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Congress in the Late '90s: Contract with America & Clinton's Impeachment

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  • 0:07 Bill Clinton and…
  • 1:07 The Republican Revolution
  • 2:33 Compromise & Conflict
  • 4:18 Impeachment
  • 7:12 The Last Two Years
  • 7:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

In 1994, Republicans took control of both houses of Congress, elected on the promises made in the Contract with America. President Clinton endorsed several of these measures, but conflict was inevitable, culminating in his impeachment in 1998.

Bill Clinton and Congress: The First Year

Bill Clinton was lucky. First, he won the 1992 Presidential election without a majority of the popular vote. That's lucky enough. Then he was fortunate enough to take office while his own political party - the Democrats - held a majority in both houses of Congress. So, it didn't really matter, say, that every single Republican senator and congressman voted against his first budget; it passed without them.

But President Clinton's plan to increase taxes hurt the Democrats running for Congress in the 1994 mid-term elections. Then investigation into the Clintons' involvement in an Arkansas real-estate scandal (called Whitewater), along with accusations of the president's sexual impropriety, also rubbed off on fellow Democrats. Finally, his failure to secure full support for healthcare reform in 1993 hurt the Party.

The Republican Revolution

Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich led the opposition, turning voter skepticism into support for the Republican Party. Beginning that first year, the GOP gained seats at the local and state levels, including the governors of New Jersey and Virginia, and mayors of such traditional liberal strongholds as Los Angeles, New York and Jersey City. The Democrat losses continued as the '94 mid-term Congressional election loomed on the horizon.

Gingrich helped to write the Contract with America, a 10-point reform plan that Republican candidates promised to enact if they gained control of Congress. Among the proposals were term limits for Congress, a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, tax cuts, tougher crime laws and comprehensive welfare reform.

The November election was a landslide; the GOP won a net total of 8 Senators and 54 Representatives, giving Republicans control of both houses of Congress for the first time in over 4 decades. They also gained 12 new governors and re-took control of 20 states, with a total of 472 new legislative seats throughout the nation. As the leader of this 'Republican Revolution,' Newt Gingrich was voted House Majority Leader.

Compromise and Conflict

After the Republicans' clear victory in the mid-term elections, President Clinton didn't pursue many ambitious new policies and actually co-opted several points of the Contract with America. Gingrich led the way in Congress to pass bills that the president could endorse, including welfare reform, tax cuts, crime prevention and (eventually) a balanced budget. In his '96 State of the Union address, Clinton sounded quite conservative when he declared, 'The era of big government is over!'

But that's not to say everything was smooth sailing. Congress and Clinton clashed several times throughout the remainder of his two terms, including another fight over money. In late 1995, Republicans submitted a budget proposal with steep cuts that Clinton could not accept. He vetoed the bill, and while both sides held their lines, the government shut down for weeks. But as voters began siding with the president, Congress eventually backed down. Many pundits believe this second budget showdown was a big factor in the 1996 election. Clinton was re-elected, and though Republicans maintained control of Congress, they lost several seats.

Clinton was hit by another blow in 1997 - this time unrelated to his opponents in Congress. That year, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a woman named Paula Jones could pursue charges of sexual harassment while the president was still in office. He would settle out of court with her a year later for $850,000.

Impeachment

During the investigation into the Paula Jones scandal, the world learned that the president had had an affair with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. But in a sworn deposition to the federal judge presiding over the case, Clinton gave false or misleading answers concerning his relationship with Lewinsky. The judge dismissed the case but later considered holding Clinton in contempt of court for lying under oath.

Clinton's opponents in Congress were all over it. Special counsel Kenneth Starr, who had been handling the Whitewater investigation, was already looking into the possibility that the White House was buying silence from potential witnesses. Accusations flew that some witnesses had even been murdered. Now, Starr began digging into the Lewinsky scandal, believing that she, too, had received financial pay-offs.

In October 1998, the House of Representatives brought charges of impeachment against the president. It was just the second time in the nation's history for such an action - the first being against President Andrew Johnson back in 1868. After swearing to the American people on national television that he 'did not have sexual relations with that woman,' Clinton later revised his story and admitted his wrongdoing.

But the affair itself was quite well-documented and not what was on trial. President Bill Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice and perjury. Hours of testimony were broadcast over the television - much of it including graphic details of the affair and other aspects of his personal life. But the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority in order to remove a president from office.

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