(Senate - September 03, 1998)

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[Pages S9923-S9926]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  Mr. LIEBERMAN. Mr. President, I rise today to make the most difficult 
and distasteful statement, for me probably the most difficult statement 
I have made on this floor in the 10 years I have been a Member of the 
U.S. Senate.
  On August 17, President Clinton testified before a grand jury 
convened by the independent counsel and then talked to the American 
people about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a former White 
House intern. He told us that the relationship was ``not appropriate,'' 
that it was ``wrong,'' and that it was ``a critical lapse of judgment 
and a personal failure'' on his part. In addition, after 7 months of 
denying that he had engaged in a sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, 
the President admitted that his ``public comments about this matter 
gave a false impression.'' He said, ``I misled people.''
  Mr. President, my immediate reaction to this statement that night it 
was delivered was deep disappointment and personal anger. I was 
disappointed because the President of the United States had just 
confessed to engaging in an extramarital affair with a young woman in 
his employ and to willfully deceiving the Nation about his conduct. I 
was personally angry because President Clinton had, by his disgraceful 
behavior, jeopardized his administration's historic record of 
accomplishment, much of which grew out of the principles and programs 
that he and I and many others had worked on together in the new 
Democratic movement. I was also angry because I was one of the many 
people who had said over the preceding 7 months that if the President 
clearly and explicitly denies the allegations against him, that of 
course I believe him.
  Since that Monday night I have not commented on this matter publicly. 
I thought I had an obligation to consider the President's admissions 
more objectively, less personally, and to try to put them in a clearer 
perspective. And I felt that I owed that much to the President, for 
whom I have great affection and admiration, and who I truly believe has 
worked tirelessly to make life tangibly better in so many ways for so 
many Americans.
  But the truth is that, after much reflection, my feelings of 
disappointment and anger have not dissipated, except now these feelings 
have gone beyond my personal dismay to a larger, graver sense of loss 
for our country, a reckoning of the damage that the President's conduct 
has done to the proud legacy of his Presidency, and ultimately an 
accounting of the impact of his actions on our democracy and its moral 
foundations. The implications for our country are so serious that I 
feel a responsibility to my constituents in Connecticut, as well as to 
my conscience, to voice my concerns forthrightly and publicly. And I 
can think of no more appropriate place to do that than on this great 
Senate floor.
  I have chosen to speak particularly at this time before the 
independent counsel files his report because, while we do not know 
enough yet to answer the question of whether there are legal 
consequences of the President's conduct, we do know enough from what 
the President acknowledged on August 17 to answer a separate and 
distinct set of questions about the moral consequences for our country. 
Mr. President, I have come to this floor many times in the past to 
speak with my colleagues about the concerns which are so widely shared 
in this Chamber and throughout the Nation that our society's standards 
are sinking; that our common moral code is deteriorating and that our 
public life is coarsening.

