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N.C. Congressmen Respond to Impeachment Vote

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U.S. Reps. Bob Etheridge and David Price returned to North Carolina Saturday evening after a historic day on Capitol Hill, in which President Bill Clinton was impeached.(WRAL-TV5 News)
RALEIGH — History repeated itself Saturday in Washington, D.C. as the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach an American president, but two Democratic congressmen from North Carolina were unhappy with the outcome.

"The [American people] wanted us to punish the president for his actions, but they did not want impeachment," said Rep. Bob Etheridge, of the 2nd District. "They (the Republican House members) were just absolutely focused, and they were going to impeach this president no matter what."

Etheridge and Rep. David Price, of the 4th District, were among the Democrats who, at one point during the day, walked out of House chambers to the steps of the Capitol. Their protest was in response to the House's rejection of a proposal that would censure President Bill Clinton instead of impeaching him.

"I think it wasn't a disruptive protest," Price said. "It didn't hold things up a bit, but it was a silent way of showing that we felt we had been disenfranchised in probably the most important vote any of us would ever hope to cast as a representative in Congress."

Saturday's vote marked only the second time in history that an American president has been impeached.

"It was a sad day," said Etheridge. "I don't think any member walked into that chamber gleefully. We acknowledged that we got there because the president had done some things that were wrong, but two wrongs do not make a right."

Both congressmen believe censure would have been a more appropriate action for the House to take against Clinton.

"I was mad because you don't get a chance to represent the wishes of the people and the American people who said they wanted us to vote on censure," said Etheridge.

More drama occurred in the House chambers Saturday when Speaker-elect Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., unexpectedly resigned because of his own personal problems. Both Etheridge and Price were shocked.

"I had high hopes that he would be the kind of speaker that would bring more order and civility to the House and would offer good leadership," said Price. "Apparently some of the far-right members, when they learned about his marital problems, just served notice that they would not vote for him."

Livingston's resignation now has members of Congress waiting to see what will happen next. He replaced Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who announced his resignation on Nov. 3. The Associated Press reports that Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. is now the Republicans' leading candidate, but that other names have been mentioned.

Back home in the Triangle, both Price and Etheridge will be waiting for what they believe will be a more fair Senate trial.

"It wasn't that they just opposed [censure], it was that they wouldn't even let us vote on it," said Price. "At this high historical moment to be playing petty politics, rigging the rules, it just wasn't the way you would like to see a representative government work at a time of great challenge."

The Senate trial for Clinton could begin as early as February 1999.

In 1868, Andrew Johnson, a North Carolina native, was the first president to be impeached. He was acquitted in his trial and was not removed from office.