TOPICS > Politics

Historical Vote

December 11, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: The House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach President Clinton today. The vote on the first of four articles was along party lines. Twenty-one Republicans voted yes, sixteen Democrats no. The article charged him with lying under oath before a federal grand jury. The committee acted less than 10 minutes after Mr. Clinton publicly apologized again for his behavior in the Monica Lewinsky matter. He spoke from the White House Rose garden.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: As anyone close to me knows, for months I have been grappling with how best to reconcile myself to the American people, to acknowledge my own wrongdoing and still to maintain my focus on the work of the presidency. Others are presenting my defense on the facts, the law, and the Constitution. Nothing I can say now can add to that. What I want the American people to know, what I want the Congress to know is that I am profoundly sorry for all I have done wrong in words and deeds. I never should have misled the country, the Congress, my friends or my family. Quite simply, I gave into my shame. I have been condemned by my accusers with harsh words. And while it’s hard to hear yourself called deceitful and manipulative, I remember Ben Franklin’s admonition that our critics are our friends, for they do show us our faults.

Mere words cannot fully express the profound remorse I feel for what our country is going through, and for what members of both parties in Congress are now forced to deal with. These past months have been a tortuous process of coming to terms with what I did. I understand that accountability demands consequences, and I’m prepared to accept them. Painful though the condemnation of the Congress would be, it would pale in comparison to the consequences of the pain I have caused my family. There is no greater agony. Like anyone who honestly faces the shame of wrongful conduct, I would give anything to go back and undo what I did.

But one of the painful truths I have to live with is the reality that that is simply not possible. An old and dear friend of mine recently sent me the wisdom of a poet, who wrote, “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on. Nor all your piety, nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line. Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.” So nothing — not piety, nor tears, nor wit, nor torment — can alter what I have done. I must make my peace with that. I must also be at peace with the fact that the public consequences of my actions are in the hands of the American people and their representatives in the Congress. Should they determine that my errors of word and deed require their rebuke and censure, I am ready to accept that.

Meanwhile, I will continue to do all I can to reclaim the trust of the American people and to serve them well. We must all return to the work, the vital work, of strengthening our nation for the new century. Our country has wonderful opportunities and daunting challenges ahead. I intend to seize those opportunities and meet those challenges with all the energy and ability, and strength God has given me. That is simply all I can do — the work of the American people. Thank you very much.

JIM LEHRER: Then a few minutes later, the House Judiciary Committee approved its first article of impeachment against the president. The vote followed some often-stormy debate. Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN: The House Judiciary Committee began its day by completing its unfinished business, allowing 10-minute statements from 12 members who didn’t get the chance to deliver them last night. Most read their statements calmly, but Democrat Robert Wexler made a boisterous appeal directly to the television audience.

REP. ROBERT WEXLER, (D) Florida: Wake up, America! They are about to impeach our president. They are about to reverse two national elections. They are about to discard your votes. So wake up, America! Our government is about to shut down. The public’s business will grind to a halt. The Senate, the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives will all be hostage to a process that never should have been triggered in the first place.

KWAME HOLMAN: Committee Chairman Henry Hyde reserved his time until the very end. He delivered a composed statement.

REP.HENRY HYDE: Now we seek impeachment, not conviction nor censure. Those are decisions for the other body, the Senate. We merely decide if there is enough for a trial. The accusatory body should not be the adjudicatory body. We are following a process wisely set down as a check and balance on executive overreaching, by our Founding Fathers. This vote says something about us. It answers the question, just who are we, and what do we stand for? Is the president one of us, or is he a sovereign? We vote for our honor, which is the only thing we get to take with us to the grave. I yield back the balance of my time.

KWAME HOLMAN: With that, the committee adjourned to allow Democrats and Republicans to plot strategies for the debate and votes on the four articles of impeachment of the president. One later hour, they reconvened.

REP. HENRY HYDE: The committee will come to order. As to Article I, are there any amendments to Article I?

KWAME HOLMAN: The first article of impeachment drafted by the Republican majority charges President Clinton “willfully provided perjurious, false, and misleading testimony to the grand jury last August 17th.”

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D) New York: Mr. Chairman, point of information.

REP. HENRY HYDE: Who is — who seeks a point of information?

STAFF: Nadler.

REP. HENRY HYDE: Mr. Nadler.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Yes. Mr. Chairman, my question is that this Article I that we’re discussing now alleges that the president committed perjury. It is basic that we should be told before voting the specific words that are alleged to be perjurious. Could we have that — could we have those words, please, so that we can discuss them as to whether they are perjurious and so that the Senate, should these — should this article, God forbid, pass the House, so that the Senate will know what the allegation is, and the defense attorneys will know what they must defend against?

KWAME HOLMAN: That request by New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler triggered a long procedural debate – evidence of the fact the committee was entering territory it hadn’t visited for almost 25 years.

