Democrats Who Voted to Impeach Bill Clinton Urge Republicans to Vote on Trump Inquiry with 'An Eye Towards History'

Two Democrats who voted for the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton in 1998 have urged Republican lawmakers to "obey the law" and look "with an eye towards history" when they decide whether or not to impeach President Donald Trump.

Former Democrat representatives Paul McHale and Gene Taylor, who was the only Democrat congressman to vote for all four articles of impeachment, told Newsweek that Republicans had to set aside partisanship when considering how they would vote on impeachment.

McHale, who later served in the administration of George W. Bush, also said voting on impeachment bills was "sobering" and "something quite different than the ordinary business of the House."

Their comments have come as Democrats look set to formalize the impeachment inquiry later this week in an effort to pour cold water on Republican claims that the process lacks authorization from the House.

Should the Democrat-led House approve the formalization of the impeachment inquiry, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told lawmakers in a letter sent on Monday that hearings and testimony transcripts would be "open to the American people."

The impeachment inquiry against President Trump was launched by Pelosi on September 24 after a whistleblower raised the alarm over a July phone call between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, during with the U.S. commander-in-chief urged his counterpart to open an investigation into potential political rival Joe Biden.

Trump has also been accused of withholding military aid from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate former Vice President Biden, but the president has denied there was any pressure or quid pro quo in the phone call with Zelenskiy.

Bill Clinton and Donald Trump
President Donald Trump greets former President Bill Clinton at the Inaugural Luncheon in the US Capitol January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

"When a member of the House votes on impeachment, it is a very sobering responsibility, and it should be seen as something quite different than the ordinary business of the House," McHale, who backed three of the four articles of impeachment leveled against Clinton, told Newsweek.

The former representative of Pennsylvania retired from the House in early 1999, not long after Clinton was impeached, and later joined the Department of Homeland Security, where he served as assistant secretary of defense.

Asked what he would say to any Republicans considering whether or not to vote in favour of impeachment, but perhaps concerned about harming a fellow Republican and damaging their political career, McHale said: "My council would be: vote your conscience, with an eye towards history rather than short-term political consequences."

"I doubt any of them would listen to what I have to say," Gene Taylor added. "But if they'd listen, I'd say obey the law, and remember that the law is the same for your best friend and your worst enemy."

The former Mississippi representative, who launched a primary challenge as a Republican in 2014, added that he voted to impeach Clinton because he felt he lied under oath and believed the law had to be respected by all.

"I felt like he lied, and you can't make an exception because he's president," Taylor said.

Former Rep. Gene Kelly
Former Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS) questions U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Capitol Hill February 16, 2006 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Former Homeland Security official McHale cautioned that "every member of the House" had a huge responsibility to fully consider how they may vote on impeachment, regardless of their view on the Trump administration's policies.

He said: "What really should determine the outcome of the vote is the nation's best interest when measured in terms of the president's alleged misconduct."

But would McHale and Taylor vote for Trump's impeachment were they in the House today, based on the publicly available evidence? Both said that all of the evidence had to be collected before they could answer such a question properly.

"Asking a foreign country to investigate a political opponent is wrong," McHale said. "Withholding national security funds as leverage to make it happen is impeachable."

But he later added: "The only hesitation I have is that we ought not to prejudge the outcome before all the evidence has been collected."

"I think that it ought to be looked into," Taylor said, noting that he was now miles away from Capitol Hill and not privy to evidence given at closed door hearings.

Former Rep. Paul McHale
Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Paul McHale looks on during a press conference at the Old Executive Office Building (OEOB) in Washington, DC, 16 May 2006. Jim Watson/Getty Images

Speaking to Newsweek before Pelosi revealed Democrat plans to formalize the impeachment inquiry and open up the process to the public, McHale said he was "disappointed" that hearings had not been "completely open and transparent."

But the ex-Mississippi Rep. Taylor sympathised with the decision to hold hearings limited to members of the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Policy committees and their staff in a secure room located in the basement of the Capitol.

"There's some ugliness out there and there has been violence and there have been threats of violence," he said. "Given those threats of violence, you somehow have to do it in a way that protects the lives of those people who are willing to testify."

"I am concerned for the whistleblower's safety," he added. "I hope I'm dead wrong on that. But I do have concerns for their safety."

Correction (10/30/2019 10:33 a.m.): This article has been updated to clarify that the House Intelligence Committee, not the House Judiciary Committee, had access to impeachment proceedings held behind closed doors.