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KWAME HOLMAN: As of early this evening, debate on the four articles of impeachment against President Clinton is set to begin tomorrow morning. How long that debate will last and when votes on those articles will take place, however, still is in question. The issue was complicated today by a partisan dispute involving a parliamentary device known as a “unanimous consent request.”
REP. RICHARD ARMEY, Majority Leader: Had we been able to come to agreement on unanimous consent, we would have been able to proceed tomorrow at 10 o’clock, debate the resolution from 10 o’clock to 4 o’clock Saturday morning, giving all members an opportunity to express their point of view on the matter.
KWAME HOLMAN: But because the impeachment articles are brought to the floor in the form of a so-called “privileged resolution,” House rules limit debate to one hour unless members give their unanimous consent to extend debate. And this afternoon Democrats refused. In fact, they don’t want the impeachment debate to begin tomorrow at all.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT, Minority Leader: We strongly object to this matter coming up tomorrow or the next day or any day in which our young men and women in the military are in harm’s way, protecting the interests of the people of the United States. I would simply say the reason we believe that and we believe it strongly is that we think we must think not only of how this activity will be received by members or other Americans around the country. We believe we’ve got to also look at how Saddam Hussein will perceive the idea and the information that while he is under physical attack by the United States and its people, we are having a debate in our House of Representatives to remove the commander-in-chief from his office.
KWAME HOLMAN: But incoming speaker of the House Bob Livingston argued impeachment should not be delayed.
REP. BOB LIVINGSTON, Speaker of the House-Designate: Do we just anticipate that the troops in the field will complete their business by Ramadan or by a time certain, or by Tuesday, or by Christmas Day, or by New Year’s Day, or by two weeks into January? How do we assess when that mission is going to be complete? There’s no way to know when the troops will have completed their mission. There’s no way to know whether or not Saddam Hussein in his mindless self-absorption decides to lash out at American troops, at British troops, at Kuwait, at his neighbors anywhere in the Middle East. We can’t anticipate what Saddam Hussein will do, and yet, we cannot refrain from advancing the people’s business under this critical issue.
KWAME HOLMAN: Livingston reminded Democrats that when the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon, the United States had troops on the ground in Vietnam.
REP. BOB LIVINGSTON: And, yet, the Democrat Congress at the time undertook the responsibility of impeaching Richard Nixon, but he resigned.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republican leaders backed up their argument with the support of several of their members who are veterans of foreign wars.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER, (R) California: You know, there’s one term, I think, that is common to both this House and to our military, and that term is duty. We refer to it often, and it’s clear now that our uniformed people are carrying out their duty in difficult circumstances to defend the liberties and the security of this country. They’re doing that so that we can perform our duty. And our duty is to carry out the Constitution.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Minority Whip David Bonior said there was another reason Democrats were blocking the Republicans’ proposed rules of debate.
REP. DAVID BONIOR, Minority Whip: And that is the inability of this side of the aisle to have the chance to offer a reasonable alternative, a censure alternative, which the majority of Americans now support. It is unfair, it is wrong, there is something about this whole process that shows a lack of judgment, a lack of proportionality, a lack of common sense. We have time to reach some resolution on these important questions before we engage in the debate. But I think it behooves us all to take a step back, to take a deep breath. My goodness, if Bob Dole and Gerry Ford could offer a way out of this mess, through the censure resolution, why can’t we have that choice on the floor?
KWAME HOLMAN: Republican leaders adjourned the House this afternoon without an agreement on the length of the debate. But, afterwards, Speaker-Designate Livingston said he intends to make sure there is what he calls “extended debate” tomorrow, even if Republicans have to use other parliamentary maneuvers to ensure it.