Not much news as Christmas week begins. Just kidding. Bill Clinton was impeached, Bob Livingston said he wouldn’t become House speaker after all, and the most ambitious U.S. military action in seven years came to an end. No great mental challenges at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times about what to put on page one.
Everybody leads with Clinton’s impeachment, the second of a U.S. president in history. The House voted to impeach the president for perjury before a grand jury (228-206) and obstruction of justice (221-212) largely along party lines. Two other impeachment votes failed: for perjury in a civil suit (defeated 229-205) and for abuse of power (defeated 285-148). Just before the impeachment votes, a Democratic motion to bring a censure proposal to the floor also failed (defeated 230-204), winning support from only two Republicans: Maryland’s Connie Morella and New York’s Peter King.
All three papers note that the Senate is unlikely to convict, which requires a two-thirds vote. But R.W. Apple of the New York Times, reminding readers of earlier predictions this year that impeachment would never pass the House on a partisan vote and that the Democrats would suffer losses in the midterm elections, warns: “In the toxic politics of century’s end in Washington, the inconceivable has become the commonplace.” The paper reports the surreal detail that while the House debated Clinton’s impeachment, White House strategists were holding a two-hour meeting to plan Clinton’s State of the Union speech next month.
Livingston’s decision not to assume the speakership (and to quit Congress next year) is attributed mainly to pleading from his wife, but also to the fury of a small band of conservative Republican members who threatened not to support him in the January vote to choose a new speaker. The Washington Post’s David Broder, in an op-ed piece, praises Livingston’s “leadership by example” and urges President Clinton to resign. A Post editorial titled “A Challenge by Example” also praises Livingston and notes that the paper early on called for Clinton’s resignation, but says that for Clinton to do so now after an irresponsible impeachment vote “would itself set a harmful precedent.” The New York Times reports that many Republicans fear that white supremacist David Duke will run for Livingston’s Louisiana seat.
The papers pronounce J. Dennis “Denny” Hastert, the little-known deputy whip, to be the likely next speaker, having quickly won the support of whip Tom DeLay and majority leader Dick Armey, both of whom seem to have concluded they themselves lacked sufficient support to win the job. The Post emphasizes that DeLay’s support is truly decisive, and that Hastert’s elevation would further expand DeLay’s already-impressive power base. Hastert, a well-liked moderate from the Chicago suburbs, is known as “the coach” because he is a former high school teacher and coach. Not much more is said about him.
The halt to air strikes in Iraq is reported to leave Saddam Hussein in power, U.N. weapons inspectors less likely than ever before to return, and the U.S. mapping a new strategy of “containment” against Iraq, with military forces remaining in the region indefinitely. No U.S. or British casualties are known to have occurred during the four days of attack. Defense secretary William Cohen is quoted in the New York Times saying Saddam’s ballistic missile program has been set back “by at least a year.” In a New York Times op-ed, Ronald Steel writes, “the political fallout is likely to be more beneficial to Saddam Hussein than to the United States.” In particular, he argues, economic sanctions against Iraq are less likely to be enforced by member countries of the U.N. A “Week in Review” article in the Times describes how the Iraq operation came to be named after Nazi general Erwin Rommel: Under Pentagon protocol, the military command planning the operation had to call it Operation Desert [something beginning with “s” or “f”]. A spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff is quoted saying, implausibly, that “nobody” recognized the connection between “desert fox” and Rommel. The story also says Cohen approved the name.