for two minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Massachusetts is recognized for two minutes.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE EDWARD MARKEY (D-MA): Mr. Speaker, this matter should never have been pursued by Ken Starr. It should never have been pursued by the Judiciary Committee, and it should never have reached the floor of the House of Representatives. This matter belongs in family court, not in the court of the United States Senate with the Chief Justice of the United States presiding.
Yes, the president made a grievous personal error, to the detriment of his family. But no, it is not an offense against the state or our Constitution. We are now on the threshold of overturning the people's choice for president through a perversion of the independent counsel law, a runaway, partisan investigation of the most intimate private activity, having nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to do with a real estate deal in Arkansas. Ken Starr has twisted and warped his task from one in which he was out to find the truth to one where he went out to "get" the president and first lady of this country.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, we are amending the Constitution of the United States on the floor of the House of Representatives here today. Make no mistake about it, this is a constitutional amendment that we are debating, not an impeachment resolution. The Republicans are crossing out the impeachment standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors," and they are inserting the words "any crime or misdemeanor."
We are permitted a constitutional coup d'etat which will haunt this body and our country forever.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I grant the gentleman an additional minute.
MARKEY: I thank the chairman.
A constitutional clause intended to apply to a Benedict Arnold selling out his country will now be expanded to cover every personal transgression. Every future president, Democrat or Republican, will be subject to harassment by his political enemies who can credibly threaten impeachment for the slightest misconduct. This is wasteful. It is foolish. It is dangerous.
When you talk to people in the supermarkets, on the streets, they believe that the high crime against the Constitution is their family's being cheated out of their government's ability to work on thing that affect their families -- Medicare, Social Security, the democratization of access to jobs and education for every family in our country.
You know, the ultimate Republican paradox is that they dislike the government, but they have to run for office in order to make sure that the government doesn't work. In 1995 and '96, they tried to shut down the executive department. In 1997 and '98, they shut down the Congress. And now they're going for a political triple play. They're going to shut down the executive branch, the legislative branch and the Supreme Court of the United States simultaneously.
Mr. Chairman, just...
SPEAKER: The time of the gentleman has expired.
CONYERS: I grant the gentleman one half minute more.
SPEAKER: The gentleman's recognized for 30 seconds.
MARKEY: We have become the laughingstock of the entire world because a sexual scandal is being allowed to consume our tax dollars, our media, our judiciary and our opportunity to deal with the problems of ordinary families. We must censure the president for what he did wrong. We should be given the right to vote to censure him, to put this matter behind us so that we can work on the problems of every other family in America. We've worried about the president's family for an entire year. It's about time we went back to the business of every other family.
GOP used to stand for "Grand Old Party." Now it just stands for "Get Our President."
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: I yield myself one minute, and I will yield to the gentleman from Arkansas.
HUTCHINSON: I want to remind the gentleman from Massachusetts that it was the president's own Democrat attorney general who appointed this independent counsel, believing there was credible evidence that needed to be investigated. In regard to the high crimes and misdemeanors, the Constitution specifically mentions bribery. Perjury is a high crime and misdemeanor because, just like bribery, perjury and bribery are unique threats to the administration of justice, and that affects our society. That affects our government.
I yield back.
MCCOLLUM: Thank you. I yield now one and a half minutes to the gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Fawell.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Illinois is recognized for one and one half minutes.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVES HARRIS FAWELL (R-IL): I thank the gentleman.
Mr. Speaker, it may well be a myth that George Washington confessed to chopping down a cherry tree because he couldn't tell a lie, and we do not know if Abraham Lincoln as a young man actually walked several miles to return a few pennies to a storekeeper who gave him incorrect change. But Mr. Speaker, true or not, these stories of truth and justice hold a special and a very deep place in our nation's heart and psyche.
There is a gift, however, that accompanies the president's problems, and it is the opportunity to now tell the truth about the violations of perjury and obstruction of justice laws. The truth- telling can resolve most of the factual controversies, and it can introduce the potential for healing, as the impeachment resolution is forwarded to the Senate.
And so I urge the president to tell the truth about his multiple perjuries and his efforts to obstruct justice, and I urge the Congress to deliver this message of impeachment to the Senate in the knowledge that we are all victims, including the president himself.
I support the impeachment resolution. It was a tough decision for me. I do not know, however, otherwise how I can explain, especially to my eight grandchildren and to the younger generation of this nation why the president's willful and wanton violations of perjury and obstruction of justice of laws can be ignored.
