Impeachment Vote Shows Partisan Era 12/15 09:03
This coming week's virtually certain House impeachment of President Donald
Trump will underscore how Democrats and Republicans have morphed into fiercely
divided camps since lawmakers impeached President Bill Clinton.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- This coming week's virtually certain House impeachment of
President Donald Trump will underscore how Democrats and Republicans have
morphed into fiercely divided camps since lawmakers impeached President Bill
Twenty-one years ago this Thursday, a Republican-led House approved two
impeachment articles against Democrat Clinton. While that battle was bitterly
partisan, it was blurrier than the near party-line votes expected this week
when the House, now run by Democrats, is poised to impeach Republican Trump.
Two of the four Clinton impeachment articles were killed --- something party
leaders today would jump through hoops to avoid for fear of highlighting
divisions. All four Clinton articles drew GOP opposition, peaking at 81 on one
vote. That's an unthinkable number of defections today.
"Obviously it was partisan, but it wasn't as intensely partisan as today
is," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., one of four Republicans who opposed all the
Clinton impeachment articles and the last remaining member of that group in
Congress. "So you could basically argue conscience, you could say you looked at
it and didn't think this was the way to go."
In the upcoming votes on impeaching Trump, Democrats expect support from all
but a few --- two to perhaps five --- of their members. Republican leaders
envision no GOP desertions.
Underscoring the intensity of the partisanship, Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New
Jersey, one of the Democrats planning to oppose impeachment, intends to switch
parties and join the GOP. That's according to a Republican official who said
top House Republicans have been told of Van Drew's plans and described the
conversations on condition of anonymity.
Few defections are expected by either party when the GOP-run Senate holds a
trial, probably in January, on whether to oust Trump from office. No one
expects Democrats to muster the two-thirds Senate majority needed for removal
over charges that he leveraged U.S. military aid and a White House meeting
coveted by Ukrainian leaders to pressure them to announce investigations of his
Democratic political foes.
Most Democrats were dismissive of the GOP's impeachment charges that Clinton
lied to a grand jury and others about his affair with White House intern Monica
"The Constitution is really to protect the nation against the abuse of
presidential power. Any husband could lie under oath about an affair. It
doesn't take presidential powers to do that," Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who
opposed the Clinton impeachment and is still in Congress, said in an interview
Clinton was a lame duck but widely popular president who was presiding over
a booming economy, and polling showed that impeachment had little support. That
gave Democrats little reason to back the effort to remove him and made many
Republicans think twice about backing impeachment.
Back then, each party had scores of moderate lawmakers who would cross party
lines on issues such as abortion, taxes and spending.
That helps explain why 81 Republicans opposed one defeated Clinton
impeachment article. The other three articles drew 28, 12 and 5 GOP "no" votes.
No more than five Democrats backed any of the articles impeaching Clinton.
Former Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was chief House GOP vote counter in 1998 and
was known as "The Hammer" for his effectiveness in lining up support. In an
interview Friday, he said he urged wavering Republicans to read evidence
gathered by Ken Starr, the independent counsel who headed the investigation
into Clinton that led to the impeachment.
DeLay said party leaders "cannot break arms" on an impeachment vote because
it is too important. That echoes current Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who
has said she's not lobbying Democrats on the upcoming Trump votes.
"I knew where the votes were all along, and why they were wavering and why
they were struggling," DeLay said. "The questions they had, we wanted to make
sure that we got answers for them."
The numbers of moderate House Democrats and Republicans have dwindled
dramatically, especially among the GOP. Only three House Republicans represent
districts that Democrat Hillary Clinton carried in the 2016 presidential
election, yet all three are expected to oppose Trump's impeachment.
Trump faces reelection next year and has a strong track record of
weaponizing Twitter to demolish the political careers of Republicans who oppose
him. Retired GOP Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee left
Congress following running battles with Trump, and South Carolina Rep. Mark
Sanford lost a party primary last year after running afoul of him.
"If you cross Trump, you're a short-timer when it comes to politics," said
John Feehery, a GOP consultant and former House leadership aide.
In contrast, several House Republicans who opposed at least one Clinton
impeachment article saw their political careers prosper. They include John
Thune of South Dakota, now the No. 2 Senate GOP leader; John Kasich, who became
a two-term Ohio governor and challenged Trump for the 2016 presidential
nomination; and current Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Richard Burr of North
Sanford rose to South Carolina governor, but abandoned the job after
admitting to an extramarital affair. He returned to the House but was defeated
after clashing with Trump.
Clinton's impeachment came four years after Republicans led by Rep. Newt
Gingrich of Georgia captured House control for the first time in four decades.
Gingrich became speaker and embraced aggressive confrontations with
Democrats. That culminated in the House impeachment of Clinton, which the
GOP-led Senate later rejecting. But even the Gingrich era's battles were tamer
than today's fights, with Clinton's impeachment a case in point.
The calendar of both impeachment votes also helps explain why party
divisions will be sharper this time than they were for Clinton.
The House's Clinton impeachment votes came a month after congressional
elections, giving incumbents two years --- a lifetime in politics --- until
they next faced voters.
This year's Trump impeachment votes will come as the 2020 primary season is
about to begin, putting recalcitrant Republicans at risk of facing Trump-backed