A debate over the impeachment of President Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal. A historic moment and a solemn one. The country was in the midst of a crisis of conscience – it was the culmination of almost two years of hearings and findings and confessions. This was the day it was all going to come to a head. And no one seemed particularly happy over the situation. It was grim task and the debate asked tough questions. Over the course of this opening day, some 3 1/2 hours of lengthy arguments and hand-wringing, many potent questions were raised – questions which would repeat over and over in the course of the following decades. But the tone of the proceedings, such as this statement by Illinois Republican Robert McClory, give evidence that the important issue was the welfare of the country – not party. It is an issue that bears an eerie similarity to our current set of circumstances:
Mr. Robert McCLORY (R-Illinois): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I judge from the remarks
of the gentleman from Massachusetts that indeed he has come to a
resolution of this momentous question that is before us. Nevertheless,
Mr. Chairman, let me express the view that this impeachment inquiry
undertaken by our House Judiciary Committee has been both historic
and honorable. Impeachment is, of course, a political process, both
political in the sense of governmental action and political in that it
involves partisan interests and views.
It would be the grossest understatement on my part to suggest that
Watergate and all that the word implies has not caused serious-perhaps
permanent and irreparable injury to my party, the Republican
Party. And this is so-despite the fact that no element of our established
Republican Party organization was involved and no Republican
Member of the Congress has been in any way implicated in this whole
Let me assert, on the contrary, that Republicans and Democrats
are anxious to erase this blemish from our party. I have heard it said
by some that they cannot understand how a Republican could vote to
impeach a Republican President. Let me hasten to assert that that
argument demeans my roll here. It would infer that no matter what
high crimes and misdemeanors might have been committed that, if
attributable to a Republican President, then I as a Republican am
foreclosed from judging the merits of the case. I cannot and do not
envision my role in that dim light.
As a purely partisan matter, would it enhance our Republican
Party if, despite the evidence and the weight of constitutional law,
we as Republicans on this side of the aisle decide to exonerate a Republican
President accused of high crimes and misdemeanors simply
because he and we are Republicans ?
I see that line as leading to Republican Party disaster.
There were many such statements made over the course of this debate – many memorable moments over the following days. Here is that complete first day, as it was aired live on July 24, 1974.