The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, December 18, 2019 1:00 am

Souder sees parallels with Clinton

Former lawmaker fears procedure will become norm

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

The last U.S. House member from northeast Indiana to vote on impeaching a president sees similarities between the proceedings this year and 20 years ago.

House Republicans intent on impeaching Bill Clinton in 1998 and House Democrats wanting to impeach Donald Trump today were both in a “rush to judgment,” former GOP lawmaker Mark Souder said Tuesday.

“I'm worried that we now have a new standard that if you don't like the results of the election that either party will just go through the embarrassment of impeachment hoping to impact the next election. Because both parties have now done it, the danger here is it's going to be the new standard of setting up the following election,” Souder, 69, said in a telephone interview the day before expected impeachment votes on Trump.

“I believe the Republican process of impeachment was also done because of partially political reasons and the fact that they abhorred Clinton and that the Trump impeachment is partly done for political reasons and that (Democrats) abhor Trump. That's the parallelism,” he said.

“I believe they would have been better off in the Clinton case with more comprehensive articles of impeachment, and I believe in the Trump case they'd be better off with a more comprehensive case of impeachment. If they can't be built, they rush to judgment,” he said.

Souder represented northeast Indiana in the House from 1995 until his resignation in 2010 after he admitted to an extramarital affair with a member of his staff. On Dec. 19, 1998, he voted to impeach Clinton on an article of obstruction of justice, but he voted against three other articles of impeachment: abuse of power and two charges of perjury. The charges against Clinton stemmed from his extramarital affairs with two women, including a White House intern.

Souder does not expect any House members to split their votes on charges that Trump abused his power and obstructed Congress regarding with his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden.

“My opinion is no one will because there are stronger feelings about Trump than there were about Clinton, which is hard to believe, but I believe is true,” Souder said. “In other words, there is less of a middle, and the Democrats nationally view this more as almost a retribution for the Republican overreach on Clinton.

“We've become even more polarized, which hardly seems possible ... than we were then,” he said.

The House impeached Clinton on the obstruction of justice charge and one charge of perjury. The Republican-controlled Senate acquitted him on both charges in February 1999 in votes requiring a two-thirds majority for conviction.

The House is expected to impeach Trump today, and the GOP-run Senate is expected to acquit him early next year.

Souder said in 1998 that he had not made up his mind on impeachment until shortly before voting. Impeaching a president and sending U.S. forces to war are the hardest votes a member of Congress can take, he said Tuesday.

“I don't think you should be partisan. I think you should think it through because to me impeachment is overturning a federal election,” he said. “And (with) war, you're voting to send people in harm's way and many will die or get hurt. They'd better be your most difficult votes. If they aren't your most difficult votes, there's something wrong.”

Republican Rep. Jim Banks, who represents roughly the same district as Souder did, has stressed in media interviews and on social media that he strongly opposes the impeachment of Trump.

Souder received an avalanche of criticism for his impeachment votes, especially from members of his own party. An editorial in The Journal Gazette stated that he “ended up with the worst of both worlds” and “lost friends on both sides.” Although some people openly questioned whether he could win reelection in 2000 in his heavily Republican district, Souder went on to receive 62% of the vote in a contested primary election and repeated that figure in the general election. 

“I don't believe it pleased anybody. I believe what it did, however, is show that I was doing my best to try to be fair,” he said about his impeachment votes.

“I'm not sure that the grief I received the rest of my career was worth it, but I still believe it was the right thing to do. ... The personal grief I took for the rest of my career and still from some people today, it might have just been easier to go along with the herd. And that's the sad tale of politics,” he said.

If given the chance for a do-over, Souder said, “I would like to think I would do the same thing.”

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