Transcript: House debates articles of impeachment
December 18, 1998
SPEAKER: The time of the gentleman has expired. The gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased now to yield to the minority whip of the Congress, Mr. Dave Bonior of Michigan, for three minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan is recognized for three minutes.
BONIOR: Mr. Speaker, as I rise to speak, the men and women of America's armed forces are engaged in battle. Halfway around the world on ships at sea, in the skies over Baghdad, they are risking their lives for us.
But even as millions of Americans across our country are hoping for a quick end to this conflict, even as we are praying for the safety of our sons and daughters, my Republican colleagues are obsessed with a different target. They are determined to impeach the commander in chief of America's armed forces, the President of the United States.
*** Elapsed Time 01:30, Eastern Time 10:30 ***
BONIOR: Even as the bombs are falling on Baghdad, they are trying to force him from office. What kind of signal does this send our troops, our allies, the American people, the world? I find it quite incredible that we are even here today having this debate.
To force an impeachment vote is to completely ignore the will of the American people. The people of this country support the president just as they have supported him through two elections and throughout his presidency. He is doing the job they elected him to do. It is a grave mistake to rush forward with impeachment like a runaway train heading for a cliff.
Why can't we just pause for a second? Why can't we stop right here and come to our senses? The American people have made it very clear they oppose impeachment. They are looking for another solution, a just solution, a solution that condemns the president's wrongdoing, yet enables America to put this sorry spectacle behind us and get on with the country's business; a solution that brings us together as a nation, not one that divides us.
Censure -- this is the one option the Republican leadership refuses to consider. They won't even let us vote on it. President Ford supports censure. Senator Dole supports censure. Members on both sides of the aisle support censure. And I dare say if it was made in order, it would pass.
Yet the Republican leadership in this House is so angry, so obsessed, so self-righteous they are refusing a true vote of conscience.
This is wrong; it is unfair; it is unjust. A time when events in the world and the challenges at home demand that we stand united, censure is the one solution that can bring us together.
To my colleagues across the aisle I say, let go of your obsession. Listen to the American people. Stop hijacking the Constitution.
We shouldn't be having this debate now while our troops are in battle, but if, if you insist on ramming this matter through at any cost, give us the opportunity -- give the country the opportunity to express themselves on censure.
If you can not set aside partisan politics until our troops are safe, at least -- at the very least -- let us have a clean vote of conscience and let us bring America together once again.
BARRETT: Mr. Speaker?
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Wisconsin.
BARRETT: Mr. Speaker, may I ask the time that is left on each side?
SPEAKER: The gentlemen from Wisconsin has 10 minutes remaining. The gentlemen from Michigan has 25 -- 24 minutes remaining.
BARRETT: I think it would be proper that the time be evened up.
SPEAKER: Gentlemen from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, it's my pleasure now to recognize the gentlemen from Texas, Mr. Frost, for three minutes.
SPEAKER: Gentlemen from Texas is recognize for three minutes.
FROST: The decision we are faced with today is of singular importance. We're being asked to overturn the results of a presidential election under a procedure that is fundamentally unfair and at a time that is contrary to the strategic national interest of the United States.
FROST: There are three issues involved here today: the unfairness of this proceeding, the timing of this action and the merits of whether or not to impeach the president.
Let's start with the fundamental unfairness of this proceeding. The Republicans have denied the House the opportunity vote on censuring the president, even though a clear majority of the American public believes the president should be censured for his conduct, but not removed from office.
Leading members of the Republican Party, former President Gerald Ford, former Senator Bob Dole, have urged the censure option, but we are being denied the opportunity to even consider it today. There is no fairness on this floor today.
Secondly, the Republican majority, by starting this proceeding today while we are engaged in military action against Saddam Hussein, sends entirely the wrong message to Saddam and to the rest of the world.
We have a great bipartisan tradition of supporting the commander in chief and supporting our sailors, soldiers and airmen in the time of war. That tradition is being shattered today by a partisan majority.
Seven years ago, I joined 86 of our colleagues -- of our Democratic colleagues -- in supporting a Republican president, George Bush, when he initiated military action against Saddam Hussein.
I disagreed with President Bush on a variety of matters, but I felt it was important to show national unity against Saddam. By starting this proceeding against President Clinton today, we are sending the ultimate mixed message to Saddam about our national resolve.
FROST: We may be encouraging him to resist longer by our actions in the midst of war. Starting this proceeding today may wind up costing American lives.
The majority may well have blood on its hands by starting this proceeding today. We certainly could have waited until Monday to pursue this proceeding, giving our military time to pursue its mission.
That brings me to the question of the merits. The Republican majority is trivializing the U.S. Constitution and setting a terrible precedent by pressing for impeachment on these particular grounds. What Clinton did was wrong, but it does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. If we make every member of this House rumored to have been involved in an affair subject to a $40 million special prosecutor and then hold him accountable for any misstatement of fact, we may be faced with a number of empty seats in this chamber.
We should reserve impeachment for those rare instances that undermine our form of government and threaten the essence of democracy. It should not be used as a club by a partisan majority that dislikes a particular president.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: I am pleased now, Mr. Speaker, to recognize from New Jersey Mr. Menendez for three minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from New Jersey is recognized for three minutes.