  In doing so, I have specifically criticized leaders of the 
entertainment industry for the way they have used the enormous 
influence they wield to weaken our common values. And now, because the 
President commands at least as much attention and exerts at least as 
much influence on our collective consciousness as any Hollywood 
celebrity or television show, it is hard to ignore the impact of the 
misconduct the President has admitted to on our culture, on our 
character and on our children.
  To begin with, I must respectfully disagree with the President's 
contention that his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and the way in 
which he misled us about it is nobody's business but his family's and 
that even Presidents have private lives, as he said.
  Whether he or we think it fair or not, the reality is in 1998 that a 
President's private life is public. Contemporary news media standards 
will have it no other way. Surely, this President was given fair notice 
of that by the amount of time the news media has dedicated to 
investigating his personal life during the 1992 campaign and in the 
years since.
  But there is more to this than modern media intrusiveness. The 
President is not just the elected leader of our country. He is, as 
Presidential scholar Clinton Rossiter observed, ``The one-man 
distillation of the American people,'' and as President Taft said at 
another time, ``The personal embodiment and representative of their 
dignity and majesty.'' So when his personal conduct is embarrassing, it 
is sadly so not just for him and his family, it is embarrassing for all 
of us as Americans.
  The President is a role model who, because of his prominence and the 
moral authority that emanates from his office, sets standards of 
behavior for the people he serves. His duty, as the Reverand Nathan 
Baxter of the National Cathedral here in Washington said in a recent 
sermon, ``is nothing less than the stewardship of our values.'' So no 
matter how much the President or others may wish to compartmentalize 
the different spheres of his life, the inescapable truth is that the 
President's private conduct can and often does have profound public 
  In this case, the President apparently had extramarital relations 
with an employee half his age and did so in the workplace, in the 
vicinity of the Oval Office. Such behavior is not just inappropriate, 
it is immoral and it is harmful, for it sends a message of what is 
acceptable behavior to the larger American family, particularly to our 
children, which is as influential as the negative message that is 
communicated by the entertainment culture.
  If you doubt that, just ask America's parents about the intimate and 
frequently unseemly sexual questions their young children have been 
asking them about and discussing since the President's relationship 
with Ms. Lewinsky became public 7 months ago. I have had many of those 
conversations with parents, particularly in Connecticut, and from them 
I conclude that parents across our country feel much as I do that 
something very sad and sordid has happened in American life when I 
cannot watch the news on television with my 10-year-old daughter 
  This, unfortunately, is all too familiar territory for America's 
families in today's ``anything goes'' culture, where sexual promiscuity 
is too often treated as just another lifestyle choice with little risk 
of adverse consequences. It is this mindset that has helped to threaten 
the integrity and stability of the family which continues to be the 
most important unit of civilized society, the place where we raise our 
children and teach them to be responsible citizens, to develop and 
nurture their personal and moral faculties.
  President Clinton, in fact, has shown during the course of his 
Presidency that he understands this and the broad concern in the public 
about the threat to the family. He has used the bully pulpit of his 
Presidency to eloquently and effectively call for the renewal of our 
common values, particularly the principle of personal responsibility 
and our common commitment to family. He has spoken out admirably 
against sexual promiscuity among teenagers in clear terms of right and 
wrong, emphasizing the consequences involved.

[[Page S9924]]

  All of that makes the President's misconduct so confusing and so 
damaging. The President's relationship with Ms. Lewinsky not only 
contradicted the values he has publicly embraced over the last 6 years, 
it has, I fear, compromised his moral authority at a time when 
Americans of every political persuasion agree that the decline of the 
family is one of the most pressing problems we are facing.
  Nevertheless, I believe that the President could have lessened the 
harm his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky has caused if he had 
acknowledged his mistake and spoken with candor about it to the 
American people shortly after it became public in January. But, as we 
now know, he chose not to do this. This deception is particularly 
troubling because it was not just a reflexive and, in many ways, 
understandable human act of concealment to protect himself and his 
family from what he called the embarrassment of his own conduct when he 
was confronted with it in the deposition in the Jones case, but rather 
it was the intentional and premeditated decision to do so.
  In choosing this path, I fear that the President has undercut the 
efforts of millions of American parents who are naturally trying to 
instill in our children the value of honesty. As most any mother and 
father knows, kids have a singular ability to detect double standards. 
So we can safely assume that it will be that much more difficult to 
convince our sons and daughters of the importance of telling the truth 
when the most powerful man in the Nation evades it.
  Many parents I have spoken with in Connecticut confirm this 
unfortunate consequence. The President's intentional and consistent 
statements more deeply may also undercut the trust that the American 
people have in his word.
  Under the Constitution, as Presidential scholar Richard Neustadt has 
noted, the President's ultimate source of authority, particularly his 
moral authority, is the power to persuade, to mobilize public opinion, 
to build consensus behind a common agenda, and at this the President 
has been extraordinarily effective. But that power hinges on the 
President's support among the American people and their faith and 
confidence in his motivations and agenda, yes, but also in his word. As 
Teddy Roosevelt once explained, ``My power vanishes into thin air the 
instant that my fellow citizens, who are straight and honest, cease to 
believe that I represent them and fight for what is straight and 
honest. That is all the strength that I have.''
  Sadly, with his deception, President Clinton may have weakened the 
great power and strength that he possesses of which President Roosevelt 
spoke. I know this is a concern that many of my colleagues share, which 
is to say that the President has hurt his credibility and, therefore, 
perhaps his chances of moving his policy agenda forward. But I believe 
that the harm the President's actions have caused extend beyond the 
political arena.

