The Impeachment of President Bill Clinton

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The Impeachment of President Bill Clinton
The impeachment of President Clinton is something that will be remembered forever. Along with the fact that a presidential impeachment has only happened one other time since the Civil War, the publicity that came with the Clinton trial was extensive (Miller 2004). While the Republican and Democratic members of the House of Representatives had vastly different views on impeaching President Clinton, the fact that only five Democratic Representatives voted to impeach him truly shows how wide that gap was between the two parties. Clinton was impeached on the grounds of perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice, with the vote on both articles extremely close, a 228-206 vote on perjury to a grand jury and a 221-212 vote on obstruction of justice (Rozell and Wilcox 1999). While the House of Representatives and the American people agreed that Clinton should be punished, impeachment seemed like the wrong form of punishment to most Americans. Numerous public opinion polls consistently showed that a majority of Americans agreed that Clinton should be punished, but most were opposed to impeachment. For example, in the 1998 American National Election Study, 1281 eligible voters were polled on various questions about Clinton on impeachment and resignation. When asked if Clinton should resign, thirty-two percent said yes, sixty-six percent said no, and two percent were undecided (Abramowitz 2001). Then, when asked if Clinton should be impeached, twenty-nine percent said yes, sixty-eight percent said no, and three percent were undecided (Abramowitz 2001). Why, if most Americans opposed impeachment by the House, did Clinton still get impeached? I will argue that Clinton was impeached because ten percent of the House members were in their final term, making them liable only for their own opinion, the House had a majority of Republicans during the impeachment process, and the Republican representatives mainly based their decision on the opinions of the people in their district while still keeping their own opinions in mind. I will first discuss the impact the congressman in their final term had on the impeachment trial, then show that with a majority of Republicans in Congress, their views and opinions helped bring the decision of impeachment on Clinton. Finally, I will show how the Republican representatives fused the opinions of the citizens they were representing with their own personal opinion to come to the conclusion of voting for or against the impeachment.

With approximately ten percent of the House of Representatives in their final term, this lame-duck session helped sway representatives away from the opinions of the citizens they represent and allowed them to make a decision based solely on their own opinions (Rothenberg and Sanders 2000). The lame-duck representatives were made up of twenty-one retirees, six incumbents who lost in the 1998 general election, nine unsuccessful pursuers of statewide office, three successful pursuers of statewide office, and one House member defeated in the primary elections (Rothenberg and Sanders 2000). No longer having to achieve their main goal of getting re-elected, these representatives had no one they were compelled to please and therefore faced few political consequences. With forty members in their final term, these representatives could have voted against the opinions of their party, possibly changing the Republican majority into a Democratic majority if enough Republican representatives in their final session objected to impeach Clinton. On the other hand, it could strengthen the Republican majority if Democratic representatives in the final term believed Clinton should be impeached.

Many legislators and observers of the Clinton trial believed that Congress should not have begun an impeachment trial while the 105th Congress was coming to an end. As said by Congressman John LaFalce, “We should not impeach in a lame-duck session...
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