I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks.
SPEAKER: Without objection.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I recognize the gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Klink, for two minutes.
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Pennsylvania is recognized for two minutes.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE RON KLINK (R-PA): I thank the gentleman for yielding to me.
I've heard member after member get up on the other side and say this is not about sex, but let's make one thing very perfectly clear. The roots of this impeachment action are in fact in a sexual deed.
And I was reading Andres Moreau (ph) the other day, who said the path that leads from moral standards to political activity is strewn with our dead selves. There's a lesson in that for all of us. This impeachment process is a partisan political activity. Don't make a mistake about it.
What the president did was wrong, his conduct was reprehensible, it was appalling and, most of all, to those of us that have worked with him, it is disappointing. But just as every crime does not deserve the death penalty, so too -- Mr. Speaker, the House is not in order.
CONYERS: The gentleman may proceed.
KLINK: Just as every crime does not justify the death penalty, neither should impeachment -- the political equivalent of the death penalty -- be the punishment for every presidential misdeed.
The president of the United States had a consensual extra-marital sexual relationship and didn't want to divulge that to the public or to his political enemies. Is the president guilty of bribery or treason or other crimes which threaten the future of our republic? Absolutely, positively not.
We all agree the president should not be above the law, however, just because he has been elected to the office of president doesn't mean he should be below the law, either. He should have the same treatment that every other American does. The president should face the same legal consequences that anyone else does, and the rule of law should judge his actions as it would any other American.
Fairness should be our guiding force when we consider impeaching the president. Unfortunately, fairness has taken a back seat to partisan politics during this very serious, one-sided debate. The overwhelming majority of Americans agree that the president deserves to be punished, but the majority of Americans also agree the punishment needs to fit the crime, and the president's conduct, however reprehensible, is not an act of treason, of bribery or other high crimes.
In this, the biggest vote that Congress can take next to the declaration of war, Democrats and like-minded Republicans should at least be given the opportunity to make this punishment fit the crime, and we've been blocked that.
Could I have one more minute, Mr. Chairman? Or the ranking member, could I have one more minute?
CONYERS: I'll yield to the gentleman 30 seconds.
KLINK: Thank you.
Let me just say it was once said that the test of courage comes when we're in the minority, that the test of tolerance comes when we're in the majority. And I will say the Republican Party's -- this Republican Party has failed that test of tolerance.
During this process, comparisons have been made to the Watergate hearings 24 years ago. I see only one similarity between now and during Watergate. Back then, it was a Republican president who used subterfuge and criminal activities to gain control of the process as to who would decide who would be the president, and today it is a Republican Congress who is using their majority and their power to decide who's going to be the president of the United States.
In the name of the millions who have died to protect the sanctity of the ballot box, I would say may God rest your souls.
McCOLLUM: Mr. Speaker, I yield two minutes to the gentleman from Kentucky, Mr. Whitfield.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Kentucky is recognized for two minutes.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ED WHITFIELD (R-KY): Mr. Speaker, I ask for unanimous consent to advise (OFF-MIKE).
SPEAKER: Without objections.
WHITFIELD: While I'm not a member of the Judiciary Committee, I cam to this debate today with the great hope that the advocates for the president would spend considerable time addressing specifically the Articles of Impeachment. Instead, I've heard a lot about the Iraqi war, I've heard about Ken Starr, I've heard about Medicare, Social Security, but I have not heard any evidence refuting the Articles of Impeachment.
Now, we're not here today because of the political philosophy of any political party or an obsession to impeach the president. We're not here today because of the private sexual activities of anyone. We are here today because the president is charged with breaking criminal laws which, for constitutional purposes, are high crimes and misdemeanors.
One of those crimes is perjury and by committing perjury, the president harmed the integrity of our judicial branch of government, which is a central component of the government. Since 1993, when President Clinton took office, the U.S. Department of Justice has prosecuted and convicted over 400 people for perjury. Many of those people are in prison today or under house arrest.
We could go through a lot of individual cases -- we have a psychiatrist at the Veterans Administration who was convicted of perjury for lying in a civil suit. She's under a jail sentence right today, and we could go on and on.
But our nation has one legal standard that applies to all of its citizens. We do not have one legal system for the president and a more harsh legal system for everyone else. High office does not allow anyone to be above or beyond the law.
