Vol. 11, No. 25 Dec. 31, 1998 - January 13, 1999


Congressman Reflects on Historic Week


For U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, a staunch local supporter of Bill Clinton, the 105th Congress ended on a bitter and tragic note as that legislative body voted to impeach the nation's 42nd president.

"The two emotions are really sadness and anger, to tell you the truth," Engel said by telephone from an airplane on his way to a family vacation in Florida. "Sadness because I think it's a sad day for the country and Congress, and anger because this didn't have to be. This is a partisan witchhunt and the American people clearly did not want impeachment. And the Republican Congress, led by the ultra-right wing, has forced impeachment down the throats of the American people."

Engel, a five-term Democrat representing the north Bronx and Westchester, supports censure of the president and castigated his colleagues across the aisle for preventing such a measure. Censure, like the one voted against red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954, is an official congressional expression of blame.
"It's especially outrageous that we were denied an up-or-down vote on censure," Engel said. "The thing that is so aggravating is that nobody believes that the president will be convicted in the Senate and removed from office."

Engel said he worries that a Senate trial "will paralyze the country for [its] duration."

"We won't be able to do the kinds of things that we want to do," he added, citing education, health care, Medicare, and Social Security as issues that will wait on the back burner as the Senate grapples with Clinton's fate. "And the ultimate outcome will be that the president won't be removed. If we know what's going to be the outcome, why don't we spare the country and do bipartisan censure now?"

Engel said his mail, e-mail, and faxes were running 10-to-one against impeachment.

Calling the impeachment a "bloodless coup d'Ítat to try to overturn the results of two national elections," the Bronx lawmaker predicted doom for the GOP when the new millennium rolls around.

"The Republican majority is going to lose their majority in 2000," Engel said. "The public is just so appalled at what they've done."

Engel himself is not just appalled, but exhausted from the the chaotic political events of the last week.

"I would say I'm mentally and physically drained," he said.

While Engel conceded the president's actions were "wrong" and that he "used incredibly poor judgment," he said, "I think it has to be put in perspective. I don't think it's appropriate to remove him from office."

Engel took to the House floor the night before the historic vote and urged his Republican colleagues to abandon their argument that the Constitution compels them to move forward with impeachment. He pressed them to approach the issue with some Bronx "street smarts."

"You don't march forward with blinders on your eyes," Engel recalled telling his colleagues. "You look at what's good for the country."

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