Transcript: House debates articles of impeachment
December 18, 1998
SENSENBRENNER: Mr. Speaker, I yield three minutes to the distinguished gentleman from California, Mr. Cunningham, who has served in Vietnam and was recommended for the Medal of Honor.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from California is recognized for three minutes.
CUNNINGHAM: Mr. Speaker, I had served on the National Security Committee and Authorization. I now serve on the Defense Appropriations Committee. And I want to tell you, every single member on those two committees, I have the greatest respect for what they try to do to bolster our military and our men and women.
And my colleagues, some of them say, why wait? Why can't we wait just a few days. The president of the United States last night deployed ground troops to Iraq. Just imagine. Just imagine what would happen if Saddam Hussein goes into Kuwait again. And the turmoil and the loss of lives. And think about how difficult it would be to bring up a resolution like this if we waited.
There's been talk about Ramadan. Well, there's another religious holiday, Christmas. Think about how hard it would be to bring up this resolution. If this goes beyond January 6th into a next Congress, then we have a constitutional problem, and the public does not want -- they want this over. I agree, Mr. (OFF-MIKE). They want it over. And that's why we're proceeding on, to get it over. We would have to start this process all over again.
CUNNINGHAM: The public doesn't want that, Mr. Hyde or Mr. Conyers, they want it done. Matter of fact, you talk about polls. You know, in "The Washington Post" poll, they talked about if this article goes through, almost 60 percent of the American people would ask the president to resign. It's not for the president. It is because they don't want this thing to go on and we are going to do that.
Mr. Conyers, I have a tape here. I would love to play it for you sometime. It's 18 SAMs, SA-2s going off in pairs over Vietnam.
When we talk about, at a time like this, our troops are fighting, not once did I ever worry about what was going on in Congress. I worried about the strike mission, about where the SAMs were, where the AAA (ph) was, about getting back to my carrier alive.
They don't care what is going on here. They want this over too. That's not a factor in this. Our men and women are fighting and dying.
I've got a friend named Bud Roach (ph). He was flying a 25-year- old aircraft, an 84 Skyhawk. His engine quit over Whiskey 291 (ph). It's a training area in San Diego.
When he tried to eject, his seat didn't work. Do you have any idea what it's like to talk to his family? Don't cut defense anymore.
You want to support troops? Don't cut defense with a progressive caucus that wants to cut it an additional 50 percent. Bolster our troops.
SPEAKER: Time of the gentleman has expired.
SPEAKER: Gentlemen from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I recognize the distinguished member of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Nadler of New York, for two-and-one-half minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentlemen from New York is recognized for two-and- one-half minutes. (off mike) Without object.
NADLER: Mr. Speaker...
CONYERS: (OFF-MIKE) minutes, please.
SPEAKER: You may.
CONYERS: Thank you very much.
SPEAKER: The gentlemen from New York is now recognized for three minutes.
NADLER: Thank you.
Mr. Speaker, the precedents show and the nation's leading scholars and historians overwhelmingly agree that impeachment is reserved under the Constitution only for abuses of presidential power that undermine the structure of functioning of government or of constitutional liberty.
It is not intended as a punishment for crimes, but as a protection against the president who abuses powers to make himself a tyrant. That is why Benjamin Franklin called impeachment a substitute for assassination.
We are told that perjury is as serious an offense as bribery, a per se impeachable offense. But, bribery goes to the heart of the president's conduct of his constitutional duties. It converts his loyalties in efforts from promoting the welfare of the republic to promoting some other interest.
Perjury is a serious crime and if provable should be prosecuted in a court of law. But, it may or may not involve the president's duties and performance in office.
Perjury on a private matter, perjury regarding sex, is not a great and dangerous offense against the nation. It is not an abuse of uniquely presidential power. It does not threaten our form of government. It is not an impeachable offense.
The effect of impeachment is to overturn the popular will of the voters. We must not overturn an election and remove a president from office except to defend our system of government or our constitutional liberties against a dire threat.
NADLER: And we must not do so without an overwhelming consensus of the American people. There must never be a narrowly-voted impeachment, when impeachment is supported by one of our major political parties and opposed by the other. Such an impeachment will produce the divisiveness and bitterness in our politics for years to come and will call into question the very legitimacy of our political institutions.
The American people have heard the allegations against the president and they overwhelmingly oppose impeaching him. They elected President Clinton. They still support him. We have no right to overturn the considered judgment of the American people.
