LePage should note what Bill Clinton did with his impeachment time State of the Union Address

Lepage3Gov. Paul LePage told a radio station that he might not give a State of the State Address in person — and that’s because the Legislature might be in the middle of impeaching him.

LePage said:

I don’t know. It’s going to be some time but it’s probably going to go back to the 1800s and I’ll do it by letter. … Why am I going to go up and face people and talk to them in an audience that just a week or two before, they’re trying to impeach me? That’s just silliness. … I’ll send them a letter and we’ll call it a day. [source]

There’s no secret that the Legislature is trying to impeach me and I am not going to be impeached one day and stand in front of them and make everybody happy and nice. They don’t like me and the feeling is mutual. And so therefore let the Legislature do their business and let the governor do his business. [source]

Now, I have no idea if the Legislature will vote on articles of impeachment, and frankly right now it seems more like a censure vote would be more likely than impeachment, but this whole situation raised a question in my mind.

What did presidents who were impeached do? Did they deliver State of the Union speeches to Congress?

There are two U.S. presidents who were impeached by the House of Representatives — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Neither were removed by the Senate. If we consider the impeachment process to include the roles of the House and Senate, what did they do?

Now, Gov. LePage is right that presidents did not personally deliver State of the Union addresses to the House and Senate in the 19th century.

There was a gap between such addresses between the one given by John Adams on November 22, 1800 and the one given by Woodrow Wilson on December 2, 1913.

Actually, to get technical, no speeches were called State of the Union Addresses until 1947. All those earlier were called Annual Messages.

Anyway, since Andrew Johnson served during the time of written Annual Messages, he followed the same practice of sending a written missive. So what did Clinton do?

Bill Clinton went up to Capitol Hill and spoke with verve and energy.

As the timeline at the bottom of this post shows, Clinton went ahead and delivered his State of the Union Address even though he was smack in the middle of the impeachment process.

Unlike Gov. LePage, he was not dissuaded. Clinton put himself out there.

As the New York Times reported on Clinton’s speech:

A lesser politician, or a more timid soul, might have balked at facing his House accusers and Senate jurors at a moment of political peril greater than that faced by any other President for many years. But Mr. Clinton seems to thrive on such adversity.

Tonight he showed not only that he could take everything Congress had thrown at him for a year but that he could dish it out as well, baiting the sullen Republicans in the House chamber with jabs on issues they abhor, from the minimum wage to campaign finance overhaul. Yet in the next breath he extended the hand of bipartisanship, as when he paid tribute to the new House Speaker, Representative Dennis Hastert of Illinois, or called on both parties to join him in one or another worthy cause like fighting drug abuse.

It was all a vintage display of Mr. Clinton’s oratorical and political gifts, a masterly show that managed to make the gathered lawmakers, not one of them impeached, look somehow small by comparison.

He reveled at his moment alone on the stage, saluting the First Lady and the baseball hero Sammy Sosa, and laughing when Republicans were compelled to rise and applaud his call for equal pay for men and women. [source]

Here are the key items in the timeline:

December 11-12, 1998 – The House Judiciary Committee approves four articles of impeachment, relating to perjury before the grand jury, obstruction of justice, perjury in a civil deposition, and abuse of power.

December 19, 1998 – The House impeaches President Clinton, approving two of four articles of impeachment.

January 7, 1999 – The impeachment trial formally opens in the Senate.  Chief Justice Rehnquist is sworn in as the presiding judge.  The charges are read.

January 14, 1999 – Opening statements are delivered by five of the House Managers of the prosecution.

January 19, 1999 – Opening statements by the defense team begin hours before President Clinton delivers his State of the Union address.

Source of Clinton timeline

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.