Hoyer: we must show courage
This is the transcript of the speech given on Dec. 18, 2019 by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer prior to the impeachment vote.
Madam Speaker, I have had the honor of serving in this house for over 38 years. I’ve served during six presidencies.
I’ve been here through moments of tremendous progress and terrible tragedy. I have seen periods of rank partisanship and patriotic bipartisanship. I’ve seen our two-party system work. And I’ve seen it break down. Never in all my years of serving in this great institution that I love and the people of my district did I ever expect to encounter such an obvious wrongdoing by a president of the United States.
Nor did I expect to witness such a craven rationalization of presidential actions that should put our national security at risk, undermine the integrity of our elections, and defied the constitutional authority of the Congress to conduct oversight.
We’ve heard from Republicans that this impeachment really has to do with policy differences though on how we feel personally about the president, about his temperament or that we simply dislike him. Throughout the Trump presidency, Democrats have resisted pursuing impeachment even as we watched with dismay and disgust at a pattern of wrongdoing.
That pattern included ordering federal agencies to lie to the public firing the FBI director for refusing to end investigations of his campaign. Siding with Vladimir Putin against our intelligence agencies. Taking funding away from the military to put towards an ineffective border wall. And setting policies that have led to the separation of families and caging of children.
We have, to be sure, with deep disagreements of the policies and actions taken by this president. There’s been a lot of talk of the 63 million people who voted for Mr. Trump. Little talk about the 65 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton. The policy difference or those votes this president was elected legitimately.
Because we have an Electoral College. But none of these are reasons to pursue what Chairman Schiff has called a wrenching process for the nation. In fact, Democrats rejected that process emphatically in three specific votes.
In December of 2017, Democrats overwhelmingly voted against pursuing articles of impeachment including the speaker and myself. We did so again in 2018, with over 60 percent of the Democrats rejecting pursuing articles of impeachment. And again just months ago, in July of 2019, 60 percent of the Democrats said no to pursuing articles of impeachment. Just days before the infamous July 25 telephone call, we did the same with 60 percent of Democrats voting not to proceed.
Credible witnesses, many of whom were appointed to office by President Trump, have corroborated the details and timeline of his abuse of presidential power, which forms the basis of the first article of impeachment in this resolution.
Instead, I will now recount all of the witnesses or abuses that have occurred. I congratulate my colleagues and Mr. Nadler and his committee and Mr. Schiff and his committee for setting forth a compelling case. They’ve been laid out fully in the articles before us and by colleagues in their remarks. What I will do is remind Americans that the house provided president trump every opportunity to prove his innocence, but the witnesses were precluded from coming forth.
The witnesses who had personal knowledge did not come either at the president’s request in which he refused to show up because he thought it was a sham as so many of you have said or to the committees. Instead he ignored congressional subpoenas for documents and for testimony by white house officials and ordered his subordinates not to cooperate. Perhaps they could have exonerated him. This itself I suggest to you is unprecedented. When Presidents Nixon and Clinton were asked to hand over documents and allow officials to testify, ultimately both complied. Because it is the law.
Such actions of the president can be taken as further evidence of his obstruction and abuse of power. It is in and of itself impeachable conduct, the subject of the second article of impeachment.
These two articles concern two very profound constitutional issues about the abuse of power in our republic. First, whether it is acceptable for the president of the United States, any president to solicit foreign interference in our elections. There’s a difference whether he’s done that, and the place to try that is in the United States Senate. But we believe strongly there is probable cause to conclude that. To undermine our national security, the integrity of our elections and the integrity of our democracy.
And secondly, whether it is permissible for the president to obstruct Congress and act as if he is above the law and immune for constitutional oversight. On December 4, the committee heard the testimony constitutional law experts who weighed in on these points. Some 1,500 historians have said the same thing as professor Noah Feldman said. If we cannot impeach a president who abuses his office for personal advantage, we no longer live in a democracy. We live in a monarchy or we live under a dictatorship.
The votes we are about to take concern the rule of law and our democracy itself. Let us not forget the words of John Locke so influential to if founders of our public. John Locke said this: Wherever law ends, tyranny begins. This impeachment asks whether we are still a republic of laws as our founders intended, or whether we will accept that one person can be above the law.
