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Excerpts From Impeachment Debate

Federal Document Clearing House
Sunday, December 20, 1998; Page A42

The House of Representatives began final debate yesterday on whether to impeach President Clinton for perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) managed the debate for the majority while the committee's ranking minority member, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), managed the president's defense. Following are excerpts from the debate:

Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Calif.): [T]he evidence is overwhelming. The question is elementary. The president was obliged, under his sacred oath, faithfully to execute our nation's laws. Yet he repeatedly perjured himself and obstructed justice. Not for any noble purpose, but to crush a humble, lone woman's right to be afforded access to courts. Now his defenders plead for no constitutional accountability. For the one American uniquely able to defend or debase our Constitution and the rule of law. . . .

Rep. Barbara T. Lee (D-Calif.): I rise to strongly oppose these articles of impeachment and this very flawed and undemocratic process. This process and this action are the real crimes against the American people and our democracy. This march to impeachment is an attempt to undo and overthrow a duly elected president and ignores the will of the people. Denying a vote on censure creates the appearance of a one-party autocracy, which we condemn abroad and which history has proven can lead to authoritarian rule. . . .

Rep. Gerald Kleczka (D-Wis.): I do not in any way condone the president's behavior. But the framers made clear that the constitutional act of impeachment is not meant to punish a president for deplorable behavior, but to protect our nation from acts which jeopardize our democratic system.

What the president did was wrong, both personally and morally. But his acts did not threaten our democracy, and thus do not rise to the level of impeachable offense as defined by our Founding Fathers in our Constitution.

I do believe that the president should be held accountable for his actions, and support an alternative to impeachment that will both condemn his actions and fine him. The Judiciary Committee considered a censure resolution which we in the full House are being denied the opportunity to debate and vote on today. . . .

Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.): As our commander in chief battled the problems in Iraq, he is also battling for his presidency in the people's house.

This could have waited. Wrong day, wrong way.

Mr. Speaker, I rise to oppose the articles of impeachment before this House this morning. I urge members to step outside the passion of your convictions and think about our obligations to the Constitution, to our constituents and the American people before we cast this vote.

Mr. Speaker, I had hoped this moment could have never come and the members of the Judiciary Committee after carefully examining the evidence, history and their conscience could recognize that these charges do not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. However, with this vote, we have the opportunity by censure to live up to the famous vision and honorably close a sad chapter in our republic's history and we can open -- or we can open a new one that is perilous.

I will say to you, my friends, that the American people in history will judge us. Yes, you have the votes to impeach, but can your conscience withstand the scrutiny that history will bring to bear on your vote? What a sad day in this history of America. . . .

Partisanship and Principles

Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), the speaker-designate for the next Congress, then called upon the president to resign and announced that because of past affairs that became public knowledge, he would not stand for speaker next year and would leave the House next summer [see separate text].

Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.): It's a tough time to follow, but I must stay the course and be true to myself. The Republican right wing in this country doesn't like it when we say coup d'etat. So I'll make it easier for them. Golpe de estado. That's Spanish for overthrowing a government.

From day one, they wanted to get rid of Bill Clinton. From day one, they stood on him and tried to make him out to be the number one villain in this country. They've been blinded by hate then. And they're blinded by hate today. This place is full of hate. Because of what they've tried to do to our president.

My constituents don't hate Bill Clinton. They love him and they're praying for him right at this very moment. You may have the votes today to impeach him. But you don't have the American people. And let me tell you something, I grew up in the public housing projects of the south Bronx. I can see a bunch of bullies when I see them. The bullies get theirs and you're going to get yours, too. The people are going to rise up from California to New York.

They're going to rise up from Texas to Florida everywhere in this country and they're going to tell you, don't do this to him. And by the way, don't ask him to quit. Bill Clinton will never quit. . . .

Rep. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.): I really don't know how to begin here, except to say that our prayers are with Bob Livingston. Then I must get back to what I was prepared to say before Bob made his announcement and I was going to say, and still insist that these are the times that try men's souls.

