People reflect on Nixon resignation, Clinton impeachment before House vote
For local residents old enough to have lived through historic impeachments or resignation of three presidents, the tape of history has been replayed.
The impeachment presents the same divisive political statements but with an increased level of aggression, according to several who compared the vote in the House on Wednesday to what happened to presidents Richard M. Nixon in 1974 and Bill Clinton in 1998.
“There’s a million differences,” said Elliot Weiss, a city attorney and Democrat who recently ran for Lycoming County commissioner.
“The tenure of the times is much more tribal,” he said.
Tribalism, or the behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group, has been evidenced by the “group-think” mentality displayed by Congress, he said.
“Nixon and his henchmen oversaw a conspiracy from the White House,” he said.
Clinton had an affair with an aide in the Oval Office and lied about it, he said.
But Weiss noted how during the Nixon era, the American people were shocked and upset the government officials let them down. The years afterward led to a mistrust. That has become more pervasive among most anyone these days, Weiss said.
“Clinton’s affair was sleazy, but it didn’t rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors; that is how the Democratic Senators voted,” Weiss said.
Weiss said the impeachment proceeding with Trump has followed the same process set forth by the framers of the Constitution, but is not complete, and may not be allowed to be because of politics — or more tribalism on the other side of the aisle.
“I would like to hear what Trump’s defense will be if a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate is permitted,” Weiss said. “That’s not going to happen — as it did in the Nixon and Clinton days.”
Carol Sides, a Republican, recalled the scandals of Nixon and Clinton.
“There is an old saying that nothing stays the same and I truly believe it,” Sides said. “Everything has changed. … Nothing sticks.”
For Sides, the difference between then and now is Nixon’s actions were conspiratorial while Trump appeared to have made a telephone call to a Ukrainian president.
Nixon’s men hired burglars, paid them off to keep silent, wiretapped political rivals, wrote false press releases, and obstructed the administration of justice. Nixon also was in his second term as president when he left office. Clinton lied during depositions and to the special prosecutor, she said.
On the other hand, Trump, if he is not thrown out of office, may seek reelection in 2020, Sides said, of the difference.
“That is different than the other impeachments,” she said.
The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, says the case is insufficient to remove the president, Sides said.
“An argument that the impeachment of Trump is rushed is wrong,” said Democrat Morgan Allyn, Lycoming County party chairwoman. It took 70 days for the impeachment of the House Republicans on Clinton, and Nixon’s impeachment went 100 days-plus, she said, while the Trump impeachment has taken about 90 days.
“Nixon’s was slower and more methodical,” Morgan said.
Democrats, she said, are not seeking it but have a duty as they did in 1974 to follow through on what the framers of the Constitution allowed to play out, she said.
Additionally, in the Clinton era, the Republicans provided the playbook for Democrats to use, Allyn said.
City resident Marvin Staiman, a Republican, was as blunt as could be about the differences in the prior impeachment processes.
“Nixon had no choice but to resign; Clinton lied to Congress,” he said. Those were legitimate investigations that allowed both sides or political parties to present evidence, Staiman said.
“This one,” he said, is a “sham, a waste of money and time.”
But a city Democrat who once ran for mayor said the tide has turned.
It is much as it was when Nixon was caught trying to circumvent the Constitution, while Trump is “trying to break it,” said William McConnell. “I can foresee a Constitutional amendment coming out of this that no president is above the law.”