Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 19, 1998


The South Grounds

4:15 P.M. EST

MR. PODESTA: On behalf of the President and the First Lady, the Vice President and Mrs. Gore, the White House and the entire administration, I want to thank the members who came here today, and all the members who stood with you on the floor of the House over the past several days.

Thank you for standing up for what you believe in. Thank you for standing up for fairness. Thank you for standing up for the American people. Thank you for standing up for the Constitution. And thank you for doing so with dignity and determination, passion and patriotism.

I would like to introduce a man who has done so much for our country, a great leader, a great friend to the American people, Congressman Dick Gephardt. (Applause.)

CONGRESSMAN GEPHARDT: Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, First Lady Hillary Clinton: We've just witnessed a partisan vote that was a disgrace to our country and our Constitution. Chairman Henry Hyde once called impeachment, the ultimate weapon, and said that, for it to succeed, ultimately it has to be bipartisan. The fact that a vote as important as this occurred in such a partisan way violated the spirit of our democracy.

We must turn away, now, from the politics of personal destruction, and return to a politics of values. The American people deserve better than what they've received over these long five months. They want their Congress to bring this issue to a speedy, compromised closure. And they want their President, twice elected to his office, to continue his work fighting for their priorities. (Applause.)

The Democratic Caucus in the House will continue to stand alongside our President, and we will work to enact the agenda that we were sent here to pass. (Applause.) We look forward to supporting his agenda in the upcoming session of Congress.

The President has demonstrated his effectiveness as a national and world leader, in the face of intense and unprecedented negative attacks by his opponents. I am confident that he will continue to do so for the rest of his elected term of office. (Applause.)

Despite the worst efforts of the Republican leadership in the House, the Constitution will bear up under the strain, and our nation will survive. The constitutional process about to play out in the United States Senate will, hopefully, finally be fair and allow us to put an end to this sad chapter of our history.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is now my honor to present our great Vice President of these United States, Al Gore. (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Mr. Leader. To you and to David Bonior, and to the entire Democratic Caucus leadership, thank you for what you have done for our country. I would also like to single out for special thanks and praise, Congressman John Conyers and all of the members of the Judiciary Committee who are present here today. (Applause.)

And to you, Dick Gephardt, I would like to repeat a judgment that I made to the smaller group earlier. You and I came here on the same day, 22 years ago, and in all that time, I don't believe I have heard a finer speech on the floor of the House of Representatives than the one that you delivered this morning. (Applause.)

But in all that time, I do believe, this is the saddest day I have seen in our Nation's Capital, because today's vote in the House of Representatives disregarded the plain wishes and goodwill of the American people, and the plain meaning of our Constitution.

Let me say simply: The President has acknowledged that what he did was wrong, but we must all acknowledge that invoking the solemn power of impeachment in the cause of partisan politics is wrong. Wrong for our Constitution; wrong for the United States of America. (Applause.)

Republican leaders would not even allow the members of the House of Representatives to cast the vote they wanted to; they were not allowed to vote their conscience. What happened as a result does a great disservice to a man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest Presidents. (Applause.)

There is no doubt in my mind that the verdict of history will undo the unworthy judgment rendered a short while ago in the United States Capitol. But we do not have to wait for history. Instead, let us live up to the ideals of this season -- let us reach out to one another and reach out for what is best in ourselves, our history and our country. Let us heal this land -- not tear it apart. Let us move forward -- not toward bitter and angry division.

Our founders anticipated that there might be a day like this one, when excessive partisanship unlocked a form of vitriol and vehemence that hurts our nation. We all know that a process that wounds good people in both parties does no service to this country. What America needs is not resignations, but the renewal of civility, respect for one another, decency toward each other, and the certain belief that together we can serve this land and make a better life for all of our people.

That is what President Clinton has done. That is what he is doing, and that is what he will continue to do for the next two years.

I feel extremely privileged to have been able to serve with him as his partner for the past six years. And I look forward to serving with him for the next two years. I have seen him close at hand, day after day, making the most important decisions about peace, prosperity, and our future; and making them always by asking what is right for the American people, what is right for all of the American people.

I know him. I know his wonderful First Lady. (Applause.) I know his heart and his will. And I have seen his work. Six years ago, he was left with the highest budget deficit

in history, and he ended it. Six years ago, he was handed a failing economy. Today, because of his leadership, we're on the verge of the longest period of peacetime prosperity in all of American history. And I know nothing will stop him from doing the job that the American people sent him here to do.

I say to you today, President William Jefferson Clinton will continue and will complete his mission on behalf of the American people.

I'm proud to present to you my friend, America's great President, Bill Clinton. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Good afternoon. Let me begin by expressing my profound and heartfelt thanks to Congressman Gephardt and the leadership and all the members of the Democratic Caucus for what they did today. I thank the few brave Republicans who withstood enormous pressure to stand with them for the plain meaning of the Constitution, and for the proposition that we need to pull together, to move beyond partisanship, to get on with the business of our country.

I thank the millions upon millions of American citizens who have expressed their support and their friendship to Hillary, to me, to our family, and to our administration during these last several weeks.

The words of the members here with me, and others who were a part of their endeavor, in defense of our Constitution, were powerful and moving, and I will never forget them. The question is, what are we going to do now?

I have accepted responsibility for what I did wrong in my personal life. And I have invited members of Congress to work with us to find a reasonable, bipartisan and proportionate response. That approach was rejected today by Republicans in the House. But I hope it will be embraced by the Senate. I hope there will be a constitutional and fair means of resolving this matter in a prompt manner.

Meanwhile, I will continue to do the work of the American people. We still, after all, have to save Social Security and Medicare for the 21st century. We have to give all our children world-class schools. We have to pass a patients' bill of rights. We have to make sure the economic turbulence around the world does not curb our economic opportunity here at home. We have to keep America the world's strongest force for peace and freedom. In short, we have a lot to do before we enter the 21st century.

And we still have to keep working to build that elusive "one America" I have talked so much about. For six years now, I have done everything I could to bring our country together across the lines that divide us, including bringing Washington together across party lines. Out in the country, people are pulling together. But just as America is coming together, it must look -- from the country's point of view -- like Washington is coming apart.

I want to echo something Mr. Gephardt said. It is something I have felt strongly all my life. We must stop the politics of personal destruction. (Applause.) We must get rid of the poisonous venom of excessive partisanship, obsessive animosity, and uncontrolled anger. That is not what America deserves. That is not what America is about.

We are doing well now. We are a good and decent country. But we have significant challenges we have to face. In order to do it right, we have to have some atmosphere of decency and civility, some presumption of good faith, some sense of proportionality and balance in bringing judgment against those who are in different parties. We have important work to do. We need a constructive debate that has all the different voices in this country heard in the halls of Congress.

I want the American people to know today that I am still committed to working with people of good faith and goodwill of both parties to do what's best for our country -- to bring our nation together; to lift our people up; to move us all forward together. 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. (Applause.)

So, with profound gratitude for the defense of the Constitution and the best in America that was raised today by the members here and those who joined them, I ask the American people to move with me -- to go on from here, to rise above the rancor; to overcome the pain and division; to be a repairer of the breach -- all of us. To make this country, as one America, what it can and must be for our children in the new century about to dawn.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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