December 19, 1998
Speaker-Elect Rep. Bob Livingston announced his resignation during the House debate on articles of impeachment against President Clinton. Shields and Gigot discuss the implications.
Mr. Speaker, I rise with the fondest hopes that the bitterness engendered in this debate will at its conclusion be put aside and that all members will return to their families for the holidays mindful of what has been done here by we as agents of principle.
We have fulfilled our duty to our magnificent Constitution. Yes, our young men and women in the uniformed armed services have in these last few days, set about the task of ridding the earth of the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands an enemy of civilization, Saddam Hussein. And they have performed their tasks with valor and fortitude and that we may freely engage in this most unpleasant aspect of self-government, as was envisioned by our forefathers.
I very much regret the enmity and the hostility that has been bred in the halls of Congress for the last months and year. I want so very much to pacify and cool our raging tempers and return to an era when differences were confined to the debate; to not a personal attack or assassination of character.
I am proud to serve in this institution. And I respect every member of this body. Each of us stands here because a majority of roughly 600,000 people had the confidence to vest us with this authority to act as their agents in a representative democracy.
When given the chance, we often find that aside from political and partisan differences, we have much in common with one another. But we never discover what that common ground may be with the gulf between the sides of this narrow aisle.
The debate has done nothing to bring us together, and I greatly regret that it has become quite literally the opening gambit of the intended Livingston speakership. I most certainly would have written a different scenario, had I had the chance.
But we are all pawns from the chess board and we're playing our parts in a drama that is neither fiction nor unimportant. Indeed, it is of utmost significance in the course of American history. And my desire to create an environment for healing must take lesser precedence then must the search for responsibility, duty and justice within the format provided by the U.S. Constitution.
I believe we are in active pursuit of these goals. And I give great credit to Chairman Hyde and Mr. Conyers and Mr. Tom Mooney and all the members and staff, majority and minority, of the judiciary committee for their deliberate and conscientious effort on this most difficult task. We are nearing completion and however the vote turns out, no one may say that we did not own up to our constitutional responsibility, as members of Congress in a careful, respectful, and insightful debate. Much credit is due our presiding officer, Ray LaHood, who's done an outstanding job.
Ladies and gentlemen, we differ on process. The minority believes that we acted too hastily in view of the troops in the field, and that we omitted an alternative from the options available for consideration. We in the majority believe we have properly begun the debate, after setting aside a whole day to honor and praise our troops in the effort that they are extending on our behalf. General Schwarzkopf, the commander of the troops in Iraq several years ago, agreed with us on the Brian Williams show on MSNBC just two nights ago.
We believe, we believe that the constitution envisioned that censure not be a part of the debate on whether or not to impeach the president. And we are supported there by comments by then majority leader Tip O'Neill during the Nixon impeachment proceedings. So there are differences in process. What about substance? The minority has maintained that the president has not perjured himself, and that even if he did, such perjury was not intended within the term high crimes and misdemeanors delineated in Article II, Section 4 our Constitution.
Surely, no president has been impeached for perjury, but at least three federal judges have been impeached and convicted under the perjury statutes. And so, perjury, a felony punishable by up to five years in the penitentiary, is a crime for which the president may be held accountable, no matter the circumstances.
Perjury is a felony, as I've said, and fully 116 people are serving time in federal prison, as we speak, for perjury today. And yes, there have been several instances of people going to prison following convictions for perjury involving lies under oath under sexual circumstances.
The average citizen knows that he or she must not lie under oath. Ms. Christine Simms (phonetic spelling) of Rockville, Md., wrote to the Judiciary Committee just two weeks ago and said, and I quote, "I, too, was called upon to give answers under oath in interrogatories during a civil proceeding. Truthful answers to those questions would be embarrassing to me and what I knew exposed me to criticism and had a potential to ruin my life, particularly as it related to my children, whom I love very much. In short, I was scared to tell the truth. However, I did just that."
"I could not lie when I was sworn to tell the truth, no matter what the risks, nor the degree of temptation to take the easy way out. Parts of my life have been difficult since that time because elements of that testimony have been used to scorn me. But, I, as a common citizen was compelled by my conscience to tell the truth." End quote.
Yes, our nation is founded on law, and not on the whim of man. We are not ruled by kings or emperors, and there is no divine right of presidents. A president is an ordinary citizen vested with the power to govern and sworn to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Inherit in that oath is a responsibility to live within its laws, with no higher or lower expectations than the average citizen, just like Ms. Simms. When the president appeared at the deposition of Ms. Jones and secondly before the federal grand jury, he was sworn to a second oath -- to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God.
This, according to witnesses, to the Judiciary Committee and before the special counsel, he did not do. For this I will vote to impeach the president of the United States and ask this case be considered by the United States Senate and that other body of this great Congress uphold their responsibility to render justice on these most serious charges.
But to the president, I would say, sir you have done great damage to this nation over this past year and while your defenders are contending that further impeachment proceedings would only protract and exacerbate the damage to this country, I say that you have the power to terminate that damage and heal the wounds that you have created.
You sir, may resign your post.
I can only challenge you in such fashion that I am willing to heed my own words. To my colleagues, my friends and most especially my wife and family, I have hurt you all deeply and I beg your forgiveness.
I was prepared to lead our narrow majority as speaker, and I believe I had it in me to do a fine job. But I cannot do that job or be the kind of leader that I would like to be under current circumstances.
So I must set the example that I hope President Clinton will follow. I will not stand for speaker of the House on January 6th, but rather I shall remain as a backbencher in this Congress that I so dearly love for approximately six months into the 106th Congress, whereupon I shall vacate my seat and ask my governor to call a special election to take my place.
I thank my constituents for the opportunity to serve them. I hope they will not think badly of me for leaving. I thank Alan Martin, my chief of staff, and all of my staff for their tireless work on my behalf.
And I thank my wife most especially for standing by me. I love her very much.
God bless America.