Conservative media figures have repeatedly claimed or suggested that it would be unprecedented and “corrupt” for Democrats to address “controversial” issues during Congress' lame duck session following the 2010 elections. But in 1998, Republicans impeached President Clinton during such a post-election congressional session.
Conservatives fearmonger about supposedly unprecedented use of lame duck session to address “controversial” issues
Gingrich: "[A]ny attempt by the outgoing Congress to pass legislation they were unwilling to defend in an election would be an attempt to thwart the will of the people." Writing in Human Events on August 4, Newt Gingrich wrote that “Democratic leaders today have been sending clear signals that they are willing to use the lame duck session of Congress to pass the most unpopular and destructive parts of their agenda,” and that, “Like the Federalists' actions in 1801, any attempt by the outgoing Congress to pass legislation they were unwilling to defend in an election would be an attempt to thwart the will of the people.” Gingrich continued, “It is hard to think of an attitude more fundamentally at odds with the spirit of our democratic republic than the idea that an elected representative should feel 'liberated' to pass bills the American people do not support once he or she is freed from the burden of having to face the voters.” Gingrich urged his readers to asked their members of Congress to sign a pledge not to participate in such a lame duck session because it “smacks of the worst kind of political corruption” and “is an abusive power grab.”
Rove: “We've never had a lame duck session that has dealt with a highly controversial and extremely consequential item.” Appearing on the August 9 edition of Fox News' Your World With Neil Cavuto, Karl Rove said that “we've never had a lame-duck session that has dealt with a highly controversial and extremely consequential item,” adding that it “would really be unusual” for Democrats to deal with issues like cap and trade, card check and tax cuts during the session.
Fund: “It's been almost 30 years since anything remotely contentious was handled in a lame-duck session.” In a July 9 Wall Street Journal column, John Fund wrote, “It's been almost 30 years since anything remotely contentious was handled in a lame-duck session, but that doesn't faze Democrats who have jammed through ObamaCare and are determined to bring the financial system under greater federal control.”
Geraghty: “Lame-duck sessions are not designed to be shortcuts to ignore the will of the people and erase any sense of legislative culpability.” Jim Geraghty wrote in National Review Online's “Campaign Spot” blog on June 16 that “Every Republican challenger ought to be demanding that their Democrat incumbent opponent pledge in writing that they will not pass an energy bill in a lame-duck session if they are defeated” and that “When the people make their opinion clear, fundamental concepts of accountability and responsibility require that the opinion not be ignored.” Geragthy added, “Lame-duck sessions are not designed to be shortcuts to ignore the will of the people and erase any sense of legislative culpability.”
Beck: Democrats “ramping up civil unrest” with lame duck session. On the July 15 edition of his radio show, Glenn Beck discussed the proposed lame duck session with Rep. Michelle Bachmann (D-MN) and said, "[Y]ou tell me what stops these people. Because this is my real fear. They are ramping up civil unrest." From the July 15 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program:
BECK: So help me out with -- help me out with this. Tell me, if we have these Democrats being thrown out of office and we have crummy Republicans being thrown out of office, there's a lame duck session.
BACHMANN: Yeah, that's right.
BECK: You tell me what stops, you tell me what stops these people. Because this is my real fear. They are ramping up civil unrest.
Republicans used 1998 lame duck session to impeach Clinton
1998 House impeachment hearings, debate, and vote occurred during lame duck session. The 1998 congressional midterm elections occurred on November 3 of that year. The 105th Congress was subsequently called back for a lame-duck session dealing with the impeachment of President Clinton.Impeachment hearings before the House Judiciary Committee began on November 19, 1998, and concluded on December 12, 1998. The full House took up four articles of impeachment on December 18 and voted on them on December 19. The 106th Congress began on January 6, 1999.
38 “lame duck” members of Congress were involved in impeachment proceedings. As the New York Times reported on December 19, 1998, “They are the lame ducks in the House, 21 Republicans and 17 Democrats, not including two Republicans and one Democrat who won election to Senate seats. And as the House took up impeachment today, they streamed back into the Capitol to deal with what for many is the most momentous issue of their careers in public service, one they variously view as unfortunately necessary or just unfortunate.”
GOP support for impeachment credited with turning projected gain of seats into losses in 1998. A November 3, 1998 article in Time reported:
From the moment in January that Monica Lewinsky became as famous as Michael Jordan, official Washington and its media auxiliary have been transfixed by the President's sex drive. And for a while, who wasn't? But in time most people moved back to matters nearer at hand--getting ahead, getting settled, getting more sleep, anything but “that.” Somehow Congress did not hear. The tobacco deal collapsed; campaign-finance reform died; the patients' bill of rights was shelved. Through it all, the Republicans on Capitol Hill stayed on message. Too bad for them that the message was all Monica all the time.
On Tuesday, voters got the chance to send Washington their own message. It was two words: Shut up! So the election that was supposed to be another G.O.P. blowout ended with a gain of five House seats for the Democrats, no change in the Senate and the morning-after spectacle of dumbstruck Republicans."
Similarly, in a November 3, 1998 CNN.com article, Stuart Rothenberg wrote, “The president clearly was a winner in Tuesday's balloting. He helped boost minority turnout, and avoided the sort of GOP gains that would have fueled further talk of impeachment.” On November 5, 1998, The Washington Post reported that Gingrich had blamed the GOP's losses on “the media for perpetually flogging the Monica Lewinsky scandal” ; the article noted that Gingrich “seemed to be writing himself out” of the elections, and pointed out that Gingrich “approved a final-week blitz of scandal ads that aired in 30 key districts.”
Gingrich himself was a lame duck at the time of the impeachment vote. Despite winning re-election to his congressional seat in 1998, Gingrich announced on November 6, 1998, that he would quit his seat in Congress after Republicans lost seats in Congress during the election. He was still the Speaker of the House on the day the House passed articles of impeachment against Clinton in the lame-duck session, and he voted in favor of all four articles of impeachment offered (two of which ultimately passed).