October 8, 1998
JIM LEHRER: The House vote to launch an impeachment inquiry of President Clinton. Kwame Holman begins our coverage.
KWAME HOLMAN: Originally, only one hour was set aside in the House to debate whether to authorize an impeachment inquiry into the conduct of the president. Had all 435 House members wanted to speak, each would have about 9 seconds to do so. Well aware Democrats were likely to make the one-hour limit an issue throughout the debate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde preempted them.
REP. HENRY HYDE: Mr. Speaker, while the normal procedure grants one hour's debate on a privileged resolution, I propose doubling that time.
KWAME HOLMAN: The committee's ranking Democrat, John Conyers, gladly took the extra hour, and then asked for more.
REP. JOHN CONYERS: I understand the exigencies of the moment, but I have enormous pressure being put upon the ranking member for members to merely have a chance to get a brief expression on this historic occasion.
KWAME HOLMAN: But two hours was all Conyers was going to get.
REP. HENRY HYDE: I'm fearful that there would be several objectors to that, and so I am constrained to offer the extra hour only and not go beyond that.
KWAME HOLMAN: With the rules established, those members who did get to speak launched into a passionate debate during which President Clinton, independent counsel Kenneth Starr, Speaker Newt Gingrich, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, all came under attack.
REP. TOM DeLAY, Majority Whip: Mr. Speaker, I don't want to be here today. I wish I could just ignore all of this and make it go away. But I have a responsibility to answer a question today.
KWAME HOLMAN: As to whether there should be an impeachment inquiry, Republicans were in unanimous agreement.
REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, (R) Wisconsin: If the House votes down this inquiry, in effect, it will say that even if President Clinton committed as many as 15 felonies, nothing will happen. The result will be a return to the imperial presidency of the Nixon era, where the White House felt that the laws should not apply to them, since they never would be punished. That would be a national tragedy of immense consequences.
REP. BOB BARR, (R) Georgia: All we are doing today is taking the constitutionally equivalent step of impaneling a grand jury to inquire into whether or not the evidence shall sustain that offenses have, in fact, occurred.
REP. BILL MC COLLUM, (R) Florida: If we leave this president alone, if he committed these crimes, then we have undermined our Constitution, and we have undermined our system of justice.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, (R) Florida: With a commitment to the principles of the rule of law, which makes this country the beacon of hope for political refugees like myself throughout the world, I cast my vote in favor of the resolution to undertake an impeachment inquiry of the conduct of the President of the United States.
KWAME HOLMAN: There also was a solid core of Democrats who said no inquiry was warranted.
REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D) Florida: The global economy is crumbling, and we're talking about Monica Lewinsky. Saddam Hussein hides weapons, and we're talking about Monica Lewinsky. Genocide wracks Kosovo, and we're talking about Monica Lewinsky.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) California: You, Mr. Speaker , were charged with and admitted to lying under oath to the Ethics Committee about the conduct of your political affairs. How inconsistent, then, Mr. Speaker, for this same Republican majority to move to an impeachment inquiry of the president for lying about his personal life. Our Republican majority have said lying under oath is a dagger in the heart of the legal system. We all agree that lying is wrong. But why the double standard?
REP. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D) New York: The president has to be held to a higher standard and must be held accountable. But high crimes and misdemeanors - as defined in the Constitution - and as amplified by the Federalist Papers and Justice Story -- have always been intended to apply to public actions relating to or affecting the operation of the government, not to personal or private conduct. That said, the lying about an improper sexual relationship should fit the crime. Censure or rebuke is the appropriate punishment; impeachment is not.
KWAME HOLMAN: With Republicans in the majority and a number of Democrats agreeing with them, approval of an impeachment inquiry was a foregone conclusion. Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher took the floor to present a Democratic alternative that would limit the scope and length of any inquiry.
REP. RICK BOUCHER, (D) Virginia: Under the resolution that we are putting forth, the committee will begin its work on the 12th day of October - that's next Monday - and will conclude all proceedings, including the consideration of recommendations during the month of December. There would then be ample time for the House of Representatives to consider those recommendations and conclude its work by the end of this year.
KWAME HOLMAN: Most Democrats supported Boucher's resolution.
REP. JAMES TRAFICANT, (D) Ohio: I'm going to support an inquiry today, but I'm not going to support an extended soap opera, ladies and gentleman. And I want to say this: What the Congress of the United States, the House has before us today is an 11-count indictment. We should be able to act on the predicate of that substance by the end of our terms. Kenneth Starr submitted it to the 105th Congress, not to a future Congress.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Republican resolution sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde calls for an open-ended inquiry, even though Hyde pledged to work expeditiously.
REP. HENRY HYDE: I don't want this to go one day longer than it has to. Believe me, this is very painful, and I want it ended. We're not going to go on and on and on.
KWAME HOLMAN: And Republican said it was critical any inquiry be open-ended.
REP. STEVE CHABOT, (R) Ohio: Consider the facts at hand and fulfill our constitutional responsibilities by moving forward with a fair and thorough investigation of this important matter.
KWAME HOLMAN: Debate over the length of any impeachment inquiry dominated the session.
REP. STEVE ROTHMAN, (D) New Jersey: The Republicans say that they won't be limited to the four and a half year investigation by Mr. Starr. They feel that Mr. Starr was too light on President Clinton, and so they want an impeachment inquiry not only limited to Mr. Starr's charges regarding Ms. Lewinsky but any other charges anyone can come up with on any subject, at any time, and with no time limit. And they want the American people to pay for it.
REP. GREG GANSKE, (R) Iowa: A time limit is not the way to go on this resolution. Yes. I'm tired of hearing about the president's indiscretions. I've had a hard time explaining this to my 10-year-old son. But, you know, when I think about - and it will be a stressful time for us - but when I think about the stressful times that our country has gone through in the American Revolution, the Civil War, the World War II -- the world wars, the Great Depression, I think it would be a shame for us to shirk our duty.
KWAME HOLMAN: Even though that was the Republican position, 31 Democrats ultimately would support it, including freshman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH, (D) Ohio: Let the president make his case. Give him a chance to clear his name and get back to his job. Bring everything out into the open. Bring forward the accusers and subject them to the light of day. Settle this and then move forward to do the business of the people, the business for which the people elected us, to further economic growth, to protect Social Security, to improve health care, and to meet all the other pressing needs of the American people.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Republican proposal for an open-ended inquiry, unlimited in scope, was approved by a vote of 258 to 176. Late this afternoon at the White House, the president spoke briefly about the historic House vote.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: First of all, First of all, I hope that we can now move forward with this process in a way that is fair, that is constitutional and that is timely -- the American people have been through a lot on this and I think that everyone deserves that. Beyond that, I have nothing to say. It is not in my hands, it is in the hands of Congress and the people of this country -- ultimately, in the hands of God, there is nothing I can do. Personally, I am fine. I have surrendered this. This is beyond my control. I have to work on what I can do. What I can do is to do my job for the American people. I trust the American people -- they almost always get it right and have for 220 years.
KWAME HOLMAN: The House Judiciary Committee will begin its impeachment inquiry in earnest after the November election.