  I am afraid that the misconduct the President has admitted may be 
reinforcing one of the worst messages being delivered by our popular 
culture, which is that values are fungible. And I am concerned that his 
misconduct may help to blur some of the most bright lines of right and 
wrong in our society.
  Mr. President, I said at the outset that this was a very difficult 
statement to write and deliver. That is true, very true. And it is 
true, in large part, because it is so personal and yet needs to be 
public, but also because of my fear that it will appear unnecessarily 
judgmental. I truly regret this. I know from the Bible that only God 
can judge people. The most that we can do is to comment, without 
condemning individuals. And in this case I have tried to comment on the 
consequences of the President's conduct on our country.
  I know that the President is far from alone in the wrongdoing he has 
admitted. We, as humans, are all imperfect. We are all sinners. Many 
have betrayed a loved one, and most have told lies. Members of Congress 
have certainly been guilty of such behavior, as have some previous 
Presidents. We must try to understand the complexity and difficulty of 
personal relationships, which should give us pause before passing 
judgment on them. We all fall short of the standards our best values 
set for us. Certainly I do.
  But the President, by virtue of the office he sought and was elected 
to, has traditionally been held to a higher standard. This is as it 
should be. Because the American President, as I quoted earlier, is not 
just the one-man distillation of the American people but today the most 
powerful person in the world, and, as such, the consequences of his 
misbehavior, even private misbehavior, are much greater than that of an 
average citizen, a CEO, or even a Senator.
  That is what I believe Presidential scholar James David Barber, in 
his book ``The Presidential Character,'' was getting at when he wrote 
that the public demands ``a sense of legitimacy from, and in, the 
Presidency * * * There is more to this than dignity, more than 
propriety. The President is expected to personify our betterness in an 
inspiring way, to express in what he does and is (not just what he 
says) a moral idealism which, in much of the public mind, is the very 
opposite of politics.''
  Just as the American people are demanding of their leaders, though, 
they are also fundamentally fair and forgiving, which is why I was so 
hopeful the President could begin to repair the damage done with his 
address to the Nation on the 17th. But like so many others, I came away 
feeling that, for reasons that are thoroughly human, he missed a great 
opportunity that night.
  He failed to clearly articulate to the American people that he 
recognized how significant and consequential his wrongdoing was and how 
badly he felt about it. He failed to show, I think, that he understood 
his behavior had diminished the office he holds and the country he 
serves and that it is inconsistent with the mainstream American values 
that he has advanced as President.
  And I regret that he failed to acknowledge that while Mr. Starr and 
Ms. Lewinsky, Mrs. Tripp, and the news media have each in their own way 
contributed to the crisis we now face, his Presidency would not be in 
peril if it had not been for the behavior he himself described as 
``wrong'' and ``inappropriate.''
  Because the conduct the President admitted to that night was serious 
and his assumption of responsibility inadequate, the last 3 weeks have 
been dominated by a cacophony of media and political voices calling for 
impeachment or resignation or censure, while a lesser chorus implores 
us to ``move on'' and get this matter behind us.
  Appealing as that latter option may be to many people who are 
understandably weary of this crisis, the transgressions the President 
has admitted to are too consequential for us to walk away and leave the 
impression for our children today and for our posterity tomorrow that 
what he acknowledges he did within the White House is acceptable 
behavior for our Nation's leader.
  On the contrary, as I have said, it is wrong and unacceptable and 
should be followed by some measure of public rebuke and accountability. 
We in Congress--elected representatives of all the American people--are 
surely capable institutionally of expressing such disapproval through a 
resolution of reprimand or censure of the President for his misconduct, 
but it is premature to do so, as my colleagues of both parties seem to 
agree, until we have received the report of the independent counsel and 
the White House's response to it.
  In the same way, it seems to me that talk of impeachment and 
resignation at this time is unjust and unwise. It is unjust because we 
do not know enough in fact, and will not until the independent counsel 
reports and the White House responds, to conclude whether we have 
crossed the high threshold our Constitution rightly sets for 
overturning the results of a popular election in our democracy and 
bringing on the national trauma of removing an incumbent President from 
  For now, in fact, all we know for certain is what the President 
acknowledged on August 17. As far as I can see, the rest is rumor, 
speculation, or hearsay--much less than is required by Members of the 
House and Senate in the dispatch of the solemn responsibilities that 
the Constitution gives us in such circumstances.
  I believe the talk of impeachment and resignation now is unwise 
because it ignores the reality that, while the