Mr. Speaker, the case against the president has not been made. There is far from sufficient evidence to support the allegations and the allegations, even if proven true, do not rise to the level of impeachable offenses.
Mr. Speaker, this is clearly a partisan railroad job. The same people who today tell us we must impeach the president for lying under oath, almost to a person voted last year to reelect a speaker who had just admitted lying to Congress in an official proceeding. The American people are watching and they will not forget. You may have the votes. You may have the muscle, but you do not have the legitimacy of a national consensus or of a constitutional imperative.
This partisan coup d'etat will go down in infamy in the history of this nation.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I yield back the balance of my time.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Wisconsin.
SENSENBRENNER: Mr. Speaker, I yield six minutes to the gentleman from South Carolina, Mr. Graham.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from South Carolina is recognized for six minutes.
GRAHAM: I thank the gentleman for yielding.
GRAHAM: A comment and a perspective from my point of view. Thus far, the debate in this house, I believe, has brought honor to the House and is serving the American people well.
Some of the rhetoric I disagree with, but that's what a debate is all about.
I choose now to not use rhetoric, but talk about facts.
I will talk to you about Article IV, abuse of power. And the offense is against this institution, the Congress, by the president of the United States. And it is the one article that is very similar to the Watergate impeachment of -- of President Nixon.
Article IV is very similar to Article III in the Nixon case. And I will talk about that just in a moment.
But a quick summary from my perspective of what brought us here -- what brought us here is not partisanship but the conduct of one man who happened to be the president, who happened to be elected by the people and given the most solemn responsibility in the nation -- to be the chief law enforcement officer of the land, and he failed miserably in that responsibility and he deserves to be impeached based on what he did -- not what I think about him, not how I voted, but what he did.
Article I, grand jury perjury -- Ladies and gentlemen, remember the context in which the perjury occurred. The president, several months before, had given false testimony in a deposition.
GRAHAM: The president was begged by members of both parties in the House and the Senate: Mr. President, do not go into the grand jury and lie again. Do not give false or misleading or perjurious testimony again because you put your presidency at stake; you do a disservice to this country.
Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, based on the facts, not based on my feelings, based on overwhelming facts, the president of the United States chose in August, months after being warned not to do it, he chose to lie to a federal grand jury. He abused the 23 citizens who were trying very hard to get it right. He abused the federal court system. It was his fault and no one else's.
Ladies and gentlemen, any president of the United States, regardless of party, that goes to a federal grand jury in the future -- let it be said by as many members of the House that can say is: You're subject to being impeached if you do that.
Article two, who is the injure party? Consensual sex -- this is colored by sex, but there's a moment and time, ladies and gentlemen, where the allegations about sex were anything but consensual. The day the president gave deposition testimony in the Paula Jones case, the allegations were far from consensual. They were rude and crude. He was put under oath. He was asked questions with a federal judge sitting in front of him. And the injured party was Paula Jones because he chose to lie in a sexual harassment suit. That is non- consensual sex -- the topic. He chose to deny a citizen their fair day in court.
The president turned the justice system upside down on many occasions for his personal gain, and that's why we're here today.
Article three, the president of the United States, while being in a litigation matter against an average, everyday citizen chose to go to witnesses and try to get them to lie and provide false testimony; chose to go and plant stories about witnesses that were false, that were malicious. The president of the United States tried to cheat a litigant out of a fair day in trial.
Let it be said: Anytime, anywhere regardless of party in the future, if you do that as president, you're subject to being impeached.
GRAHAM: Article IV. Who is the injured party? We are the injured party. Here's what happened in Article IV, this House, by House Resolution 581 -- 360 votes I believe -- authorized the Judiciary Committee to inquire into the allegations against the president.
Ladies and gentlemen, we did that.
And part of that inquiry -- what we chose to do was submit questions to the president to flush out the facts. Eighty-one questions were sent based on the -- to flush out the facts in this case by Chairman Hyde, and the president was asked under oath to give answers to those questions as part of our inquiry.
Ladies and gentleman, unfortunately the president lied in January to injure Paula Jones. He lied to the federal grand jury to injure the federal court system in this case. And I think the facts are overwhelming that he gave false, misleading and perjurious testimony to the Congress as part of our inquiry.
And let me tell you how that is similar to the Nixon case. Article III of impeachment against Richard Nixon, the article was based on the idea the Richard Nixon as president failed to comply with subpoenas of Congress. Congress was going through its oversight function to provide oversight of the president. When asked for information, Richard Nixon chose not to comply and the Congress back in that time said you are taking impeachment away from us.