And we all share in the emotional trauma getting back to our subject of this constitutional crisis in which we are ensnared. But this cup cannot pass us by, we can't avoid it, we took an oath of office, Mr. Speaker, to uphold the Constitution under our democratic system of government, separation of powers, and checks and balances.

And we must fulfill that oath and send the articles of impeachment to the Senate for a trial. Now I say personally, and all of you who know me, and a lot of you do, I've been around a long time; I bear no personal animosity towards the president. But we in the House did not seek this constitutional confrontation.

It was thrust upon us by a series of legal maneuvers and denials. But let me stress, going back to the president again, that the articles of impeachment are not about sex or the privacy of the president and his family. Those personal matters -- those personal matters . . . even his supporters deplore, are between him, his God and his family. . . .

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.): The framers of the Constitution did not entrust this House with the power to impeach the president of the United States in order to establish this body as a court of personal morality.

Impeachment was supposed to be a constitutional shield, not a moral or political sword. For all of these reasons, we should step back from this edge of this dangerous cliff. Serious crimes have been committed that this Congress needs to address.

Every morning children across the nation go to school and sit in overcrowded classrooms in deteriorating and crumbling facilities and Congress turns a blind eye. That's a serious crime. Every afternoon people find themselves lacking access to affordable health care, trying to figure out how to afford the prescription drugs they need. People are suffering and even dying, even as we debate today. That's a serious crime.

And every evening people sit at their dinner tables, wondering how they will afford a college education for their children. Whether they need or even if they will be able to get a second job. That's a serious offense. We should be leaving personal and moral sanctions to the courts, the branch of government where they properly belong. And we should be doing the job we were elected to do. The wisdom of history, not the passions of this moment, must guide our actions. . . .

Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.): The example that Bob Livingston set for us has completely changed what I intended to say, so let me offer these words instead. He has shown us the importance of trust. If you cannot trust our leaders, you cannot govern. Bob Livingston has led by example. Our Constitution was amended in 1967 to allow removal for incapacitation. Prior to that, the only way to remove a person who was physically incapacitated was impeachment.

Well, today we have incapacitation of a different kind. A person who, by his conduct under oath in a federal criminal grand jury, demonstrated that he would not tell the truth if it was in his interest not to tell the truth. He has incapacitated himself from being president. The voters of our country elected Al Gore to be president if Bill Clinton were incapacitated. That day has arrived. . . .

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.): While the world is rocked by war and the spectacle of removing a president, our drama here is not about impeachment, it's what we've done to ourselves. We've managed to squeeze the life out of what is the most important vote we will ever cast, the overturning of a presidential election.

Gone is any pretext of fairness or nonpartisanship, rendering us unable to do what a majority of the public and what a majority of this House wants to do: issue a harsh statement of condemnation and censure. In the final death throes of this Congress, we have debased our powers, we have frayed our fragile basis for bipartisan cooperation, making the impeachment process just one more pathogen in the medical chest of toxic politics. . . .

Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.): There are very few values and legal obligations that are fundamental, the foundation on which all else rests. But personal responsibility, the responsibility each of us bears to tell the truth under oath, is such a fundamental responsibility.

If we treat perjury lightly, the only path to truth can be blocked by the instinct to lie, to cover up shame, or the determination to do harm to others.

Regardless of the motivation for the lie, the result is the same. The path to truth is blocked. . . . Had the president been able to face up to the truth a year ago, we wouldn't be here. If he had faced up to the truth a month ago, he could have taken responsibility for the impact of that on our nation and individuals. Our nation can survive a transition better than it can survive the erosion of our fundamental values. . . .

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.): After [independent counsel Kenneth W.] Starr's report to Congress in September, and his presentation to the Judiciary Committee in November, I concluded that impeachable offenses were not proven, and that the proven offenses were not impeachable. But the president's continued failure to come to grips with his actions, the sincerity and arguments of members of the Judiciary Committee from both sides of the aisle, the change of heart and conviction by members on my side of the aisle who originally opposed impeachment and now support it, and the strong and powerful opinion of so many of my constituents who oppose my position and wanted the president impeached, caused me to rethink my position.

