THE IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS
Dec. 10 Opening Statements: Rick Boucher (D-Va.)
By Federal News Service
REP. RICK BOUCHER (D-VA): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to join with others who have expressed similar remarks in expressing my appreciation to Chairman Hyde and also to the ranking Democrat on this committee, John Conyers, for the leadership that they both have provided during what has been, at often times, a difficult process. I think they have both performed well, and I want to thank them for it.
I have reviewed carefully the information that has been presented to this committee by the independent counsel and by other witnesses who have testified before the committee, and I have concluded that a congressional response is required to the actions of the president.
The president made false statements concerning his reprehensible conduct with a subordinate. He wrongfully took steps to delay discovery of the truth. He has diminished his personal dignity and that of the office of the presidency. He has brought the presidency into disrepute and impaired the image of the president as a role model for younger Americans.
The question we must now decide is whether to adopt a resolution censuring and rebuking the president for these actions, or whether we should adopt articles of impeachment directly toward his removal from office. In deciding which of these alternatives is more appropriate, I have carefully reviewed the historical precedents for the use of both, in light of the facts which have been presented to this committee, and I have concluded that a statement by the Congress, formally censuring the rebuking the president for his conduct is more appropriate in these circumstances.
Of particular value to me in this analysis was the most recent congressional pronouncement on the proper use of the impeachment power. It is found in the report issued on a broad bipartisan basis by this committee in its 1974 proceeding in the Watergate inquiry.
That report concludes that the framers of the Constitution vested the impeachment power in the House of Representatives with the intent that it only be used to advance the national interest. It was designed to remove from office a chief executive whose conduct threatens the nation. Not all presidential misconduct, whether criminal or non- criminal, justifies impeachment. To quote this committee's report, "Only that misconduct which is seriously incompatible with either the constitutional form and principles of our government or the proper performance of the duties of the presidential office will justify a use of the impeachment power."
This is the standard that we should apply today. It was applied by our predecessors on this committee in 1974. It gives further definition to our common understanding that overturning a national election and removing a president from office is a drastic remedy to be used only when the survival of our constitutional forum of government is at stake. The facts now before this committee, which arise from a personal relationship and the effort to conceal it, simply do not arise to that standard. While the president's conduct was reprehensible, it did not threaten the nation, it did not undermine the constitutional form and principles of our government, and it did not disable the proper performance of the constitutional duties of the presidential office. It does not rise to the standard for impeachment set by our predecessors in 1974.
It is equally clear that impeachment was never intended as a punishment for misconduct by the chief executive. The Constitution, in Article I, Section 3, specifically provides that the president can be tried in the criminal courts, after he leaves office, for any crimes that are committed during his presidential tenure. Since the president is clearly subject to the criminal justice process, the rule of law will be upheld, and the principle that no person, including the president, is above the law, will be honored.
This president, I should note, is also subject to sanctions being imposed by the federal judge in Arkansas who presided in the civil lawsuit in which he gave the deposition that has been so much a subject of discussion in these proceedings.
Impeachment should not be employed as the punishment for the president. That punishment can come through the criminal court, or through the sanctions imposed by the federal judge in Arkansas.
Also weighing against the use of the impeachment power is the virtual certainty that the Senate would not convict the president and remove him from office if the House of Representatives votes favorably on articles of impeachment. A vote of two-thirds of the Senate would be required for that action. And it is universally acknowledged that a two-thirds vote in the Senate to convict a president and remove him from office cannot be obtained. Therefore, for the House of Representatives to approve articles of impeachment would simply prolong this national debate for many more months without bringing closure, further polarizing the country and hardening the divisions that exist in our population at the present time, diverting the Congress and the president from attending to our urgent national business, immobilizing the Supreme Court while the chief justice presides over a prolonged trial in the Senate, lowering the standard for a future presidential impeachment, and possibly causing disruptions in the financial markets to the detriment of our national economy.
For all of these reasons I am convinced that impeachment is not the appropriate remedy in this case. Its use would not well serve the national interest.
I share the public's deep disdain for the actions of the president. And I'm truly concerned that if Congress takes no action, many troubling unanswered questions will remain with regard to the example that his conduct sets. A resolution of censure passed by both houses of Congress requiring the signature of the president as an acknowledgement of the public's rebuke of his tawdry conduct is the preferable alternative.
Tomorrow I will offer with colleagues of like mind such a resolution of censure for consideration by this committee. Our congressional censure of the president for his conduct, combined with his susceptibility to the criminal justice process and to possible sanctions by the federal court in Arkansas, will constitute an appropriate admonishment for his conduct, which we all disdain. It is my hope that in the days ahead a consensus can be achieved which leads to this sensible conclusion, if not in this committee, then on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, which more than any other approach will simultaneously acknowledge our long constitutional history and place the nation, the Congress, and presidency on a path toward the restoration of dignity.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield the balance of my time.
REP. SENSENBRENNER: That's appreciated. The gentleman from California, Mr. Gallegly.
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