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Dec. 10 Opening Statements: Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.)

  • More Transcripts From the Hearings

  • By Federal News Service
    Thursday, December 10, 1998

    REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): This is a sad day in our nation's history. Unfortunately, it seems to be one more day in a long, sad season. We have finally reached the logical conclusion of what happens when a legislative chamber is obsessively preoccupied with investigating the opposition rather than legislating for the people who elected them to office.

    We now consider removing the president of the United States from the office to which he was twice elected and barring him from ever holding office again for misconduct that is hardly a high crime or misdemeanor. For more than 200 years, a directly elected chief executive has been one of the great distinctions between our wonderful country and parliamentary democracies. That is why, unlike so many other countries, we don't have a rapid succession of governments, one after another, as votes of no confidence drive out prime ministers who hardly have time to govern before they must stand for re-election.

    Our system of government and its stability has contributed to our success. But this system needs checks and balances. The founders were well aware of the tyranny of the crown, so they established a legislative safety valve against a tyrannical executive, a process of impeachment by which they could remove the president if his conduct subverted the government.

    The founders designed this safety valve for abuses so grave that, in Ben Franklin's words, they suggested assassination as the remedy. Impeachment was our founders' civilized substitute. That may explain why, after more than two centuries' experience in this novel democratic experiment, the United States of America, not a single president has been impeached and convicted.

    The people's will must not be overridden by those who claim to know better, by those who believe they know what is best for the American people. The people's will may only be overridden and the government overthrown when the acts of the chief executive truly threaten our democratic institutions with injury to the state and to the people; in other words, when the threat the president poses is so great that we can't wait until the next election to remove him.

    A vote to impeach, therefore, must not merely pass the buck to the Senate for the real trial of the matter. A vote to impeach must be treated for what it is, a vote to remove the president. No one should consider it permissible to vote if he is not prepared to make the case that the president should be removed, not just tried. And no such case has been made here.

    We have heard much of the seriousness with which our courts must take the issue of perjury. No one questions that perjury is wrong, illegal, and a problem in our judicial system. But alleged acts of perjury by the president in private, nongovernmental civil litigation and covering up afterwards, as terrible as that is, does not threaten our democratic system or compromise our country's vital interests.

    Do not misunderstand. I do not condone the president's misbehavior. I'm only saying that impeachment is not the remedy for the president's misconduct, even if criminal. For that alleged criminal misconduct, we have courts. Indeed, the course of action the majority proposes here punishes the nation rather than the president.

    Under President Clinton's leadership, our country has prospered. But we still have serious matters to deal with, including public education, Social Security, Medicare, and abuses by HMOs. We've had foreign policy success, but we still face challenges abroad, including the continuing financial and business crisis in Asian countries that has already been felt there, and may get worse.

    The impeachment process may compromise our ability to deal with these problems. If the House adopts articles of impeachment, all three branches of government will be gridlocked in a Senate trial for as long as a year. The bipartisan action and cooperation needed to deal with America's problems would be drowned by this process while our people's needs are ignored.

    Impeachment of President Clinton, even if it does not result in conviction in the Senate, will weaken the executive branch of government and further divide this nation. We have no precedent nor evidence that justifies placing this nation at such risk.

    Today I take my solace not in what we are about to do but in my belief that the American people get it. No, not every person knows the specific constitutional provisions at issue, but they know their government. They know what's important. They know the president they elected. They know what he's done. They know he's behaved badly. But they don't want him removed from office. They want him censured. It's that simple.

    Like the Constitution that established this government, the American people value freedom and despise tyranny. We have impeachment to correct the tyranny of the executive department. But what remedy do we have for legislative tyranny? Only this: The two- year terms we serve and the electoral accountability at the end of that term. For those who are out to get the president, shame on you. But beware: Next election, the voters will be out to get you.

    How did we get to this point? Our president behaved badly and irresponsibility in his affair with Ms. Lewinsky. But his irresponsibility does not license us to act irresponsibly, to fail to adhere to our own oaths to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

    Like the Republicans who voted for impeachment in 1974, I would vote to impeach if the acts at issue here threatened our democracy. But in the absence of evidence that President Clinton committed acts that threaten the continuation of our democracy and its institutions, it is my clear constitutional duty, pursuant to my own oath of office, to oppose these reckless efforts to impeach the president.

    And I yield back the balance of my time.

    REP. HYDE: I thank the gentlelady. The gentleman from Indiana, Mr. Buyer.


    Copyright © 1998 by Federal News Service, Inc. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's original duties. Transcripts of other events may be found at the Federal News Service Web site, located at

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