Like you, I listened to my constituents, those who supported impeachment and those who opposed it. I revisited the evidence, reexamined the documents, and even looked at documents that I had not seen earlier. I spoke to people who were truly experts on these issues, people who I have immense respect for. Yesterday morning before I visited with the president, I concluded that my original position was the correct one for me. I believe that the impeachable offenses have not been proven and that the proven offenses are not impeachable. But they are close. And that's why I understand why members who happen to be primarily Democrats concluded that the president should not be impeached, and members on my side of the aisle, primarily Republicans who believed he should be impeached. With no exception, I truly believe that every member of Congress of this institution is voting his or her conscience. . . .

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.): I would hope that my friends, and many are indeed my friends in the majority, would recognize that in their attempt to get Bill Clinton that had at least lost one speaker and one speaker-to-be. They could be almost accused of [being] the gang that could not shoot straight.

This effort, this effort to get Bill Clinton -- first it was Whitewater, then it was campaign finance, FBI files, Travelgate -- we come to the floor today and you're going to vote to impeach this president for having an affair and not telling the truth about it?

This is something that is, I think, for the majority of the people in this country, a commonsensical issue. On one hand, we have 16 million new jobs, a balanced budget, better education, we have a president committed to protecting the environment and preserving Social Security and on the other hand we have a party determined to do nothing other than to attack and investigate and now to finally impeach Bill Clinton. We deserve better. . . .

Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-Fla.): [A]fter careful review of the evidence, I will vote today to impeach President William Jefferson Clinton. I believe the evidence is overwhelming that the president committed perjury before a federal grand jury and in other settings, that he obstructed the administration of justice and that he abused his office by lying under oath to Congress. . . .

The Rule of Law

Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.): [T]here is no joy sometimes in upholding the law. It is so unpleasant sometimes that we hire other people to do it for us. Ask the police or judges -- it is tiring and thankless, but we know it must be done. Because if we do not point at lawlessness, our children cannot see it.

If we do not label lawlessness, our children cannot recognize it. And if we do not punish lawlessness, our children will not believe it. So if someone were to ask me, "J.C., why do you vote for, why did you vote for the articles of impeachment?" I would say, "I did it for our children."

How can we tell our children that honesty is the best policy if we do not demand policy, demand honesty as a policy?

How can we expect a Boy Scout to honor his oath if elected officials don't honor theirs? How can we expect a business executive to honor a promise when the chief executive abandons his or hers? Whether it's a promise or a truth or a vow or an oath, a person's word is the firm footing our society stands upon, and the average kid understands that.

They don't need a grand jury to enforce it. They say "cross your heart, hope to die," "pinkie promise," "king's X," "blood brothers." These are the childhood instincts that seek to draw a line between the honest and the dishonest; between the principled and the unprincipled. Ask your children. The kid who lies doesn't last.

And they do not bicker over what is and what is not a lie. They know. So do I. So do the American people. Time and again we wanted the essence of truth and we got the edges of the truth. You hear "let's get on with the business of our country." What business is more important than teaching our children right from wrong?

You say it's all about politics and party lines. If that were true, I would have given in to popular opinion. But what's popular isn't always what's right. You say polls are against this. Polls measure changing feelings, not steadfast principle. Polls would have rejected the Ten Commandments. Polls would have embraced slavery and ridiculed women's rights.

You say we must draw this to a close. I say we must draw a line between right and wrong, not with a tiny fine line of an executive fountain pen, but with the big fat lead of a number two pencil. And we must do it so every kid in America can see it.

The point is not whether the president can prevail, but whether truth can prevail. We need to cease the cannibalizing the members of Congress. We need to cease the attacks on the president and his family, because friends, this is not about the president of the United States. He is not the injured party. Our country is. . . .

Conyers: [T]he record of the House on something as important as impeachment should be as clear and accurate as it can be. And after yesterday's considerable misstatements by members of the majority, I rise to set the record straight.

They say these articles show high crimes. The record of historians who wrote the committee say they are low crimes and do not justify the drastic remedy of impeachment.

