As there is talk on impeachment in the next Congress, we recall that twenty years ago, the Congress of the United States impeached a president for the second time in history.
The first time Congress impeached an American President was Andrew Johnson in 1868. Johnson succeeded the presidency after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. A former Democrat, he was severely disliked and unpopular among the Republican leaders in Congress.
Johnson survived a guilty verdict by just a single vote at the end of his trial.
The deciding vote belonged to Senator Edmund Ross of Kansas. By all accounts Ross was firmly in the camp of those wanting to impeach Johnson and changed his mind for reasons only known to him. Ross would later lose his re-election campaign and blamed his deciding vote for the derailment of his political career.
Even to this day, historians debate fiercely about why Ross changed his vote at the 11th hour. Some believe that there’s enough evidence to suggest Ross was bribed a sum of 150,000 dollars by pro-Johnson supporters (an enormous amount of money at the time)
Others believe – like John f. Kennedy wrote in his book “Profiles in Courage,” that Ross felt the impeachment to be unconstitutional and immoral. Kennedy portrays Ross as a noble hero standing up to the mob justice of a bitter and radical congress.
Whether or not it was just simple greed or he was following his conscience, Ross’s vote would allow Johnson to narrowly escape the ignoble distinction of being the only American president to be impeached and found guilty by the Senate.
Is the third coming up in 2019?
Last week marked the 20th year anniversary of the second time the American congress impeached a sitting president. The Bill Clinton Impeachment. The charges were perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from President Bill Clinton’s involvement with Monica Lewinsky an intern at the White House. Mr. Clinton had said under oath that he had not had sex with her, but DNA evidence had proved that to be incorrect.
There was last-minute maneuvering around the impeachment vote that month. About a week prior to the vote, President Clinton had asked Congress to censure him. The Democrats agreed and put forth a censure resolution that said in part that Mr. Clinton had “egregiously failed” his Constitutional oath, “violated the trust of the American people, ” and “dishonored the office which they have entrusted to him.”
The Republicans thought that a censure was too lenient and moved toward impeachment. During that month several Republicans were exposed as adulterers. These included the probable incoming Speaker Bob Livingston, Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, Dan Burton of Indiana and Henry Hyde of Illinois. This allowed Clinton partisans to claim that the impeachment drive was all about sex and was led by hypocrites.
The impeachment vote itself was delayed because on December 16, 1998 President Clinton had ordered a bombing attack on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq that lasted until December 19. Our justification for the bombing was Iraq’s noncompliance with UN resolutions. Critics of President Clinton expressed concern that the bombing was a deliberate distraction from the impeachment trial. Henry Kissinger’s complaint was that the bombing did not go far enough saying, “I would be amazed if a three-day campaign made a decisive difference.”
On the day that Mr. Clinton was impeached, Vice President Al Gore said: “This is the saddest day I have seen in our nation’s capital.” He said that history would regard Clinton “as one of our greatest presidents.”
In February, the Senate acquitted President Clinton. After he lost the presidential election to George W. Bush two years later, Mr. Gore in a heated exchange reportedly told Mr. Clinton that Mr. Clinton’s flawed character had been the basis of his failure to win the White House. (See photo of the Clintons and the Gores in happier times.)
How will the impeachment of President Clinton be looked upon in the distant future, say 2100?
• The impeachment will not be seen as a big deal in American history. In our own time it was quickly overshadowed by the tumultuous ending of the 2000 election, the Iraq war, and the rise of Barack Obama and then the rise of Donald J Trump. It may be remembered only as an example of the bitter polarization of this era.
• Mr. Clinton, contrary to Mr. Gore, will not be seen as a great president but only an average-to-good one.
Mr. Clinton will not be remembered for any significant accomplishment but, possibly, for a negative one: As more Democrats – like Bill DeBlasio and Kirsten Gillibrand – have come to acknowledge the abuse of power with Monica Lewinsky and perhaps others he may be remembered as a sexual predator.
But let’s move closer in time.
We believe that Bill Clinton had a negative accomplishment: the defeats of Hillary Clinton in both 2008 and 2016.
Here’s our reasoning:
In 2008, Democratic primary voters punished Bill Clinton for dragging them through an era where they felt that they had to rationalize his misconduct and lies and then they paid him back by choosing Barack Obama, a man with more traditional behaviors, over Mrs. Clinton. In a remark that PolitiFact saw as a possible veiled shot at the Clinton marriage, Michelle Obama said to a group of voters at the time:”One of the things, the important aspects of this race, is role modeling what good families should look like. And my view is that if you can’t run your own house, you certainly can’t run the White House. Can’t do it.”
Eight years later, Bill Clinton’s behavior hindered Mrs. Clinton again as she was inhibited from exploiting Donald Trump’s tawdry remarks of the famous “Hollywood Access” tapes out of fear that the GOP would highlight Mr. Clinton’s infidelities and abuse of power – and portray Mrs. Clinton as an enabler.
Once more: Twenty years ago, the Congress of the United States impeached a president for the second time in history.
Is the third coming up in 2019?