For those reasons, I will vote for three of the four Articles of Impeachment, and I yield back the balance of my time.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to recognize the distinguished gentleman from Florida, Mr. Alcee Hastings, for two minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentleman is recognized for two minutes.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ALCEE HASTINGS (D-FL): I thank the distinguished ranking member, and I'd like to say to Mr. Whitfield and to Mr. Goodlatte, our distinguished colleagues, that perjury is applicable to this president as it is to all people, once he leaves office. To that confused argument of what political perjury is and what perjury is in a court of law needs to be distinguished.
Let me also make it very clear for you that if the president is charged with perjury when he leaves office, I predict for you that no one in this body can prove that he committed perjury.
The gentleman, my distinguished colleague from Arkansas, who has been extremely studious with reference to these matters, indicated that censure was some kind of -- and I apologize, Asa, what kind of fix you called it. I don't see it that way. I'd like for you to recall that in the very cases regarding judges that was cited to as examples, censure was used, and also, as we know, for two presidents.
Additionally, the majority whip, Mr. DeLay, proposed what amounted to censure of the president over campaign finance issues just this past May.
This House can work its will on censure and anything else. I was removed from office after being found not guilty, and here we are, talking can we censure. Today, we reach the zenith of unfairness. Our military, under the aegis of our president, is attempting to downgrade weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and we are unmasked, as a body, degrading the institution of the presidency. It's not sad, it's irrational.
I have appended to my remarks that I think would be helpful to this body so that you will understand the dynamics that take place in the Senate, the pleadings and motion stage, the trial preparation stage, a Senate trial -- all of this certainly will take at least the 14 months that it took to remove me from office, and we are talking about -- may I have an additional minute?
CONYERS: I grant the gentleman an additional minute.
HASTINGS: We are talking at least that amount of time, certainly as late as July and probably all next year. And things regarding Social Security and matters that all of us want to take up for this nation will be put on hold.
The president has done a good job and you've seen it. Consider, before you vote, what you might be doing to tie this entire nation up. Our nation is divided, and the House tomorrow will exacerbate that division. We are being unfair and unwise. We are being harsh to the institution of the presidency, harsh to our troops in harm's way, harsh to each other as colleagues, and extremely harsh to this great country of ours.
This is not a debate for the ages. Rather, it is a debate of the stages -- partisan political stages. I ask you how many of us have read this report that came to my office last night after the close of business? How many of us have read, other than Judiciary Committee, the evidence that supports the conclusion that the Republicans ask us to reach?
Most of us will be voting in an uniformed, unintelligent manner. This nation deserves better. You may win today, but the nation will lose today and tomorrow.
McCOLLUM: Mr. Speaker, I yield two minutes to the gentleman from Utah, Mr. Hansen.
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Utah is recognized for two minutes.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JIM HANSEN (R-UT): Mr. Speaker, I (OFF-MIKE)
SPEAKER: Without objection.
HANSEN: Mr. Speaker, the sole responsibility for our actions today lies with the president. Only his actions, characterized by his own supporters, are wrongful, immoral, maddening and worthy of our condemnation. President Clinton has violated his constitutional duty to take care of the laws be faithfully executed by lying under oath in a duly convened judicial proceeding.
President Clinton has violated his constitutional oath of office to preserve and protect the Constitution by obstructing the proper search for the truth and abusing the power of the presidency. His actions, deliberate and willful, have brought damage to the dignity of the office of the president and corrupted our sacred respect for the rule of law.
The question before us today is whether we, too, will turn away from our long heritage of the rule of law, the love of truth, and instead place our faith in the brutal role of power, the fickle winds of appetite, and the manipulation of public opinion.
The circumstances of history have our nation facing two grave issues, impeachment and war, at the same moment. President Clinton decided to unleash the awesome power of war and why did he do this? One, because Saddam Hussein has lied to the United Nations. Another because Saddam Hussein has obstructed justice by blocking the work of the weapons inspectors and another one is he violated the rule of law in defiance to the ceasefire resolution of the Gulf War.
I support the president of the United States in his rightful action and pray for the safety of our troops. If we are willing to ask the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the international rule of law, how can we not act to defend its foundations at home?
Our nation is a strong one and our Constitution is sound. )-Our peaceful and deliberate defense of the Constitute and its foundation in the rule of law will send a strong and clear message testifying to the power and resilience of our democracy. Tyrants, dictators and thugs around the world will see the strength of our nation. It lies not in one man but in a vast people united in liberty and justice.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
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