As to Article I, impeachment is not justified. They say that the president committed perjury in the grand jury. But the actual record is that he did not deny an inappropriate relationship with Ms. Lewinsky during his grand jury appearance. They're complaining only because of a lack of specificity, if you can believe that, in the president's testimony about who touched who and where and when it happened.

They claim that there's a clear and convincing evidence of grand jury perjury but ignored the panel of experienced prosecutors who testified that no reasonable prosecutor in the land would have brought a perjury case arising out of these facts.

As to Article II, the impeachment is not justified. They say the president's testimony deprived the plaintiff, Paula Jones, of her day in court. Not so. The record shows that a federal judge ruled three times that Monica Lewinsky's allegations were not relevant to the core issues of the Jones case, and refused to permit the Jones lawyers to pursue the allegations.

They say the president lied when testifying about his understanding of the definition of sexual relations. The record shows that three lawyers and a judge spent a half an hour debating the meaning of that contorted phrase with the judge concluding, "I'm not sure Mr. Clinton understands all these definitions anyway."

They say the president perjured himself when he testified to the truthfulness of the Lewinsky affidavit. The record shows that Ms. Lewinsky stated that her denial of sex was not untruthful because she defines sex as intercourse. As to the third article of impeachment, it's not justified either. They say the president obstructed justice by, one, asking Ms. Lewinsky to lie in the Jones case; two, engineering the return of gifts he had given her; three, trying to buy her silence with a job; and four, directing Ms. Currie's testimony. . . . The record is that Ms. Lewinsky stated over and over again that the president never asked her to lie. She said this in a grand jury and in her written statement. The record shows that Ms. Lewinsky and not the president or Ms. Currie initiated the return of the gifts.

The record shows that the president gave her more gifts after she had been subpoenaed. The record is that the job search began months before Ms. Lewinsky showed up on the witness list in the Jones matter. The record shows that the president made no extraordinary effort to get her a job.

The record shows that Ms. Currie was never a witness on any list. Ms. Currie testified no fewer than nine times and stated repeatedly that she didn't feel pressured by the president's remarks.

And finally, to article four. The president, they say, abused his power by failing to answer the 81 questions. But the record shows the president answered the 81 questions completely, but that the alleged abuse of power lies in the fact that the majority disagrees with the answers. . . . The majority has simply tried to dress up its perjury allegations in the clothes of Watergate's abuse-of-power language, and I know something about that.

In an effort to make its case against the president seem more serious, they say the president has to be impeached to uphold the rule of law, but we say the president can't be impeached without denigrating the rule of law and devaluating the standard of impeachable offenses. . . .

Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.): [B]elieve it or not, I've been very depressed about this whole proceeding. When I came to work yesterday it really hit me what we were about to do.

But, after this morning, it made me realize even more what this is all about. And I feel great about it because no matter, no matter how low we think we are, or depressed we are, this country shows us time and time again how great it is.

There's no greater American in my mind, at least today, then Bob Livingston . . . because he understood what this debate was all about. It was about honor and decency and integrity and the truth.

Everything that we honor in this country.

It was also a debate about relativism versus absolute truth. The president's defenders have said that the president is morally reprehensible, that he is reckless, that he has violated the truth of the American people, lessened their esteem for the office of president and dishonored the office which they have entrusted him.

But that doesn't rise to the level of impeachment. What the defenders want to do is lower the standards by which we hold this president, and lower the standards, force our society by doing so. I cannot in good conscience after watching Newt Gingrich put the country, his caucus, his House above himself and resign, and I cannot stand before you watching Bob Livingston put his family, and I hope you'll think about his family, his friends, his House and his country above any ambitions that he may have. . . .

'Sexual McCarthyism'

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.): I'm even more depressed today than I thought I would be yesterday. I believe Bob Livingston's resignation, while offered in good faith, was wrong. It is a surrender . . . to a developing sexual McCarthyism. Are we going to have a new test if someone wants to run for public office: Are you now or have you ever been an adulterer? We are losing sight of the distinction between sins, which ought to be between a person and his family and his god, and crimes, which are the concern of the state and of society as a whole.