[[Page S9925]]

independent counsel proceeds with his investigation, the President is 
still our Nation's leader, our Commander in Chief. Economic uncertainty 
and other problems here at home, as well as the fiscal and political 
crises in Russia and Asia, and the growing threats posed by Iraq, North 
Korea, and worldwide terrorism, all demand the President's focused 
leadership. For that reason, while the legal process moves forward, I 
believe it is important that we provide the President with the time and 
space and support he needs to carry out his most important duties and 
protect our national interest and security.
  That time and space may also give the President additional 
opportunities to accept personal responsibility for his behavior, to 
rebuild public trust in his leadership, to recommit himself to the 
values of opportunity, responsibility, and community that brought him 
to office, and to act to heal the wounds in our national character.
  In the meantime, as the debate on this matter proceeds, and as the 
investigation goes forward, we would all be advised, I would 
respectfully suggest, to heed the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln's second 
annual address to Congress in 1862. With the Nation at war with itself, 
President Lincoln warned:

       If there ever could be a proper time for mere catch 
     arguments, that time is surely not now. In times like the 
     present, men should utter nothing for which they would not 
     willingly be responsible through time and eternity.

  I believe that we are at such a time again today. With so much at 
stake, we too must resist the impulse toward ``catch arguments'' and 
reflex reactions. Let us proceed in accordance with our Nation's 
traditional moral compass, yes, but in a manner that is fair and at a 
pace that is deliberate and responsible.
  Let us, as a nation, honestly confront the damage that the 
President's actions over the last 7 months have caused, but not to the 
exclusion of the good that his leadership has done over the past 6 
years nor at the expense of our common interest as Americans. And let 
us be guided by the conscience of the Constitution, which calls on us 
to place the common good above any partisan or personal interest, as we 
now in our time work together to resolve this serious challenge to our 

