SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — After initiating impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton in October 1998, Republicans suffered historic losses in the House of Representative in November 1998. It may be this experience that is causing certain Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), to hesitate to call for President Trump’s impeachment.
On October 8, 1998, the House of Representatives voted to direct the House Judiciary Committee to begin “investigate fully and completely whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to exercise its constitutional power to impeach William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States of America.” (H.Res.581)
The actual vote for impeachment did not take place until December 19, 1998. (H.Res.611) In between, on November 3, 1998, there was a mid-term election.
Historically, the president’s party loses seats the House in the mid-term election in a president’s second term. For example, in President Barack Obama’s second term, the 2014 election saw Republicans gain 13 seats in the House. In 1998, the “six year itch” had been consistent since James Monroe’s second term, mid-term in 1822.
But that all changed in 1998, when Democrats actually gained five seats in the House. The Republicans kept their majority, but the small gain was shocking–many thought the GOP would actually gain seats.
In the post-mortems, a conventional wisdom emerged that Republicans ran elections against Bill Clinton instead of talking about real issues. On November 5, 1998, the political consulting firm, Laszlo and Associates held a forum of consultants and media to discuss the election.
“Republicans, wake the hell up,” said pollster Frank Luntz. He said Republican candidates should have been instructed to “talk about accomplishments, talk about issues, talk about an agenda and get as far away from this Clinton stuff as possible. Instead, they ran towards it.”
Democratic consultant Mark Mellman commented on anti-Clinton ads run by the Republican National Committee.
“What the RNC ad said to people is: we care more about impeachment, we care more about getting Bill Clinton than we do about substantive matters that bother you.” said Mellman. “That was the message that the Republican party communicated and I think it was the wrong message.”
Even Republican consultant Dan Hazelwood said, “The Republicans, I think, were too often in too many states re-running the 1994 election. We, as Republicans, need to get over that. We need to get over running against Bill Clinton. It’s not an effective tool.”
Within days of the election, Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich was forced to resign.
In Congress in 1998, watching all of this unfold firsthand was current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Having observed the Republicans lose seats and oust their speaker over an election swallowed up by talk of impeachment, it’s no wonder Pelosi has been reluctant to call for impeachment of President Trump.
On March 11, 2019, Pelosi said of impeachment, “I just don’t believe in it. They wanted me to impeach President Bush for the Iraq war. I didn’t believe in it then, I don’t believe in it now. It divides the country. Unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country.”
Not only that, but Pelosi appears to have learned that people want a Congress who is concerned about bread and butter issues. When asked about impeachment, she often changes the subject.
For example, on March 14, 1998, she was asked about the Democrats’ plans for impeachment and she said, “Our focus is on what we said we would do. Healthcare, job creation, cleaner government, gun safety, issues like that. It’s not worth our time to take attention from that.”
But not all Democrats seem to agree with that approach. Four high-profile Democrats are already calling to begin impeachment proceedings: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) and Julian Castro, former HUD Secretary.
Sunday, three congressmen indicated they are open to impeachment. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY, who would likely oversee any impeachment investigation) told Meet the Press, “If proven, some of this would be impeachable, yes.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) told Face The Nation, “I’m not there yet, but I can see that possibly coming.”
And Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) told This Week with George Stephanopoulos, “The obstruction of justice in this case is far worse than what Richard Nixon did.”
House Democrats are set to have a conference call on Monday, April 22, to discuss their response to the Mueller Report.