On one level we could say, I suppose, that you reap what you sow. But that gives us no joy. It gives me no joy. And I wish that . . . Mr. Livingston would reconsider. Because I don't think that, on the basis of what we know, he should resign. . . . But the impeachment of the president is even worse. Because again we're losing track of the distinction between sins and crimes.

We're lowering the standard of impeachment. What the president has done is not a great and dangerous offense for the safety of the republic, in the words of George Mason. It is not an impeachable offense under the meaning of the Constitution. And as you heard from Mr. Conyers, the allegations are far, far from proven and the fact is we are not simply transmitting evidence, transmitting a case with some evidence to the Senate, as evidenced by the fact that we already heard leaders of this House say he should resign.

God forbid that he should resign. He should fight this and beat it. . . .

Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.): Every single man and woman in Operation Desert Fox at this very moment is held to a higher standard than their commander in chief. Let us raise the standard of our American leader to the level of his troops. Let us once again respect the institution of the presidency. Let us see to it indeed what the censure resolution says merely in words, that no man is above the law. Let us not fail in our duty. Let us restore honor to our country. . . .

Rep. Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.): [N]o nation has been so blessed as America in the 1990s. We enjoy a prosperity that our parents and our grandparents could not even imagine. Each day we invent wonderful new things to make life easier and more interesting. Our scientists are uncovering the wonder of God's creation, from the secrets of our genes to the wonders of the universe.

The social problems that have caused so much pain and worry are diminishing. Crime is dropping. Welfare dependency has plummeted. Unwed teenage pregnancy rates are finally dropping. Religious belief and attention to decent moral values are on the rise in this great country.

Even abroad, America is respected as the world's most, the world's one remaining superpower. We triumphed over the vile tyrannies. Democratic nations on six continents owe their elected governments to our example and to our support. We have never been safer; our brave armed forces, though they certainly need more resources, are still unquestionably second to none, a fact we can all agree is being demonstrated today in the skies of the Persian Gulf.

How did this great nation of the 1990s come to be? It all happened Mr. Speaker, because freedom works. . . . But freedom, Mr. Speaker, freedom depends upon something. The rule of law. And that's why this solemn occasion is so important. For today we are here to defend the rule of law. According to the evidence presented by our fine Judiciary Committee, the president of the United States has committed serious transgressions.

Among other things, he took an oath to God, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And then he failed to do so. Not once, but several times. If we ignore this evidence, I believe we undermine the rule of law that is so important that all America is. Mr. Speaker, a nation of laws cannot be ruled by a person who breaks the law. Otherwise, it would be as if we had one set of rules for the leaders and another for the governed. We would have one standard for the powerful, the popular and the wealthy, and another for everyone else.

This would belie our ideal that we have equal justice under the law. That would weaken the rule of law and leave our children and grandchildren with a very poor legacy. I don't know what challenges they will face in their time, but I do know they need to face those challenges with the greatest constitutional security and the soundest rule of fair and equal law available in the history of the world. And I don't want us to risk their losing that. . . .

We cannot allow the president of the United States to abuse his trust and the great authorities of his office. Not telling the truth about some transgressions will spawn bigger transgressions and they will spread like a cancer across America's character.

When those transgressions come from the presidency, only the Congress has the constitutional authority and the responsibility to provide a check and a balance and that can only be done through impeachment.

That is why we must hold the president accountable today. If we fail to do our duty for whatever reason, but most of all, for the reason that it is uncomfortable or unpleasant, then we will be responsible for the cancer spreading through the nation. It will create a sickness in the everyday lives of all Americans.

How will it appear? In contracts not honored. In a mother who loses custody of her children in a divorce court because the father lied under oath. In a business where the only witness to a vicious sexual harassment is given a new job and hushed up by a generous bonus. In a college where a grade is given for money. In our armed forces where a lack of integrity means people might die needlessly. In a family where the children can't tell the difference between a truth and a lie. . . .

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Livingston, you set before us today an example. It breaks our heart. . . . It confuses some of us. But the example is that principle comes before person. And it's an example we must all hold to ourselves. . . .

