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    Impeachments and Elections: From Hastings to Gore

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to
    Friday, September 25, 1998

    The media are constantly taking lumps from those who think they are obsessing over President Clinton's sex life. Well, they're not the only ones. Over 90 percent of the mail I received in the past couple of weeks was devoted to the Starr report and the possible consequences the president faces. Talk about obsession!

    But these are serious questions. The House Judiciary Committee will likely vote early next month to open an impeachment inquiry, and the full House is likely to follow – a process with huge electoral implications.

    A judicial impeachment and conviction did not keep Alcee Hastings from winning a seat in Congress in 1992, or from twice winning reelection.
    (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Question: After a federal judge or executive officer is removed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, the Senate may then, by a majority vote, bar that official from ever again holding any federal office. Apparently, after removing him from the bench, the Senate did not bar Judge Alcee Hastings from ever again holding federal office, because today he is a member of Congress from Florida. My question: Of all federal judges and executive officers removed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, how many were subsequently barred by the Senate from ever again holding federal office? – Mark Bernkopf, Arlington, Va.

    Answer: Of the 16 federal officials impeached by the House since 1797, seven were convicted in the Senate and removed from office, including now-Rep. Hastings. In three of those seven convictions, the Senate took separate votes to disqualify that person from holding future office. Of those three, the Senate voted to do so twice.

    Question: My understanding is that Hastings' impeachment was thrown out. Do you know the details? – Jennifer A. Bell, Sacramento, Calif.

    Answer: Hastings's conviction was reversed by a U.S. district judge in 1992 – two months before his election to Congress. Judge Stanley Sporkin said that Hastings should have been tried by the full Senate and not by a special 12-member committee, which convicted him on corruption charges. It was the first time a Senate conviction was overturned by a federal judge. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Jan. 1993 that federal courts had no authority to review the procedures of a Senate impeachment trial. But the decision had no effect on Hastings' congressional career, which continues to this day.

    Question: What effect will the Clinton scandal have on the 2000 presidential race, especially for the Democrats? Will there be any effort to nominate someone who is not associated with the Clinton-Gore Administration? – Elmore Lockley, Yorktown, Va.

    Answer: Before you start thinking about 2000, the Democrats are going to have to survive the 1998 elections. The issue could fade by 2000, if Democrats follow historic precedent and only suffer average losses in this year's midterms, and if Clinton survives with nothing more than a censure.

    If the Republicans go overboard and are seen as piling on, there could be an anti-GOP backlash. But if somewhere between a House impeachment hearing and a Senate trial Clinton decides to resign, Gore would become president and the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2000.

    If the Clinton-Gore team is damaged beyond repair in 2000, the Democrats could turn to a clean face in Bill Bradley.
    (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Some folks close to the vice president will tell you that they are more concerned over Attorney General Janet Reno's investigation into Gore's fund-raising activities than they are over any Clinton/Lewinsky fallout. But if the nation solidly rejects Democratic candidates this fall, and a cloud hangs over Gore for the next year or so, then there will be more pressure to get a "clean" Democrat, an outsider, into the race for 2000 – perhaps former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley.

    Question: Is it true that if Clinton resigns (or is removed from office) before noon on January 20, 1999, Al Gore would be allowed to run for only one additional term? – Reed Snellenberger, Houston, Tex.

    Answer: Yes. The 22nd Amendment states that "no person who has held the office of President. . . for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once." Clinton would have to resign after 1/20/99 to allow Gore to serve two full terms. Thus, had President Gerald Ford, who assumed the presidency in August of 1974, defeated Jimmy Carter in 1976, he would not have been able to run again in 1980.

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin:

    Ken Rudin, the political editor at NPR and a former editor of the Hotline, writes the "Political Graffiti" column for The Hill, a Capitol Hill weekly. He is also the creator of's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1998 Ken Rudin

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