March 4th 1789: The first United States Congress meets
On this day in 1789, 223 years ago, the first US Congress met thus putting the Constitution into effect. The Congress, made up of the Senate (21 senators) and House of Representatives (58 members), first met at Federal Hall at 26 Wall Street in New York City. The Congress lasted until March 3rd 1791, during the first two years of George Washington’s presidency. The Speaker of the House was Frederick Muhlenberg and the President of the Senate was, per the Constitution, Vice President John Adams. Before there were clear political parties, Congress was simply divided between those who supported the Washington administration and those who did not (supporters had a majority in each house). The main acts of the first Congress were passing the first ten amendments to the Constitution which make up the Bill of Rights, establishing the US Census, creating Washington DC as the national capital, establishing the Departments of State, War and Treasury and creating the Supreme Court through the 1789 Judiciary Act. The first meeting of Congress created the government set out in the Constitution and thus marks the day the Constitution was put into effect.
On this day in 1998, Democratic US President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. On December 19th, the House charged Clinton with perjury to a grand jury (228-206 vote) and obstruction of justice (221-212 vote). Two other articles of impeachment failed: a second count of perjury (205-229) and abuse of power (148-285). The votes were mostly partisan, with only 4 Republicans opposing all 4 articles, and 5 Democrats voted for 3 and 1 Democrat actually voted for all 4 (Gene Taylor of Mississippi).
The impeachment arose from the Lewinsky scandal, when it was discovered that Clinton had engaged in oral sex with White House intern Monica Lewinksy, and from the Paula Jones lawsuit, when Clinton was accused of sexual harassment. Clinton had claimed that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinksy”, believing that what they had engaged in did not class as ‘sexual relations’.
The trial proceedings were largely partisan, with every guilty verdict coming from Republican Senators, only 5 Democratic Representatives voting to impeach, and no Democratic Senators voting for conviction. With a two-thirds majority required for conviction, only 45 senators voted guilty on the perjury charge and 50 on the obstruction charge. Clinton was impeached by the House, but acquitted by the Senate on February 12th 1999.
Clinton is only the second President to have been impeached in American history, the other being Andrew Johnson in 1868.
On this day last year, US Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona’s 8th district and 18 other people were shot at a public meeting near Tucson, Arizona. 6 people died, including Arizona District Court Chief Judge John Roll, and a 9 year old girl who had been born on 9/11. The gunman was Jared Lee Loughner, whose motives remain unclear and who was ruled medically unfit to stand trial in May 2011.
Giffords had been holding a meet and greet for constituents called ‘Congress on Your Corner’ in a supermarket parking lot. Loughner shot Giffords through the head at point blank range before opening fire on others. Giffords was taken to hospital and operated on to extract skull fragments and removed a section of her skull to reduce pressure from swelling.
A year on, Giffords has returned home and is undertaking speech, physical and occupational therapy. She is able to speak some sentences, can walk without a cane and can write with her left hand. She still does not have full use of her right side and has lost 50% of her vision in both eyes. However, on August 1st she was able to return to the House of Representatives to vote on raising the debt limit ceiling. She recieved a standing ovation and praise from her fellow members of Congress. Giffords vows to return full time to Congress.
Tonight she and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, will return to Tucson for a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of that day.