[T]his vote today is not about the character of a president. This vote is about the character of a nation. And Mr. Speaker, I intend to vote for the articles of impeachment. And I intend to vote for the rule of law. . . .

Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.): The argument made by the gentleman from Texas, the best argument that the majority has made thus far, focused on upholding the rule of law.

But a hallmark of rule of law is proportionality of punishment. If the president were caught, if any president were caught speeding at 100 miles per hour, he would have to be disciplined so that others would not feel that reckless speeding was permissible.

But we certainly would not use the political equivalent of capital punishment -- impeachment -- to discipline that president.

On the other hand, if the president accepted a bribe, there would be no doubt he should be impeached and all 435 of us would vote for it.

Lying under oath about an extramarital relationship requires significant punishment such as censure, but not the political version of capital punishment, impeachment.

My colleagues, the rule of law requires that the punishment fit the crime. Allow us to vote for censure, the appropriate punishment under rule of law. . . .

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.): The real division that troubles me today is not the division that will go along strictly party lines about how we will vote, but the division that strikes through the heart and the spirit of America. What we need to be doing is coming together, recognizing that today we have a clear choice to punish individual wrongdoing; that we could come together in censure and disapprove that wrongdoing, but we do not have to censure and punish America. . . .

'Politics of Personal Smear'

Rep. David E. Bonior (D-Mich.): [T]his House is shocked and saddened by the speaker-elect's announcement. Mr. Livingston is a respected member of this House who has served with distinction and dedication for over 20 years. Now we find ourselves in a destructive cycle that is eating away at our democracy.

The politics of personal smear is degrading the dignity of public office, and we must not let it continue. We must put an end to it. And the only way we will stop this vicious cycle is if we stand up and refuse to give in to it, whether it's Bill Clinton or Bob Livingston.

To the speaker-elect, I would say: This is your decision, the decision of your family, the decision of your conference. But for my own part, I would say you should not allow a campaign of cynicism and smear to force you to resign from office, and you should not have called on the president to resign.

What we do here today will have long-lasting consequences not just in this House, but for our Constitution, for our country, for our democracy. . . . What does a vote for impeachment really mean? It is a vote to nullify the most sacrosanct institution in any democracy, the ballot box. What the president did is wrong, and he should be held accountable, but the offenses he has committed do not rise to the historical standards of impeachment set by our Founding Fathers. We must not lower that standard today to suit the needs of angry partisans. We must not let them accomplish through impeachment what they could not do at the ballot box. They must not succeed.

Today we stand against those who would hijack an election and hound the president out of office against the will of the American people. The American people support this president's agenda, and they want us to move forward for better health care, for stronger schools, for retirement security for every American in this country.

A vote for impeachment today will only feed the corrosive and destructive politics of personal attack. It will prolong and escalate this whole sorry episode. . . . The American people sent a clear message this November. They want this president to continue to do the job they elected him to do, and yet this Congress is deliberately ignoring their will. Let me tell you, people are angry, and they are frustrated, and they are outraged and bewildered at what is happening here.

Six days before Christmas, our troops are in battle, and a lame-duck Congress is rushing to overthrow the commander-in-chief. This is surreal. The scenario reads like the plot of a cheap paperback novel, not the deliberations of history's greatest democracy. . . .

We've heard a lot of talk around here about "the rule of law," but these partisan proceedings have made a mockery of our constitutional process. Across the nation, they have been denounced as . . . a dreadful farce of partisan posturing, a soiling of the Constitution, a circus, a kangaroo court, an attempted coup.

Today we are offering a way out of this morass, and one last time we implore you: Do not use your power to block a motion to censure. Do not deny us the right to vote our conscience. Do not silence the voices of the American people. Do not let the politics of cynicism and smear prevail. Listen to the American people. Let us vote on censure, and let us bring America together again. . . .

