Washington, 18 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The same U.S. House of Representatives that's ready to impeach President Bill Clinton has given a rousing endorsement to the U.S. forces carrying out military strikes ordered by Clinton against Iraq.
By a vote of 417-5, the House on Thursday declared unequivocal support for the U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf that undertook action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein starting Wednesday.
Many members made it clear that their support for the military personnel did not mean support for Clinton or for his Iraqi policies, or that the military move would spare Clinton from impeachment -- the process that could lead to his removal from office.
However, congressional leaders also wanted to make it clear that the old saying about politics "stopping at the water's edge," was still true.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia), who will retire from Congress early next year said: "No matter what the temporary arguments, no matter what the temporary issues, no one anywhere on this planet should doubt the will of the American people to support freedom."
Gingrich said the president, no matter what domestic problems he faces, has to provide leadership as commander in chief "every day, 365 days a year."
Despite "more difficult times ahead, ... at this moment, Democrats and Republicans alike are standing hand in hand," said Congressman Jerry Lewis (R-California). House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Missouri) called the resolution "the right thing to do on this important day."
The 435 members of the House had originally planned to spend most of Thursday and Friday arguing about Clinton's continued fitness to serve as the nation's chief executive. Once U.S. forces began their attacks Wednesday, however, congressional leaders quickly met and agreed to put off the debate.
However, some Republicans questioned Clinton's decision to launch airstrikes against Iraq on the eve of the impeachment debate. Before Thursday's debate, the third-ranking Republican in the House, Congressman Thomas DeLay of Texas, said that "there are too many questions that need to be answered" about the military strikes. From the Senate, which did not vote on the resolution, Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), said: "Both the timing and the policy are subject to question."
Minority Leader Gephardt, however, said, "any suggestion that this action has been affected by the impeachment debate one way or the other is blatantly false." And Congressman Ike Skelton, also of Missouri and the senior Democrat on the House National Security Committee, said: "There are no good options. But to do nothing now would have been the worst of all possible options."
The resolution is mainly symbolic. It notes that thousands of U.S. military personnel are in the region, along with British troops and the support of allies.
The resolution states: "The Congress unequivocally supports the men and the women of our armed forces who are carrying out their missions with professionalism, dedication, patriotism and courage." It also reaffirms that it should be U.S. policy "to support efforts remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime."
When the House opens the debate today on the impeachment resolution, it will be only the second time in U.S. history that the full House has debated the impeachment of a president on the floor of the House.
The president stands accused of abusing the authority of his office, of committing perjury and of obstructing justice. Clinton has denied these charges, which stem from a sexual relationship he had with a former White House assistant named Monica Lewinsky.
Defenders of Clinton say the entire impeachment controversy is riven with partisan politics. Clinton is a Democrat. The House of Representatives, and the 100-member Senate, are controlled by the Republican Party.
The votes in the Judiciary Committee to approve the four articles against Clinton were on party lines. In a report to the House justifying the four articles of impeachment, Judiciary Committee Republicans said Clinton "disgraced himself and the high office he holds."
Clinton's fellow Democrats have said they deplore Clinton's personal behavior but they also say he does not deserve to be impeached for it.
A report by the committee's Democrats said: "We do not believe that the nature of the misconduct is the mettle with which the founding fathers intended impeachments to be made."
A simple majority, 218 votes if all members are present, is all that is needed to impeach Clinton on any of the four charges. Impeachment on any one charge would send the proceedings to the Senate, where Clinton would have to stand trial. A two-thirds majority of the Senate is required for conviction.