GRAHAM: You're becoming the judge and jury. It is not your job to tell us what we need; it is your job to comply with things we need to provide oversight over you.
The day Richard Nixon failed to answer that subpoena is the day that he was subject to impeachment because he took the power from Congress over the impeachment process away from Congress, and he became the judge and jury.
And the day that William Jefferson Clinton failed to provide truthful testimony to the Congress of the United States is the day that he chose to determine the course of impeachment.
He usurped our power. He abused his authority. He gave false information. That to me, ladies and gentlemen, is the same as giving no information at all. Actually, I think it's worst.
So, I believe these articles will stand the test of time. They will stand a factual scrutiny that has to be done, and the only way to avoid impeachment is to leave your common sense at the door, defy the way the world works and ignore the facts and talk about something else.
We are the victim of Article IV. If you believe he committed grand jury perjury, I think it would be incumbent upon you to find him guilty of Article IV because the underlying conduct that lead to perjury in the grand jury was reasserted in the 81 questions, and he gave the same false, misleading, unbelievable answers.
William Jefferson Clinton's impeachment is based on what he did and no one else.
I yield back the balance of my time.
SPEAKER: The time of the gentleman has expired. The gentleman from Michigan.
UNKNOWN: Mr. Speaker, how much time is left on each side?
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Wisconsin has 18-and-three-quarters remaining, and the gentleman from Michigan has 23-and-one-half minutes remaining.
UNKNOWN: Does the gentleman from Michigan have another speaker?
CONYERS: Mr. Chairman -- Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased now to recognize a member, perhaps our newest Judiciary Committee member, Mr. Barrett of Wisconsin, for three minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Wisconsin is recognized for three minutes.
BARRETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This is a sad day. It's a sad day for our democracy. I cannot defend President Clinton's actions. He failed to tell the truth. And he failed to cooperate. He must be held accountable.
And although I cannot defend President Clinton's actions, I can and must defend our Constitution. Our Constitution does not allow us, no, it does not allow you, to remove a president from office because you can't stand him. That's not an unfair allegation.
It's not an unfair allegation, because the vast majority of the people voting for impeachment today voted to reelect our speaker, even though he had submitted information, false information, to the Ethics Committee of this House, the judicial branch of this House. Even though the speaker had submitted false information to the judicial branch of this House, the majority of people here voted to reelect him as speaker.
It's not an unfair allegation, because when the secretary of defense under President Bush was duly indicted by a federal grand jury for perjury and he was pardoned by the president of the United States, George Bush, the silence on this side of the aisle was deafening. There were no claims from this side of the aisle that this was injustice. There were no claims that somehow our military would be damaged. There were no claims that somehow the pillars of democracy were damaged by perjury by the secretary of Defense.
*** Elapsed Time 02:42, Eastern Time 11:42 ***
BARRETT: There is one difference, and only one difference, between the false allegation submitted by Speaker Gingrich and the perjury allegations against the secretary of defense and the president of the United States. And that difference is he is a Democrat.
He is a Democrat and so we're going to go after him.
I feel bad for this institution today because I think it is acting unfairly. I trust that every member there is voting his or her conscience. I will give you that because I trust the conscience of this institution.
But what is being -- what is happening today is the conscience of this institution is being strangled. It is being strangled for the rawest of raw partisan politics. Every person here today knows that the American people believe the president should be held accountable. Every person here today knows that the appropriate remedy lies within this institution.
We can do it. We disagree. And there's an honest disagreement as to whether impeachment is the appropriate remedy or censure is the appropriate remedy. But it is the ultimate unfairness to deny members on this side of the aisle and members on that side of the aisle the right to vote their conscience for censure.
If we believe in the conscience of this institution, let us let the conscience of the institution display itself.
And I would yield back the balance of my time.
SPEAKER: The gentleman's time has expired.
The gentleman from Wisconsin.
SENSENBRENNER: Mr. Speaker, I yield 45 seconds to the gentleman from Florida, Mr. Canady.
SPEAKER: The gentleman is recognized.
CANADY: I thank the gentleman for yielding.
I want to respond to the point that's just been made concerning the conduct of the speaker of the House.
CANADY: It is inaccurate to compare the situation involving the speaker of the House with the case that's now before us. It is admitted that the speaker submitted inaccurate information. There's no question that that was admitted. But the Ethics Committee did not find that the speaker was guilty of intentionally submitting false information. That was a finding that was not made.
