Historical examples of U.S. government bickering, gridlock

History reminds political leaders of the wasteful ineffectiveness of federal government gridlock

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The Senate in session during Bill Clinton's impeachment proceedings.
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The Senate in session during Bill Clinton's impeachment proceedings.

Yahoo! News and many media outlets have begun to speculate about the potential effectiveness of the next Congressional session set to begin in January. Republicans will be in control of the House of Representatives, while Democrats maintain power over the Senate. President Obama and likely Speaker of the House John Boehner have announced it's governmental crunch time: Americans have again called for leaders to get to work and compromise, if necessary, to get the job done.

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History provides a good lesson about perils and pitfalls of governmental gridlock. When the White House and Congress cannot see things the same way or minimally compromise, disaster can ensue. Here's a look at some past examples of Congressional gridlock and what may happen if the 112th Congress is unable to pull it together for the country's ultimate good.

1865: Andrew Johnson

Perhaps one of the most infamous examples of gridlock comes from the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Johnson succeeded Abraham Lincoln after his assassination in April 1865.

Reconstruction of the Confederacy was at stake and several members of Congress had differing opinions as to how to reconcile the country. Congress had a small, yet vocal, group of Republicans later termed "radical Republicans," according to the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. These radicals held the opinion that former slaves should be given the full right to vote and full citizenship, which ran in direct opposition to southern Democrats, who were largely voted in by white plantation owners.

Seeking to get more votes and, hence, a better chance for more seats from the South, the shrewd Republicans passed two voting rights legislation bills. Johnson vetoed both bills, thus beginning his long fight with Congress.

When Johnson vetoed the Tenure of Office Act of 1867, Congress had enough. Johnson came within one vote of being removed from office in the narrowest test of a president's authority in history.

1957: Civil Rights Act

Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina was so vehemently opposed to the Civil Rights Act of 1957, he waged a 24-hour war with Congress. Thurmond staged the longest filibuster in Senate history at 24 hours and 18 minutes, according to Finding Dulcinea.

Previously, Thurmond tried running for president in 1948 on the "Dixiecrat" party platform and won four states with 39 electoral votes. When he tried to run for Senate in 1954, Democrats barred him from being nominated when he endorsed Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower for president. He was elected as a write-in candidate, which may have fueled his ire toward Senate Democrats and hence his subsequent filibuster.

The Civil Rights Act was a watered-down version of the original bill thanks to southern Democrats like Thurmond. Thurmond wanted to get enough votes to defeat the bill, but he failed to convince enough senators during his filibuster attempt.

1998: Bill Clinton impeachment

Republicans controlled Congress for six out of the eight years Bill Clinton was in office. It became most apparent there was no love lost between Clinton and Congress when articles of impeachment were filed against the president for obstruction of justice in December 1998, according to Brooklyn College in New York.

When Clinton lied to Congress about an illicit affair in writing, Republicans seized the chance to punish Clinton and bring him to justice. (John Boehner, notably, was in Congress when Clinton was facing impeachment.) After two months on trial in the Senate, Clinton was found "not guilty" of two articles of impeachment. In what amounted to nothing more than an entangled legal mess for all sides, Clinton and Congress finally moved forward with the most important task -- running the country.

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