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Impeachment déjà vu? What Wisconsin's congressional delegation said about impeachment, then and now

Posted at 1:55 PM, Dec 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-20 14:47:59-05

Wisconsin Democrats and Republicans sound alike when comparing arguments against impeaching President Trump vs impeaching President Clinton.

President Trump is only the third president to be impeached in history. Clinton was impeached December 19, 1998, nearly 21 years to the day when Trump was impeached.

Wednesday’s vote was largely along partisan lines with no Republicans - including Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, voting to impeach the 45th president.

"The Democratic caucus has been hijacked by the radical left, they have wanted to reverse the course of 2016 ever since Donald J Trump won that election, said long time Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner.

The retiring Congressman called the articles of impeachment against Trump unfair. "Now the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress, it basically says that unless the president gives us everything we want and when we want it - that he has committed an impeachable offense. That's a bunch of bunk. "

But it was a different tone and time when when Sensenbrenner and Republicans controlled the House in 1998. It was Sensenbrenner leading the effort to impeach President Clinton against the wishes of a majority of Democrats. Only a handful of Democrats broke ranks with the party.

"I rise in favor of impeaching William Jefferson Clinton. I take no joy in this decision but I make no apologies either,” said Sensenbrenner on the House floor.

Sensenbrenner's conscience was clear back then: President Clinton had lied and needed to be impeached.

"After examining and weighing all this evidence and testimony, I believe that the president lied under oath, obstructed justice and abused the power of his office by providing false statements to congress in response to questions submitted by the judiciary committee."

The only other Wisconsin member still in Congress from that historic day was Democrat Ron Kind from La Crosse.

The freshman Congressman voted against impeachment but favored a different rebuke of Clinton’s behavior.

What's next following the impeachment of President Trump?

"If it's just about punishing and holding the president accountable and retribution- we can do that short of punishing the country as well and paralyzing this government of ours for the next 6-8 months through censure.

Fast forward to 2019, Kind joined fellow Democrats in backing both articles of impeachment.

“If any president - Democrat or Republican- had committed these offenses I would have reached the same conclusion,”

Kind points out he’s the only current member of Congress who voted for an impeachment inquiry against Trump and Clinton.

President Trump won Kind’s Congressional District in 2016 by four points - but Kind believes the president abused his power on that call to Ukraine’s President.

"Asking another country to meddle in our elections and withholding vital security assistance from an ally is what our founding fathers feared," said Kind, "and why they placed impeachment in our Constitution."

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was also in Congress for the historic Clinton vote.

"It's a sad day. Not a lot of anger just disappointment,” said Barrett on the day of the vote.

Like today's Trump supporters, Democrats backing Clinton thought Republicans were being unfair and hyperpartisan. Barrett favored censure over impeachment.

"I trust the conscience of this institution but what is happening today is the conscience of this institution is being strangled. It's being strangled for raw partisan politics.”

Looking back on other members of Congress during Clinton's impeachment - Democrats and Republicans were equally divided.

House clerk reads text of 2 articles of impeachment against Trump

Jerry Klezcka served 20 years in Congress. The now deceased Milwaukee Democrat voted against impeachment but the whole ordeal troubled him at that time.

"When the clerk this morning read the resolution - and indicated that the resolution called for the impeachment of the president - my heart dropped right down to my stomach.”

Congressman Jay Johnson served one term and died in 2009. The Green Bay Democrat was against impeachment.

"I don't believe what the president is accused - the crime he's accused of - even perjury rises to level as written in the constitution, high crimes and misdemeanors."

Scott Klug was a Republican from Madison. Think about that for a moment - a moderate Republican representing the Madison area in the late 1990s.

The now Public Affairs Advisor's last vote in Congress was on impeachment after four terms in office.

"Impeachment, I believe is the painful but correct choice."

Dave Obey was a leading voice for Democrats - and served 40 plus year in Congress. The Wausau-area congressman believed Clinton misled the country but not to to the level of impeachment.

"If the House leadership can only win this vote by denying any alternative, it will have failed the country as much as Bill Clinton has," said Obey on the House floor

For Republican Mark Neumann, one of his last votes in Congress was to impeach. At the time, he blamed Democrats for not holding the president accountable.

"I think the most amazing thing I'm hearing is, that the other side, repeatedly saying we understand he is a liar, we understand his behavior is reprehensible but we don't want to impeach him. "