Rep. Thomas M. Barrett (D-Wis.): I'm the junior member of the House Judiciary Committee. And when I walked in that room the first time, I honestly feel that we would be addressing this issue not as Democrats and Republicans, but as Americans. I was so naive, I didn't even think that we would be sitting along our normal spots as Democrats and Republicans. But I was wrong. But I entered that room with hope, and I want to leave today with hope, because I have tremendous confidence not only in this institution, but this country.

I begged from the first hearing on that we not allow this process to become what it's become, because I fear for this institution. We are consuming ourselves. We are lowering the respect for our democratic institutions in this country by what we are doing today. This is the great tragedy.

The tragedy of the loss of the presidency for Bill Clinton would be a personal loss. The tragedy of the loss of two speakers is a personal loss. But the greatest tragedy is if the young men and women in this country don't respect this government -- because if they don't respect this government, we all lose.

And that's why, Mr. Speaker, I tried time and time again to offer an olive branch, to say to my colleagues, "Please let us recognize that the president's actions were wrong, because they were very wrong. Let us recognize the gravity of what we are doing. Let us recognize that after he leaves office, he should remain accountable to appropriate criminal and civil remedies."

But Mr. Speaker, I begged that we move on because I could see no good coming from this for our country, and I stand here today and say if this process continues, we will continue to consume ourselves, and that is not good for this country.

So, Mr. Speaker, today I again offer the olive branch. For the sake of this institution, for the sake of this country, for the sake of our children, please let us work together.

This country will not accept a partisan solution to this problem. This country recognizes that the president's actions were wrong and he has to be held accountable, but they don't want us to tear ourselves apart.

When I talk to young people about entering government, I tell them, "Think of the worst thing you've ever done in your life. Don't tell me what it is. Now think about having it on the 10 o'clock news."

If that becomes more and more prevalent, what are we going to become? We're going to become a nation where people who have sins -- and every one of us is a sinner -- will be afraid to enter the ranks of public service. Is that what we want? Is that what we are coming to? I pray not, Mr. Speaker, for if that is what we are coming to, our country is in grave danger. . . .

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.): [T]oday is a very sad day for this House. This morning when I got up, I wanted to cry, but the tears would not come.

Before we cast this one little vote, we all should ask the question: Is this good for America?

Is this good for the American people? Is this good for this institution?

When I was growing up in rural Alabama during the '40s and the '50s, as a young child near a shotgun house where my aunt lived, one afternoon an unbelievable storm occurred. The winds started blowing. The rain fell on the tin-top roof of this house.

Lightning started flashing, thunder started rolling.

And my aunt asked us all to come into this house and to hold hands. And we held hands. . . .

We never left the house. The wind may blow. The thunder may roll. The lightning may flash.

But we must never leave the American House. We must stay together as a family -- one House, one family, the American House, the American family.

Public and Private Acts

Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.): My friends, those of us who are sinners must feel especially wretched today, losing Bob Livingston under such sad circumstances. One's self-esteem gets utterly crushed at times like this.

I think of a character in one of Tolstoy's novels who feels so crushed he asks God if he couldn't be useful in wiping something up or filling a hole or being a bad example.

But something is going on repeatedly that has to be stopped, and that is a confusion between private acts of infidelity and public acts.

Where as a government official, you raise your right hand and you ask God to witness to the truth of what you're saying, that's a public act.

Infidelity -- adultery -- is not a public act, it's a private act. And the government, the Congress, has no business intruding into private acts. But it is our business, it is our duty, to observe, to characterize public acts by public officials, and so I hope that confusion doesn't persist.

Now, the rule of law -- a phrase we've heard, along with "fairness" and "reprehensible" more often than not -- is in real danger today if we cheapen the oath, because justice depends upon the enforceability of the oath. I don't care what the subject matter is, if it's important enough to say, "I raise my right hand and swear by the Almighty God the testimony I'm about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" -- if it's solemn enough for that, it's solemn enough to enforce.

And when you have a serial violator of the oath who is the chief law enforcement officer of the country -- who appoints the judges and the Supreme Court, the attorney general -- we have a problem.