MENENDEZ: My colleagues, today's vote is set upon an unfair, false choice. This historic decision should be a moment above all political maneuvering.
*** Elapsed Time 01:37, Eastern Time 10:37 ***
MENENDEZ: Instead, it is riddled with unfairness, sloppy procedure, and mean-spirited partisanship -- when the four-year, $40 million investigation which could only turn up a private consensual affair, the airing and publishing of the tawdry Starr report and Lewinsky tapes where all of our children could hear and read every sexual detail; the failure of the president's accusers to spell out which of his words were allegedly perjurious; the unfair denial of the censure option here today; to trying to impeach the commander-in-chief with troops in harm's way. This process is a travesty.
Where is your sense of fairness? Somewhere along the way, some in this House forgot that Bill Clinton is our president, not your personal enemy. The Constitution is not a license to destroy a president because you don't like him.
I believe the president's actions were reprehensible and worthy of condemnation, but the clearest, most appropriate way to send the message about this president's behavior is censure. That's what our best legal scholars say. That's what the American public says. If the Republican leadership would allow us the freedom to vote our conscience, that would be the option.
A censure would put an indelible scar upon the president's place in history, something we all know this president cares about deeply. It is a tough, just and appropriate punishment. It would not absolve the president of any future indictment and prosecution of alleged perjury.
*** Elapsed Time 01:39, Eastern Time 10:39 ***
MENENDEZ: Impeachment, however, should not be used as a form of supercensure. Far from withholding -- upholding the rule of law, a vote for impeachment under these circumstances weakens and undermines the rule of law turning our Constitution into an unfair political tool.
Former Judiciary Chairman Peter Rodino said to me, quote, "We voted to impeach Richard Nixon because of the irreparable harm he had done and threatened to do to the rights, liberties and privileges of American citizens -- using the CIA, the FBI, the IRS, illegally wiretapping and auditing United States citizens. But we would not have impeached Nixon alone for lying."
Yes, let's censure the president for his misconduct. Let's send a message to our children that these actions are wrong. But let's not unfairly use the Constitution as a way to send that message.
I warn my colleagues that you will reap the bitter harvest of the unfair partisan seeds you sow today. The constitutional provision for impeachment is a way to protect our government and our citizens, not another weapon in the political arsenal.
MENENDEZ: Monica Lewinsky is not Watergate. Let he who has no sin in this chamber cast the first vote.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Wisconsin. The gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I thank you for your fairness, and I now turn to a senior member from Massachusetts on the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Barney Frank, and I recognize him for three minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Massachusetts is recognized for three minutes.
FRANK: This House is launched on an historically tragic case of selective moralizing. By the history of this country, the appropriate response to lying about a consensual sexual affair would be censure.
When Ronald Reagan's secretary of defense was indicted for perjury by an independent counsel and pardoned by George Bush, members on that side applauded the action.
When Speaker Gingrich was found to have been inaccurate 13 times in an official proceeding to the House Ethics Committee, he was reprimanded and simultaneously reelected speaker with the overwhelming vote of members on that side.
That's why we believe censure is appropriate.
FRANK: The American people also believe censure is appropriate. And let me agree with those who say that simply because a large number of the voters believe something, we are not obligated to vote for it. I welcome the assertion that we have an obligation not always to follow public opinion.
But while we have the right not to vote for something just because there is overwhelming public support, in a democracy you have no right not to vote on it. You have a right to stand honestly and say, I disagree with censure. Members have no right to hide behind a partisan leadership and not take a position.
The public has a right, on this overwhelmingly important issue, to have the preferred option that the public supports voted on. That's the abdication of democracy. It's not that you have to support what the public wants, but you can't hide from it in a democracy.
Why will you not take a position on censure? If you have the votes to defeat it, don't use partisan pressures and threats to keep it from being voted on. Do not deny the American public a recorded vote on their notion of what ought to be done, particularly since your own behavior in the case of Caspar Weinberger, in the case of Newt Gingrich, clearly makes it understandable that censure and not impeachment is relevant.
And the final point is this: Members on the other side understand that people think throwing someone out of office is too harsh, and we have a stunningly illogical game going on. First, to get votes for impeachment from people who know that the public doesn't want it. They downgrade impeachment.
Impeachment is not throwing the president out of office, the chairman says. Impeachment doesn't end the process, it simply sends it to the Senate. What have they already begun to do? They plan having degraded impeachment and claimed it is no definitive judgment, once they get a partisan vote for an impeachment where the bar has been lowered, then to say that's the basis for resignation.
FRANK: First, impeachment will be insignificant. It will simply be the beginning of the process. But having used that partisan power and the power of the right-wing in the country to get an impeachment through after they have dumbed it down in significance, they will turn around and use the fact that they got that impeachment as a club to try to drive the president from office.
First, impeachment will simply be very little, and then it will be an enormous amount. You cannot de facto amend the Constitution by that distortion of impeachment and then use it to try to drive a president out of office when you know that's an inappropriate sanction for his behavior.
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