President 'earned' impeachment, ERLC's Land says of House vote

WASHINGTON (BP)--President Clinton "richly deserves and has thoroughly earned" his impeachment approved by the United States House of Representatives, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention's ethics agency said Dec. 21.

Clinton became only the second United States president to be impeached when the House approved two articles of impeachment, one for perjury and another for obstruction of justice, in a partisan vote Dec. 19. Andrew Johnson is the only previous president to be impeached. He survived conviction in the Senate and removal from office by only one vote in 1868.

The U.S. Senate is expected to sit in judgment of the charges against the president when it convenes in January. A two-thirds vote in the Senate is needed to convict and remove a president from office. Though the conventional wisdom is the Senate will not achieve the necessary votes, many did not expect Clinton to be impeached.

While Richard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has been calling for Clinton to resign since his mid-August admission of an inappropriate relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, he thought after the November election "that this would not happen. I thought it was less than a 50-50 chance that it would happen."

The president "overplayed his hand" when he sent "his hair-splitting, perjurious, dismissive response to the House Judiciary Committee's 81 questions and basically said, 'I'm not going to cooperate; I'm not going to admit I lied; impeach me if you dare.' And it turns out, the Republican majority dared to do the right thing," Land said.

The president's response to the Judiciary Committee's questions about his attempt to hide his adulterous relationship with Lewinsky seemed to stiffen the resolve of Republicans favoring impeachment and to swing some GOP members into their ranks.

The impeachment vote sent at least one message to the country, Land said.

"I think that it shows that at least a majority of representatives in the U.S. House are committed to the rule of law despite the political consequences," he said. "And it's to the Democrats' shame, not the Republicans', that this has been a largely partisan process. No one has defended the president's behavior. They have just said we should lower the standard for holding office ... that's both irresponsible and shameless."

In debate Dec. 18 and 19, Republicans said impeachment was necessary to uphold the constitutional concept that all people, even the president, live under the law. His failure to tell the truth under oath and his actions to conceal the relationship with Lewinsky merited impeachment, they said. The Democrats argued the charges did not reach the level of impeachment and the Republicans were acting unfairly to prevent a vote on the solution the president's party recommended and public opinion favored: Censure. Rep. Ray LaHood, R.-Ill., the House chair, ruled a vote on censure was inappropriate. His ruling was upheld in a vote.

Rep. Robert Livingston, R.-La., whom the Republicans had selected to be the new speaker next year, stunned the House when he announced during debate Dec. 19 he would not become speaker and would resign his seat in six months. He made his announcement only two days after sharing with the GOP conference he had been guilty of adulterous relationships during his marriage.

In announcing his resignation, Livingston called on Clinton to follow his example and to leave office.

The president rejected calls for his resignation.

In a news conference at the White House after the vote, Clinton -- supported by the Democratic delegation from the House -- said he remained "committed to working with people of good faith and goodwill of both parties" to move the country forward. "It's what I've tried to do for six years; it's what I intend to do for two more, until the last hour of the last day of my term," he said.

He had "accepted responsibility" for the wrongdoing in his personal life, but his calls for Congress to achieve a "reasonable, bipartisan and proportionate response" were rejected by Republicans, the president said.

In a New York Times opinion piece Dec. 21, former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter proposed the Senate adopt a bipartisan resolution censuring the president. Under their proposal, Clinton would have to acknowledge "he did not tell the truth under oath," but his admission could not be used against him in a future criminal trial. Carter, like Clinton a member of a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, was elected president in 1976, defeating Ford, who succeeded Nixon.

Clinton is the first elected president to be impeached. Johnson was not elected became president upon President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865.

In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon, but he resigned before the House acted.

The vote breakdowns on the four articles of impeachment were:

On the first article, which charged the president with perjury before a grand jury, there were 228 votes for and 206 against. The crossover votes canceled each other, with five Democrats voting for the article and five Republicans voting against it.

The second article, which involved perjury in a deposition and written testimony in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by former Arkansas government worker Paula Jones, was defeated 229-205. Again, five Democrats voted in support, but 28 Republicans were in opposition.

The article alleging Clinton obstructed justice passed in a 221-212 vote. Five Democrats voted for the article, while 12 GOP members voted against it.

The fourth article, which charged the president with abuse of office, was handily defeated 285-148.

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