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Background: Partisanship in the Impeachment Process?

January 29, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: On the very day in September that volumes of Kenneth Starr’s report on his investigation of the president arrived on Capitol Hill, leaders of the House from both parties pledged to work together to achieve a non- partisan examination of the charges.

REP. HENRY HYDE, Chairman, Judiciary Committee: (September) We’re going to do our level best, as much as humanly possible, to work in a bipartisan fashion because we all agree any impeachment cannot skied unless it is done in a bipartisan or non-partisan way.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT, Minority Leader: We have to do it right. We have to do it objectively, fairly and in a non-partisan way.

REP. RICHARD ARMEY, Majority Leader: To any member who believes that is this is a time for partisan antics, more is the pity for you. You’ve lost the sense of the duty and the honor of this position you have.

REP. JOHN CONYERS, (D) Michigan: Can we– partisans, Republicans and Democrats, philosophies all over the place– can we really come together, set aside our political garments and really undertake to examine the facts?

KWAME HOLMAN: The first vote of the impeachment process indicated they could. On September 11th, two days after the Starr Report was sent to Congress, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved its immediate release to the public.

REP. NEWT GINGRICH: The yeas are 363. The nays are 63. The resolution is adopted. Motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.

KWAME HOLMAN: However, that would be both the first and last bipartisan vote for the remainder of the House impeachment process. A week later, following two days of raucous partisan debate, the House Judiciary Committee voted to release President Clinton’s videotaped grand jury testimony. That, and all the other votes that followed in the committee over the next three months, fell along strong party lines.

REP. BARNEY FRANK, (D) Massachusetts: There is a fear on the part of many who want to destroy Bill Clinton, who didn’t like the 1992 election, didn’t like the 1996 election and would like to undo it.

REP.JAMES ROGAN, (R) California: Time and time again, Republican members of this committee have offered specific allegations that can be pointed to in the record, and time and again my friends on the other side are complaining about the process, rather than addressing the issue.

REP. MAXINE WATERS, (D) California: I’m just saying to you, Mr. Chairman, you can’t half-step, you can’t half do it. Either you’re going to do it or you’re not going to do it.

REP. HENRY HYDE: Yeah, but we’ll do it our way, if you don’t mind.

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Ooh, that’s quite obvious. You’ve been very partisan on this. Thank you.

REP. HENRY HYDE: All time has expired.

KWAME HOLMAN: But evidence of partisanship went beyond the individual votes and statements by members. When Kenneth Starr completed his long day of testimony before the committee on the findings of his investigation, Republicans gave him a standing ovation. And a month later, moments before the full House approved two articles of impeachment in strong party-line votes, Democrats walked out of the capitol en masse to demonstrate their anger over not being allowed a vote on a motion to censure the president. After the president was impeached, House democrats surrounded him in a show of support at the White House — an act many Republicans condemned as highly inappropriate.

SEN. STROM THURMOND: The chair will be in order. The sergeant at arms will present the managers on the part of the House of Representatives.

KWAME HOLMAN: There were early indications the strong partisanship that so defined the impeachment process in the House would not carry over to the senate.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: Will all senators now stand and raise your right hand? Do you solemnly wear –

KWAME HOLMAN: Shortly after the articles of impeachment were delivered three weeks ago, each senator signed an oath pledging to render impartial justice. And the very next day, initial rules for conducting the impeachment trial were drawn up during an emotional, closed session in the historic Old Senate Chamber.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: The atmosphere was absolutely phenomenal. It was so positive you could just feel history in the room. The speeches were historic. They should have been recorded, every senator that spoke.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: The comity and the chemistry that was evident from the very beginning, I think, really was a tribute to each of the members of the Democratic and Republican caucuses.

KWAME HOLMAN: But then came six days during which House managers and the president’s defenders punched and counter-punched through their legal presentations.

SPOKESMAN: They’re a little like a black jack player who sees 20 on the table and has 19 and is going to try to draw that two, hoping against the odds. Here they’re simply gambling.

SPOKESMAN: Another part of poker is bluffs. And I don’t know whether they’re bluffing. I don’t know whether they’re serious about all the discovery that they need to have, but I know that lawyers do that sometimes to intimidate.

KWAME HOLMAN: Senators, who sat silently through it all, saved their reactions for the media, and the partisan splits began to show.

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT, (R) Utah: I was one who was skeptical about witnesses, have said so publicly and been quoted by many of you to that effect. As I go through this, I’m moving towards being in favor of the calling of witnesses.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD, (D) Connecticut: My hope is that there are still some members who will take this opportunity to end this national agony and bring this trial to an end.

KWAME HOLMAN: During votes this week, Democrats and Republicans divided sharply over whether to end the trial immediately or extend it by deposing witnesses. Senate leaders negotiated throughout the day yesterday in search of a bipartisan agreement on the issue of whether to videotape witnesses.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, if we’re talking about salacious material, material that has no place on the senate floor, I simply don’t think it’s appropriate in keeping with the dignity of these proceedings.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: The Democrats don’t want that to happen, and I don’t understand their alarm about that. It’s a option, which the senate would have to vote on.

KWAME HOLMAN: With their majorities in both Houses of congress, Republicans have been able to control the impeachment process each step of the way, but it’s the Democrats who control the ultimate outcome. They hold more than the 34 senate votes needed to keep the president in office and their votes this week are a sure indication they plan do just that.