Republican who 'wanted to destroy' Bill Clinton during 1998 impeachment has regrets

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent


Bill Clinton and former Rep. Bob Inglis. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Paul Marotta/Getty Images, AP)

A former Republican congressman who led the charge to impeach Bill Clinton in 1998 said he paid a visit to the former Democratic president a few years ago to ask forgiveness for his role in the affair.

“I hated Bill Clinton, wanted to destroy him, asked to be on Judiciary Committee so that I could impeach him,” said Bob Inglis, R-S.C., in an interview on “The Long Game,” a Yahoo News podcast.

Inglis visited Clinton a few years ago at the former president’s office in Harlem, he said, in what he described as a “very interesting” meeting. Inglis informed Clinton that he joined the Judiciary Committee as soon as he was elected to Congress in 1992, the same year Clinton was elected president, with the intent of impeaching him.

“I hated you so much that I wanted to impeach you,” Inglis told Clinton.

Clinton “sort of flinched,” Inglis said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I know you hadn’t done anything yet, but so much did I hate you.”

“I told him that it wasn’t good for my soul, it wasn’t good for the country, for me to have that level of animosity toward him,” Inglis said. “He didn’t say the words that you would hope to hear, which is, ‘You’re forgiven.’ But in every way he has expressed that to me. He’s been very kind to accept the apology for sure.”

Inglis left his seat in Congress in 1998, the same year the Republican-controlled House impeached Clinton, to run for the U.S. Senate. He narrowly lost to Democratic incumbent Sen. Fritz Hollings, who had held the seat since 1966.

In the years following that defeat, Inglis says he evolved as he worked through anger and sadness over the loss. He described himself as “sanctimonious” during his stint in Congress in the ’90s, but softened and became more empathetic to people who didn’t share his political views.

When he decided to run for the House again in 2004, his son challenged him to do better on environmental policy. That led Inglis, once he began his second stint in Congress, to join the Science and Technology Committee, where he studied the research on climate change and became convinced that he had been wrong to reject the issue as partisan.

“I used to pooh-pooh climate change. In my first term in the Congress, six years, I said: ‘A bunch of nonsense. Al Gore’s imagination,’” Inglis told PBS in 2012.

He lost his seat in Congress in 2010 to a primary challenger, Trey Gowdy, who went on to become a conservative star. Inglis says his promotion of a carbon tax to reduce emissions and help slow climate change was central to his loss.

In 2012, Inglis started the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, which aims to build grassroots support among conservatives for “free enterprise solutions” to climate change.

“Conservatives need to stop disputing obvious climate change and enter the competition of ideas about solutions. Climate change is a serious threat, and it requires action,” his group’s website says.

He told PBS that his goal is “creating a safe space for conservatives to pay attention to science.”

Inglis said on “The Long Game” that his push for conservatives to take climate change seriously was “pretty lonely for several years … but here lately it’s turned around.”

Republican leaders who want to retake the House know the path back to power runs through the suburbs, where GOP candidates will have to move toward the middle on climate, Inglis said, but the message still has yet to filter down to the grassroots.

And of course, President Trump himself has rejected and mocked climate change, and pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. But Inglis said Trump’s refusal to acknowledge scientific consensus around the threat of climate change will not endure.

“It’ll surely end when he leaves office,” Inglis said. “We think he will take climate disputation with him.”

As to whether Trump should be impeached, Inglis said that Republicans should try to think about what they would do if the president were a Democrat.

“What would we do if Barack Obama had done this?” Inglis said, referring to Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. “I think the answer is pretty clear. We would have impeached him and removed him from office very quickly. I just want fellow Republicans to think about that.”

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