President Bill Clinton stood at a lectern in the Rose Garden, surrounded by supporters, including his wife, first lady Hillary Clinton. The votes had been counted, and the news had arrived: He was being impeached.
“I hope there will be a constitutional and fair means of resolving this matter in a prompt manner,” he said. “Meanwhile, I will continue to do the work of the American people.”
He decried the “excessive partisanship” and “obsessive animosity” of the day. Then he turned around, shook hands, walked back into the White House and threw a Christmas party.
In an amazing episode of “history repeats itself,” the House is expected to vote to impeach President Donald Trump on Dec. 18 – one day short of the 21st anniversary of the House voting to impeach Clinton on Dec. 19, 1998. Both arrived awkwardly in the holiday season known for “glad tidings” and “goodwill toward men.”
Clinton wasn’t the only one attempting holiday merriment that day in 1998. In the Capitol, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who chaired the House Judiciary Committee overseeing the impeachment at the time, scheduled the committee’s holiday party for the same time as the impeachment vote. (The vote was later moved from Thursday to Saturday.)
Some Democrats were offended by the double-booking, The New York Times reported.
“It should do wonders for holiday cheer,” Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., said sarcastically.
In the halls of the Capitol, CNN correspondent Bob Franken struggled to be heard on-air over a boombox blasting “O Tannenbaum.”
And it wasn’t just Dec. 19 where impeachment and the holidays intertwined. Ten days earlier, at the very moment Clinton lit the National Christmas Tree, House Republicans unveiled their four articles of impeachment against the president. (Only two were passed by the House.)
It was a little bit different this time. On Dec. 5, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced she was asking Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to proceed with articles of impeachment. It was the same day as Trump’s tree lighting, but she made her speech seven hours before the event, not during.
And there was additional drama with the Clinton impeachment. Moments before the impeachment vote, House Speaker-elect Bob Livingston, R-La., announced he would not replace outgoing Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., after all. Hustler magazine had just announced it had information that Livingston had had at least four extramarital affairs.
Though the scene on the Hill may have been surreal, life – and Christmas cheer – went on in most of the United States. Local papers across the country widely reported that holiday shoppers weren’t bringing impeachment up, and when asked, they mostly responded with a mix of apathy and disgust.
“Mississippians ignore impeachment, finish Christmas shopping instead,” announced a Clarion-Ledger headline.
“I think we have better things to worry about in this country than [Clinton’s] personal life,” a Racine, Wisconsin, shopper said to the Journal Times.
“You know what’s funny? I went to two Christmas parties last night and no one was talking about impeachment,” an Ohio Republican told The New York Times. “They talked about whether the [Cleveland] Indians should go after Roger Clemens.”
“Impeachment is old news,” one shopper told the Philadelphia Inquirer. She added that she was more interested in decorating her house for the holidays.
Even right across the Potomac, at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, shoppers told The Washington Post that, by and large, they were neither interested nor offended that impeachment was happening in the season to be jolly.
“Things happen all times in the year,” a Navy commander bah-humbugged to The Post. “The fact that it’s Christmas doesn’t make any difference.”
But a young mall worker at a politically themed shop noted there was a holiday rush for “the Ken Starr report on toilet paper” and a parody CD of a Clinton impersonator singing bawdy tunes.
Earlier this month, Gingrich, the former speaker who presided over the vote, complained on Fox News that “on the eve of Christmas, it is really sad” to see Democrats displaying such “partisanship” – seeming to forget that at Christmastime 21 years ago, he was doing the same.