And in the case before us, there is a critical distinction. In the case before us, there is overwhelming evidence that the president of the United States willfully, time after time after time, lied under oath. It's a very, very different case than the submission of inaccurate information by the speaker.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Wisconsin.
SENSENBRENNER: Mr. Speaker, I yield five minutes to the gentleman from Indiana, Mr. Buyer.
BUYER: I thank the gentleman for yielding.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Indiana is recognized for five minutes.
BUYER: Mr. Barrett brought up the issue of censure to this House, and I'd like to address it at this time. While I appreciate the intentions of the supporters of censure, I nonetheless urge members to oppose it because it is a fraud and an assault upon the Constitution. Censure is not an authorized alternative to impeachment.
Congress has the express constitutional authority to censure its own members for misconduct.
BUYER: But there is no express authority in the Constitution for Congress to censure the president. Impeachment is the only power in the Constitution granted to Congress to address presidential misconduct and dereliction in his executive duties.
The Founding Fathers set high standards for impeachment. And by also providing the conviction requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove the president from office, they insured impeachment would not become a method for Congress to harass executive or judicial officials.
A censure resolution would fly in the face of the separation of powers doctrine. Congress can't make it up as we go along. Constitutional scholar Gary McDowell stated: Impeachment is the only power granted by the Constitution to Congress to deal with errant executives.
Had the founders intended some other means of punishment to be available, your branch -- your branch, they would have said so.
As Chief Justice Marshall once said, in plain and intelligible language, that they did not do so should be your only guide in this grave and sensitive matter.
The temptation to do anything possible to avoid exercising the awful constitutional power of impeachment is obvious and is understandably grave. But such a temptation to take the easy way out by assuming a power not granted should be shunned by this House.
And should the -- President Clinton, as a result of bad advice or political pressure, agree to such unconstitutional punishment as censure by this House, that would be a breach of his constitutional obligations and his oath of office as great as anything else for which he has been accused by the Judiciary Committee.
BUYER: The great office he is privileged to hold deserves his protection against any ill-considered, censorious assault from Congress. President Andrew Jackson, one of our distinguished presidents, who's known as the father of the Democrat Party, was censured by the Senate, and after the election the Senate then expunged the censure.
President Jackson's words shed great light on our challenge today, even though they were penned over 150 years ago. President Jackson wrote that the very idea of censure is a subversion of the powers of government and destructive of the checks and safeguards of governmental power.
President Jackson rightfully claimed that censure was wholly unauthorized by the Constitution and is a derogation of the entire spirit. The framers of the Constitution purposely avoided granting the legislature power to impose nonjudicial punishments. Such bills are condemned in the Constitution because they represent a legislative encroachment on the powers of the judiciary. It's called a bill of attainder. It pronounces the guilt upon a party without any forms or the safeguards of a trial.
An integral part of the censure debate in the Judiciary Committee was whether the purpose of the censure that was offered was to punish the president. In answer to my questions on the intent, the author, one of the authors, Mr. Boucher of Virginia stated, that it is not our purpose to have findings of guilt. It is not our purpose or intent to punish the president. However, a close examination of the wording of censure resolution appears that the explicit and the implicit purpose would be to shame the president, to voice disdain for his actions, which undermine the integrity of the office of the president, to reprove his dubious if not criminal acts, i.e., to punish.
BUYER: The censure resolution offered in the Judiciary Committee uses such words and phrases as: The president egregiously failed; he violated the trust of the American people; he lessened their esteem; he dishonored his office; he made false statements, reprehensible conduct, wrongfully took steps to delay discovery of the truth. And then, therefore, cites that he fully deserves the censure and condemnation of the American people.
You see, these words and phrases are not remedial. On the contrary, the intent is to shame and condemn the president's misconduct and impugn his reputation, and is therefore a prohibited bill of attainder.
It is unconstitutional in its form and the idea -- the idea is clearly in violation of a bill of attainder.
Now, some members of Congress are arguing that censuring the president is a better idea because it's, quote, "what the American people want." I believe the American people want their elected officials to honor their oath, defend the Constitution in accordance with the laws of this nation.
Further, the American people want their elected representatives to take a stand on matters of national importance, such as the integrity of our judicial system, and for members of the House and the Senate to exercise their judgment in matters of state craft based upon their intellect not their emotions of the moment.
(SOUND OF GAVEL)
The facts and evidence in this case are overwhelming, the allegations are grave. Impeachment is not -- censure is not an alternative to impeachment.
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