Now, you recognize that problem, because you want to censure him -- that is "impeachment lite." You want to censure him with no real consequences except as history chooses to impose them, but we suggest to you that censuring the president is not a function permitted in this chamber. Maybe across the Rotunda, where the sanctions of an impeached person are imposed -- that's another situation.

I daresay they are innovative and creative over there on Mount Olympus, but here we're confined by the strictures of the Constitution, which affords us one avenue -- and that is impeachment, impeachment.

There is a doctrine of separation of powers. We cannot punish the president, and yet a censure resolution, to be meaningful, has to at least harm his reputation, and we have no power to do that if we believe in the Constitution. And the Constitution did not enumerate for us a power of punishing the president. . . .

"No fact witness." I've heard that repeated again and again. Look, we had 60,000 pages of testimony from the grand jury, from depositions, from statements under oath. That's testimony that you can believe and accept, and we chose to believe it and accept. Why re-interview Betty Currie to take another sometime when we already had her statement? Why interview Monica Lewinsky when we had her statement under oath and with a grant of immunity that if she lied she would forfeit?

Now, if you didn't trust those people, if you didn't accept their credibility, you had the opportunity to call them and cross-examine them to your heart's content. But, no, you really didn't want to bring them in and cross-examine them, but you want to blame us for having no fact witnesses. I think that's a little, a little short of the mark.

"Lame duck"? The cry was, "Get this over with, get this behind us." We had an election, you pick up a few seats, and "lame duck" becomes the cry. Now, please, you know, be fair, be consistent.

Now, "equal protection of the law." That's what worries me about this whole thing. Any of you who have been victimized by injustice -- and you haven't lived till you have been sued by somebody and pushed to the wall, and turned to the government and the government's on the wrong side -- justice is so important to the most humble among us.

Equal justice under the law, that's what we're fighting for, and when the chief law enforcement officer trivializes, ignores, shreds, minimizes the sanctity of the oath, then justice is wounded, and you're wounded, and your children are wounded.

Follow your conscience, and you'll serve the country. . . .

'Slash-and-Burn Must End'

The Democrats then tried to send the impeachment resolution back to the Judiciary Committee, technically a motion to recommit, and require the committee to report back an amended resolution that calls for the censure of the president. Among those speaking in favor of recommitting was Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.):

I stood on this floor yesterday and implored all of us to say that the politics of slash-and-burn must end. I implored all of you that we must turn away from the politics of personal destruction and return to the politics of values.

It is with that same passion that I say to all of you today that the gentleman from Louisiana, Bob Livingston, is a worthy and good and honorable man.

I believe his decision to retire is a terrible capitulation to the negative forces that are consuming our political system and our country.

And I pray with all my heart that he will reconsider this decision.

Our founding fathers created a system of government of men, not of angels.

No one standing in this House today can pass a puritanical test of purity that some are demanding that our elected leaders take.

If we demand that mere mortals live up to this standard, we will see our seats of government lay empty, and we will see the best, most able people unfairly cast out of public service.

We need to stop destroying imperfect people at the altar of an unobtainable morality.

We need to start living up to the standards which the public, in its infinite wisdom, understands that imperfect people must strive towards, but too often fall short.

We are now rapidly descending into a politics where life imitates farce. Fratricide dominates our public debate, and America is held hostage with tactics of smear and fear.

Let all of us here today say no to resignation, no to impeachment, no to hatred, no to intolerance of each other, and no to vicious self-righteousness.

We need to start healing. We need to start binding up our wounds. We need to end this downward spiral which will culminate in the death of representative democracy.

I believe this healing can start today by changing the course we've begun.

This is exactly why we need this today to be bipartisan. This is why we ask the opportunity to vote on a bipartisan censure resolution, to begin the process of healing our nation and healing our people.

We are on the brink of the abyss. The only way we stop this insanity is through the force of our own will.

The only way we stop this spiral is for all of us to finally say "enough."

Let us step back from the abyss, and let's begin a new politics of respect and fairness and decency. . . .

After a brief debate, Speaker Pro Tem Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) ruled that the motion to recommit was not germane. His ruling was appealed and upheld by a vote of the House. The House then voted to impeach Clinton on two of four counts.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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