  I thank the Chair. I thank my colleagues. I yield the floor.
  Mr. KERREY addressed the Chair.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Chair recognizes the Senator from 
  Mr. KERREY. Mr. President, I do not know if the distinguished Senator 
from Connecticut said anything between the time I left my office and 
came here to the floor with which I disagree, but in the time that I 
watched him from my office and listened to his words from my office, 
and from what I have heard him say in conclusion, I have come before 
the Senate and I don't disagree with a single word that the Senator 
from Connecticut has said.
  I have passed a few words my way at the direction of the President 
from time to time, some of them a bit more harsh than I would have 
liked and preferred. It is sometimes my nature to say things a little 
too loudly than is deserved in a particular situation. And I have at 
the same time praised, as I heard the distinguished Senator from 
Connecticut do, the President's numerous accomplishments. And they are 
numerous. I do not question his patriotism. I do not question his 
instinct for service. I have praised his job as Commander in Chief and 
have said to the country that there is no better example than Bill 
Clinton that a civilian with no military service can be our Commander 
in Chief and can learn as he did, the hard way in Somalia. There are 
tremendous responsibilities that come with that job; and he has 
listened to the men and women who serve our country. He has been an 
exceptional Commander in Chief.
  I praised him on a number of other occasions where he has performed 
in a remarkably generous and good-hearted way.
  I have found, as the Senator from Connecticut did, much with which I 
disagreed in his statement. I believe it is important for those of us 
who serve, especially in leadership responsibilities, as I do on the 
Democratic side, chairing the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, 
to come and say that this is not just inappropriate behavior.
  I have heard the Senator from Connecticut and his leadership in 
calling our attention--by that I mean those of us who serve here in 
Congress. We all get, from time to time, a bit isolated. I work hard 
and long trying to do the best that I can for the people of Nebraska. 
It doesn't give me much time to watch daytime television, to watch what 
is being broadcast, to listen to what is being said, to consider how 
this could damage the moral fiber of our Nation, especially the moral 
fiber of our children upon whom we depend for so much. And he has come 
to us and told us what is going on and called to our attention that we 
need to be mindful of the things that we say and the things that we do 
because our young people will very often do as we say, far less than 
they do as we do--they will follow our example.
  Thus, it seems to me what the Senator from Connecticut has done is 
come as an American--not as a Democrat, but as an American, as a U.S. 
Senator. I wish to join him and say that the President has got to go 
far further than he did in his speech to the Nation. This is not just 
inappropriate behavior. This is not a private matter. This is far more 
important for our country and threatens far more than his Presidency, 
unless we deal with it in a more honest, and as the Senator from 
Connecticut has said, noncondemning fashion. Lord knows, I am the last 
person--the Senator from Connecticut said he was a sinner, and I am at 
least as big. I do not come to the floor arguing that I have superior 
moral authority to comment on the President's behavior. I am coming 
simply to say that it is far more than inappropriate, and it is, 
unquestionably, public. It is serious beyond our ability to do our 
  I think that we can come back as a Congress and finish out our 
business and perform our responsibilities and do the things that we ask 
permission to do and we sought the power of this office from our people 
to do. But there is a moral dimension to what we do that in many ways 
may be more important than any legislation that we enact.
  So I have come here to thank the Senator from Connecticut. It was a 
thoughtful presentation. They were words that we needed to hear. I 
believe, in fact, they could become the foundation, the basis, for us 
to heal a wound that will otherwise not just divide Democrat from 
Democrat--which is likely to occur--but open up a fissure in America 
that will make it difficult for us to do what all of us, I believe, 
think is the most important thing to do, and that is to help our 
children acquire the character they need not just to be good working 
people but to be good human beings.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from New York.
  Mr. MOYNIHAN. Mr. President, I rise with the same purpose as my 
colleague and friend from Nebraska, to thank the Senator from 
Connecticut for saying what needed saying, and saying it in a manner 
that gives us hope at a time of profound despond.
  In the aftermath of the President's speech on August 17, I commented 
that it was not adequate. But it was not until just this moment that 
the full measure of that inadequacy was presented to us in the context 
of the needs of the Nation, of the profound moral consequences that 
will arise not just from what has happened but from what might happen 
if we do not proceed with the measure of moral compass, but also with a 
capacity to understand we are all sinners. I say to my friends from 
Nebraska and from Connecticut, I am the oldest of the three of us and, 
therefore, have sinned the most. On that you may be sure.
  But we have to resolve this. The Senator did not call for any 
immediate, precipitous action. We have a process in place--imperfect in 
so many respects, but in place--and in time, not distant time, a point 
of decision will come to the Congress, a decision will come to the 
Congress, and it will be for us to discharge our sworn duty. We take an 
oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, uphold and defend 
the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and 
domestic--foreign and domestic, sir, which acknowledges that we can be 
our own worst enemies if we do not hew to

