Impeachment debate forges ahead amid air strikes and affairs

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 December, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 December, 1998, 12:00am

President Bill Clinton faces probable impeachment as the House of Representatives began debating the issue for only the second time in its history.

As military action continued against Iraq, and incoming Speaker Robert Livingston confessed to extramarital affairs, Republicans entered the historic debate confident that they would have the votes to pass one or all of the four articles of impeachment.

The House leadership insisted on beginning the debate yesterday after a delay of only 24 hours from its scheduled start, in the face of Democratic protests that they should have waited until the Iraq strikes were over.

In an emotional speech, Judiciary Committee chairman Henry Hyde led off the debate on what was tabled as Resolution 611, urging his colleagues: 'The President is our flag-bearer. He stands out in front of the people, and the flag is falling. Catch the falling flag as we keep our appointment with history.' Mr Hyde said: 'It's not a question of sex. Sexual misconduct and adultery are private acts and are none of Congress' business.

'It's not even a question of lying about sex. The matter before the House is one of lying under oath. This is a public act, not a private act.

'The question before the House is one of a wilful, premeditated, deliberate corruption of the nation's system of justice.' The House did not have the constitutional right to punish the President by using censure, as the Democrats had advocated, Mr Hyde said. Its only duty was to impeach, and leave a final decision on the President's fate to the Senate.

But Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said the way Republicans had forced through an impeachment vote showed 'a lack of common sense and decency that is not befitting our beloved House'.

The House easily defeated a Democrat motion to postpone the debate while the Iraq operation continues.

Votes on the four articles of impeachment were not due to be taken until later today.

But as they set out the case against Mr Clinton, Republicans were astonished by Mr Livingston's admission.

Mr Livingston told a stunned Republican caucus - convened for the impeachment issue - that 'I have on occasion strayed from my marriage'.