For the last several weeks, talks of impeaching President Donald Trump have dominated political conversations. Although the House of Representatives has yet to hold a formal vote on beginning an impeachment inquiry, national Democrats are ringing the bell as they attempt to rally voters to their cause. Despite questionable evidence, Democrats are eager to make the point that these proceedings are not politically motivated.
However, when impeachment proceedings against then-President Bill Clinton were underway in 1998, Democrats defended the President against Republican charges on the grounds that their impeachment push was politically motivated.
To highlight the change in rhetoric, AR/Intel has pulled together congressional footage of leading Democrats talking about impeachment in 1998, and their response to the issue now.
In 1998, then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) blasted Republican impeachment proceedings as a ploy “to overturn the will of the people.” He warned that the effort was a “partisan attack,” suggesting that Republicans were pressing the issue “over resentments at losing the prior election.”
Fast forward to 2019, and now Biden has come out in full support of impeaching a president of the opposing party. Apparently abandoning warnings against a partisan process, earlier this month Biden railed against President Trump, saying “He is shooting holes in our Constitution, and we cannot allow him to get away with it.”
As a member of the House of Representatives, in 1998 then-Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took a different approach to the impeachment proceedings than Biden. Rather than framing the impeachment vote as a partisan attack, Sanders criticized the chamber for diverting time and resources away from real issues to instead “discuss where Bill Clinton touched Monica Lewinsky.” Sanders said a vote to impeach would “paralyze our government,” as a Senate trial would “go on month after month after month.”
With a trade deal still to be ratified, health care legislation still pending, and a budget that still needs to be passed, Sanders apparently no longer believes impeachment proceedings will hold up legislative business. At the third primary debate last week, Sanders called for a “speedy and expeditious impeachment process” and for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “allow a free and fair trial in the Senate.” The promise of an “expeditious” process is beginning to look like a pipedream, however, as Democrats are privately saying the process could stretch into the holiday season and possibly beyond.
Having been just elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998, one of then-Rep. Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) last actions as a member of the House of Representatives was a vote on impeaching President Clinton. In a December 1998 speech on the House floor, Schumer criticized both Republicans and Democrats for repeatedly using impeachment as a tool “to win the political battles and ideological differences we cannot settle at the ballot box.” With the vote looming, Schumer said Congress had “lowered the bar on impeachment” and warned that in the future, it would “be used as a routine tool to fight political battles.” Concluding with a statement that carries even more significance today, Schumer said, “My fear is that when a Republican wins the White House, Democrats will demand payback.”
Payback, indeed. Thus far, Schumer has been reluctant to call for the full impeachment of President Trump. However he has been fully supportive of an impeachment inquiry. During a recent speech for the Human Rights Campaign, Schumer enthusiastically announced to applause that he “fully support[s]” House Speaker Pelosi’s decision to open an impeachment inquiry.
Speaking about impeachment on the House floor in 1998, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (R-CA) blasted Republicans for their impeachment investigation of Clinton, saying it had “seriously violated” American principles of “privacy, fairness, [and] checks and balances.” “We are here today,” Pelosi continued, “because the Republicans in the House are paralyzed with hatred of President Clinton, and until the Republicans free themselves of this hatred, our country will suffer.”
In late-September, Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives would launch a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Despite previously criticizing Republicans for failing to adhere to Congressional checks and balances, last week Pelosi made the decision to hold off on a full House vote authorizing the inquiry.