REP. HENRY HYDE: I can only refer you to Mr. Schippers’ report yesterday discussing this, and I’ll try to get a copy of it and re- read it to you.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Mr. Chairman, there are four specific points here; for each one of them we should list, in a committee document, what the allegedly perjurious words are. Failing that, there is no due process and, I think, no ability to vote intelligently or to discuss intelligently, this Article.

REP. HENRY HYDE: The words were set out in detail in the presentation yesterday –

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Then you ought to be able to tell me what they are.

REP. HENRY HYDE: Well, I’m looking for a copy. My copy — I didn’t commit them to memory; I’m not quite that acute and I’m waiting for somebody -

REP. NADLER: I mean, Mr. Chairman, I must –

REP. HENRY HYDE: Well, we know your question; we’re trying to find the answer, now. Just somebody here on our staff has an answer.


REP. HENRY HYDE: The gentleman from Wisconsin.

REP. F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER: Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the Article of Impeachment.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Wait a second! Wait a minute. Mr. Chairman, point of order!

REP. HENRY HYDE: These articles were drafted exactly as they were in the Nixon situation, and they’re not a bill of particulars, they’re articles of impeachment.

REP. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D) New York: Mr. Chairman, we are not dealing here with — beanbag; this is one of the most serious things this committee has undertaken. I, for one, while I have read the article, I don’t know which specific statements it is alleged that the president made that are perjurious. I have read and listened to Mr. Schippers’ statement yesterday -

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN ONE: Mr. Chairman, respectively –

UNDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN TWO: A point of order, Mr. Chairman.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN ONE: — I rise to a point of order. CONGRESSMAN: The gentleman has not stated a unanimous-consent request.

REP. CHARLES SCHUMER: My unanimous-consent request, which I will make directly in the form of a request, is this: that before we begin debating these momentous articles that either the chair, the author, or Mr. Schippers or the clerk, outline for us what explicit statements are stated to be or believed to be, by the author and supporters of this article — as perjurious. That is my unanimous-consent request. And I don’t see, frankly, how in good conscience we can vote on these articles and present them to the full body, and present them to the American people, without explicitly knowing -

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Reserving the right to object.


REP. BARNEY FRANK, (D) Massachusetts: I think it’s just been made very clear how flawed this article is. I reread the presentation from Mr. Schippers. It is impossible to tell from that presentation what specific fact allegations are being challenged as perjury. And I do not think it is a result of incompetent draftsmanship; I think it is a decision. It was a conscious decision, on the one article that they think has the most serious chance of driving impeachment home, to vacillate and confuse and not to be specific because they do not believe that the specifics would justify impeachment. Where the president touched her, after he acknowledged having sex, whether it started in November or February, those are not issues on which people think you undo two democratic elections and throw an elected official out of office.

KWAME HOLMAN: Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner tried to answer Democrats by quoting directly from President Clinton’s grand jury testimony.

REP. F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER: Page 92, when he was asked whether “oral sex performed on you was within the definition as you understood it,” the president replied, “As I understood it, it was not, no.”

KWAME HOLMAN: Georgia Republican Bob Barr joined the debate and, citing legal guidelines, claimed the president’s actual statements are not required to be included in the article of impeachment.

REP. BOB BARR: The nature of what we’re doing here is similar to the drafting up of an indictment — not precisely, but similar to. Yet the criminal rules themselves provide for what is called a bill of particulars. Were an indictment, which is what the other side is alleged and we are basically doing here, deemed to have to include every single element of every single allegation that will support the criminal charges alleged against the defendant, then there would be no need in the criminal rules for a bill of particulars. What they are seeking to do is to limit in advance what the Senate can do. They are trying to tie the hands of the Senate. That is improper. That was not done in any prior impeachment proceedings. It is not done in criminal proceedings. They are simply trying the maneuver their way, anticipating that this does go to the Senate, to limit arbitrarily the data and the evidence, and, therefore, the charges on which the president can be tried.

REP. HENRY HYDE: Ms. Waters.

REP. MAXINE WATERS, (D) California: Let me just tell you, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, I don’t think you want history to record that you voted on something and you don’t know what you’re voting on. I don’t think you want, 20 years from now or 30 years from now, someone to pick up this article that in a very general way talks about perjury, and the historians cannot identify the words that were taken down that were perjurious. I just don’t think you want that.

REP. HENRY HYDE: The gentleman from California, Mr. Rogan.

REP. JAMES E. ROGAN (R) California: The point I wanted to make, Mr. Chairman, is that once again, we are treated to the spectacle of a debate solely over procedure and never about disputing the facts of the case. We are here now debating Articles of Impeachment, article number one, the question before us, “Did the president commit perjury?” And 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.

KWAME HOLMAN: After three hours of debating the issue, Chairman Hyde dismissed Democrats’ complaints without a vote. Late this afternoon, however, the House Judiciary Committee did vote on the first of four articles of impeachment of President Clinton.

CLERK: Mr. Canady.


CLERK: Mr. Wexler.


CLERK: Mr. Wexler votes no.

CLERK: Mr. Rothman.


CLERK: Mr. Chairman, there are 21 ayes and 16 noes.

REP. HENRY HYDE: And Article I is agreed to.