[[Page S9926]]

our best standards, knowing that we are all imperfect but have an 
obligation to do our very best.
  In the words of Lord Mansfield in a case heard in London in 1772 
(Somersett v. Stewart, 12 Geo. 3), the issue was a profoundly moral 
one. A man had a slave in England he wished returned to Jamaica to 
sell. That would have been legal under American law at the time. It was 
not legal under English law. In an epic statement, Mansfield said, 
``Fiat justitia, ruat coelum''--``Let justice be done, though the 
heavens fall.'' But it also could be indicated, ``If justice is done 
with sufficient regularity and moderation, the heavens need not fall. 
They might even rejoice in the nation that has shown a capacity for 
redemption and self-renewal.''
  So I wish to state my profound gratitude for what you have said and 
done, and hope we will listen to your wise counsel. I might just say it 
was in so many ways representative of the very best of our Old and New 
Testament heritage.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The distinguished majority leader is 
  Mr. LOTT. Mr. President, I was somewhat hesitant to speak at this 
time because I didn't in any way want to make this a partisan series of 
speeches, but my effort here and my intent is to make it totally 
nonpartisan and bipartisan.
  I won't say anything today about the specifics of the substance that 
the Senator from Connecticut addressed. I made my comments on this 
subject on Monday of this week at a press conference down the hall. But 
I listened carefully, very intently to what the Senator from 
Connecticut had to say. I don't think there was very much more or less 
in what he had to say than what I had said earlier. I think our desire 
and intent, and our wishes and hopes are both the same.
  Instead, I want to talk today about the Senator from Connecticut. I 
expected no less than this from him. He is truly one of the Senators in 
this body that is always standing for the right thing, trying to make 
sure that we do have a moral compass as individuals, as an institution. 
I knew that at some point he would rise and put it all into the proper 
perspective and that he would not go too far, that he would make us 
stop and think--not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Senators and 
Americans--about the seriousness and the difficulties that have been 
caused by this situation. So I want to thank the Senator from 
Connecticut for what he had to say, and what he has had to say on many 
other occasions on other subjects, and for the leadership he has 
provided on children and the violence and the filth they are being 
exposed to, and the leadership and pressure he has exerted to try to 
get us as a country and those involved directly in providing those 
films, those scenes, to do something about it. So I thank him.
  I know it was not easy. I know he has taken time to think about it 
and pray about it for over about 3 weeks now. I know there was probably 
a lot of reason not to say anything. But I also know that his 
conscience dictated that he had to express himself. I commend him for 
it and I thank him for it.
  I also appreciate the fact that Senator Kerrey of Nebraska and the 
Senator from New York, Mr. Moynihan, would come here and lend his 
support to what the Senator from Connecticut had to say. This very day, 
I had lunch with the Senator from New York. Maybe the American people 
do not realize that we are friends off this floor and that we enjoy 
each other's company. And we do travel together. We get to be together 
with our wives and sometimes even our children. But today at lunch, 
with Senator Mack of Florida, Senator Roth of Delaware, we were joined 
by the Senator from New York. We talked about the very serious 
situation in Russia. Every time he joins us, I immediately want to 
raise a part of the world and say, ``What about India and Pakistan?'' 
or ``What about that country or this situation?'' He is such a fountain 
of knowledge and has a wealth of experience and a tremendous 
understanding of history and people. I found it very informative, and I 
have been dwelling on what he had to say about Russia this afternoon.
  I think at times like this, when our Constitution is going to be 
reviewed again as to what it means and when we are going to have to 
make decisions about what to do when we are presented with a set of 
facts--which may be nothing--it is going to be so important that there 
are some men and women on both sides of the aisle in this body, and in 
the other body, that can reach across the aisle and say, ``What do we 
do?'' and, most important, ``What is best for our country?'' With these 
men, and with others in this Chamber here today such as Senator Hatch, 
Senator Coats, Senator Nickles, and the great Strom Thurmond, I am sure 
we will find a way to rise above petty politics and do the right thing, 
and Senator Lieberman will lead the way.
  I yield the floor.
  Mr. THURMOND addressed the Chair.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The distinguished Senator from South Carolina 
is recognized.