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Dec. 18: Richard Gephardt Opening Statement

By the Associated Press
Friday, December 18, 1998

Text of remarks by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., during the House debate on articles of impeachment against President Clinton Friday, as transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House:

Mr. Speaker and members of the House of Representatives, this vote today is taking place on the wrong day, and we are doing it in the wrong way.

I am disappointed and I am saddened by the actions of the majority in both the timing and in the method that we are considering the most important act that the Constitution asks us to perform.

The actions of the majority, in my view, show a lack of common sense and decency and is not befitting of our beloved House. As I said yesterday, when our young soldiers, men and women, are in harm's way.

We should not be debating and considering and talking about removing our commander-in-chief. If we believed that this would go on for days and days, I could understand the decision to go forward today. I do not believe it will go on for days and days. And I believe that we send the wrong message to Saddam Hussein and to the British and to the Chinese and to the Russians to be on the floor of this House today when we could be here Sunday or Monday or Tuesday.

I guess I'm worried also that some of us don't want to be inconvenienced. Our young people are inconvenienced today who are in the Persian Gulf. They're being shot at and they stand in danger. And with all my heart, I believe the least we could do is postpone this debate to a different day.

But I know I've lost that debate, and the decision has been made. We are here. Let me address the way this is being done. But before I do that, I want to say something else.

The events of the last days sadden me. We are now at the height of a cycle of the politics of negative attacks, character assassination, personal smears of good people, decent people, worthy people. It's no wonder to me and to you that the people of our country are cynical and indifferent and apathetic about our government and about our country. The politics of smear and slash and burn must end.

This House and this country must be based on certain basic values: respect, trust, fairness, forgiveness.

We can take an important step today back to the politics of respect and trust and fairness and forgiveness.

Let me talk about the way we are doing this and how that can be that first step.

We have articles of impeachment on the floor of this house. This is the most radical act that is called for in our Constitution. In this debate, we are being denied a vote as an alternative to impeachment for censure and condemnation of our president for the wrongful acts that we believe have been performed.

We all say that this is a vote of conscience. You get to vote your vote of conscience, and I respect that right. All we're asking for is that we get to vote our conscience.

And it's not just our conscience. It's the conscience of millions of Americans who share this view. I know what you say, you say that the Constitution does not allow this vote of censure.

Constitutional scholars in the hundreds, some of the most respected conservative constitutional scholars have opined in the days before in the committee and through articles and through speeches that in their view the Constitution does allow this vote; that the Constitution is silent on this question of what else we can do; that the Constitution in no way prevents us from doing this.

What do I conclude? I can only conclude that you don't want our members to have this choice. I can only conclude that some are afraid of this vote. I can only conclude that this may be about winning a vote, not about high-minded ideals.

Let me, if I can, go back to the values -- respect, fairness, trust, forgiveness. We need today to begin, in the way we do this, to practice a different kind of politics.

We need to stand today as a unified body, Republicans and Democrats, liberals, moderates, conservatives, rejecting raw, naked partisanship and putting in its place a politics of trust and respect and decency and values.

We need to turn away from extremism and inquisition and return to a sense of moderation in our political system. We are considering articles of impeachment that allege an abuse of power. We have an obligation not to abuse our power.

We need to turn back -- we have another chance -- the chance is still there -- before our nation and our democracy have become an inalterably and permanently degraded and lowered.

The great judge Learned Hand once said that no court can save a society so riven that the spirit of moderation is gone. Today, I believe the majority is pursuing a path of immoderation, disregarding even a consideration of the wishes of a vast majority of the American people regarding penalizing this president with censure and not impeachment.

In the book of Isaiah in the Bible it was said "judgment is turned away backward and justice stands far off." I ask the majority one last time to reconsider what you are doing.

We are deeply offended in all sincerity from my heart -- we are deeply offended by the unfairness of this process. You are asking us to consider the most important act the Constitution calls on us to do. We are considering overturning the free choice and vote of over almost 50 million Americans. We are considering the most radical act our Constitution allows. We are considering changing the balance of power and the proportionality of the branches of our government.

You are doing this in a way that denies millions of Americans the trust and respect for our views that we afford to you and that we feel we deserve and our Constitution guarantees. In your effort to uphold the Constitution, you are trampling the Constitution.

In Lincoln's Gettysburg Address he prayed this prayer, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, should not perish from this earth.

I pray today that you will open up this people's House and let the people's voice come in and let fairness reign.

Thank you.


© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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