In America as we have said over and over again, no one is above the law. But only as long as we hold every person accountable for breaking the law, even a president, will that be true. If the House does not act, if we wait and delay, we run the risk of allowing the president’s misconduct. If we believe it to be so, to be repeated at the expense of the integrity of our elections, our national security, and our constitutional system of separation of powers.
Democrats did not choose this impeachment. We did not wish for it. We voted against it. We voted against it once. We voted against it twice. We voted against it three times as recently as July. We did not want this. However, president trump’s misconduct has forced our constitutional republic to protect itself.
These votes that we are about to take and the process that will follow in the Senate are not only an assessment of the president’s commitment to the constitution or to his oath of office, it is as well a test of our own. Damning evidence of the president’s high crimes has emerged. Nevertheless, Republican members of this House and of the Senate have continued to defend the president whose actions seem to many of us to be indefensible.
All of us feel a sense of loyalty to party. It’s what makes our two-party system function. It’s what helps hold presidents and majorities accountable. But party loyalty must have its limits. And as evidence of the president’s impeachable offenses have mounted daily as the witnesses testified, it has become increasingly clear that the limits of partisanship have been reached and passed. Now Democrats and Republicans together face a test before our constituents, our countrymen and our creator.
The New York Times on October 18 summarized the question now posed to House and Senate. Republicans and Democrats. Compromise by compromise Donald Trump has hammered away at what Republicans once saw as foundational virtues. Decency, honesty, responsibility and, yes, even civility. They go onto say will they commit themselves and their party wholly to president trump, embracing even his post anti-democratic actions, or will they take the first step towards separating themselves from him and restoring confidence in the rule of law?
Madam Speaker, we have seen Republican courage throughout our history. From the Civil War to the Cold War. In 1950, Margaret Chase Smith, the senator from Maine, a Republican, spoke bravely against the cancer of McCarthyism in her party, leading six of her Republican colleagues in a declaration of conscience against their own leadership.
We are Republicans, they declared, but we are Americans first.
In 1974, one congressman took the brave and principled step of becoming the first Republican on the Judiciary Committee to support impeaching President Nixon. He said to his colleagues and to the country and I quote, “It isn’t easy for me to align myself against the president to whom I gave my enthusiastic support, on whose side I’ve stood in many legislative battles, whose accomplishments in foreign and domestic affairs I consistently applauded.”
“But it is impossible,” he went on to say, “for me to condone or ignore the long train of abuses to which he has subjected the presidency and the people of this country.”
“The Constitution and my own oath of office,” he said, “demand that I bear true faith and allegiance to the principles of law and justice upon which this nation was founded.” And he concluded, “And I cannot in good conscience turn away from the evidence of evil that is to me so clear and compelling.”
My colleagues, that congressman’s name was Larry Hogan Sr. He represented the Fifth District of Maryland, which I now represent. His son is presently the second-term Republican governor of our state. When Larry Hogan Sr. died in 2017, every obituary led with praise for his act of political courage. Who among us many years from now will receive such praise as a man or woman of courage? Who will regret not having earned it?
We talked a lot about partisan differences. There is one person who has spoken today who is neither a member of the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party.
His name is Justin Amash who represents a Republican district. He left the Republican party, and in doing so he admonished his colleagues that, quote, “This president will only be in power for a short time. But excusing his behavior will forever tarnish your name.”
He spoke on this floor in support of the two articles that we will consider this evening. Neither a Democrat nor a Republican. Rep. Amash, of course, is the only member of this house who has no allegiance to either party but to his country. He is supporting, as I’ve said, both articles.
We need not ask who will be the first to show courage by standing up to President Trump. The question we must now ask is who will be the last to find it?
The pages of our history are filled with Americans who had the courage to choose country over party or personality. But as President Kennedy, wrote the stories of past courage can teach. They can offer hope. They can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this, President Kennedy said, each man, each woman must look into their own soul.
I urge my fellow colleagues in the House and, yes, in the Senate to look into your soul. Summon the courage to vote for our constitution and our democracy. I understand we will all not see the same conclusion, but to do less betrays our oath and that of our founders who pledged their lives, their fortune and their sacred honor.
Let us neither turn away from the evidence which to me seems so clear nor from our good conscience which compels us to do what in our hearts we know to be right. Let us not allow the rule of law to end or for tyranny to find its toe hold. With our votes today we can bear true faith and allegiance to the vision of our founders.
And we can show a future generation what it truly means to be Americans first. Vote yes.