House moves toward impeachment vote

House moves toward impeachment vote

House leaders struck a deal Friday to extend debate on the impeachment of President Clinton into Saturday, when votes will be cast that likely will trigger a Senate trial next year.

The agreement for 14 hours of debate was reached after Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., began the debate with a plea to "catch the fallen flag" by sending to the Senate evidence to try Clinton for "perjury, lying under oath," obstruction of justice, and violation of the rule of law.

Under the pact, debate will continue until 10 p.m. Friday and resume at 9 a.m. Saturday for an hour, followed by votes likely to last into mid-afternoon. The first vote will occur on a Democratic motion to recommit, with instructions to the Judiciary Committee to substitute censure for the four impeachment articles.

Advocates of censure will get their only chance to register their protest on the recommittal motion. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., who is presiding, is expected to rule that the censure motion is not germane. At that juncture, Democrats are expected to move to appeal the chair's ruling, which Republicans would then seek to table. Advocates and opponents of censure will each get five minutes to debate their position.

Republicans plan to divide the impeachment motion into four separate votes-one for each count. Rules Committee Chairman Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y., estimated the votes will take until 2 p.m., and said a final housekeeping matter, a resolution appointing House managers to guide prosecution in the Senate and authorizing funds to finance the prosecution, will be approved by voice vote.

In the early hours of today's floor debate, Democrats protested scheduling an impeachment vote while the United States attacked Iraq, but they did not mention the latest twist in events-Speaker-designate Bob Livingston's stunning admission that, like Clinton, he had committed adultery. Republicans girded for references to Livingston's affairs with a "decorum" advisory by LaHood noting House rules prohibit members from "engaging in comparisons to personal conduct of sitting members." Democrats booed and hissed LaHood's statement.

The debate proceeded along party lines with few new substantive arguments. Hyde argued the impeachment debate was "about the rule of law," not a sexual affair. "The matter before the House is a question of the willful, premeditated, deliberate corruption of the nation's system of justice," he said. Hyde rejected censure, arguing, "We have no authority under the Constitution to punish the president."

But Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., said it was the will of his party and the American people that a censure vote be allowed. "All we're asking for is that we get to vote our consciences," he said. Gephardt conceded he had lost the fight to postpone debate while U.S. forces were in the field in Iraq, but said, "This debate is taking place on the wrong day, and in the wrong way."