“I realize that there is no nice way to impeach a President of the United States.” Robert McClory to his colleagues.
Ever wonder why Memorial Day and Labor Day fall on a Monday? Robert McClory had a lot to do with it. He sponsored legislation to make the observed holiday on that day. But McClory’s claim to fame go well beyond that. During Watergate, he became one of the most influential members of the House impeachment committee, and the Illinois Republican proposed thoughtful measures aimed to make the trains move. One such amendment ultimately resulted in Article III.
McClory was often a quiet presence, but one actually seemed concerned with acquiring the facts. At the time of Watergate, he was not the top Republican on the committee. That distinction went to Edward Hutchinson, his Michigan colleague who equaled McClory in seniority, but who had won the top spot by a coin flip. But many on both sides, including Hutchinson, viewed him as one of the intellectual powers on the GOP side. The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon by Stan Kutler noted that “for Hutchison, “intelligent but not very energetic, leadership essentially consisted of a passive and feckless faith that no Republican would vote to impeach the President. He often deferred to the greater activism of his colleague.” That would be McClory.
Ironically, McCrory’s fellow Illinoisan, Tom Railsback, with whom McClory would often be at odds, was likely the other most influential Republican player during the ordeal. The Warrs of Watergate noted that “McClory and Railsback had feuded for many years. They competed throughout the inquiry for leadership within the minority, and particularly among Republicans who would consider impeachment.”
Hailing from the “Land of Lincoln,” McClory undertook his responsibilities on Judiciary with true Lincolnesqe statesmanship. Carefully deliberating, he hesitated on impeachment for the sole reason that he wasn’t sure the evidence indicated Nixon was involved in the cover-up. But pursuit of the facts remained his prime concern. “I have heard it said by some that they cannot understand how a Republican can vote to impeach a Republican president. Let me hasten to assert that that argument demeans my role here. It would make a mockery of our entire inquiry.”
At first, McClory resisted the impeachment brigade. But he was among the first to say that enough Republicans would likely vote in favor as to make passage inevitable.
By late June, with evidence mounting, he told his caucus that his conclusion was that Nixon had “technically” violated the Constitution. He would not support Artice 1. The evidence, he believed, was “weak and fuzzy.” However, he was angered by the administration’s tactics with regard to the tapes, prompting him to say, “now if you ever see an example of stone-walling the prime example is right there.” McClory did support Article II. And he authored Article III.
Article III, which said “without lawful cause or excuse” of not turning over the subpoenaed material, “in derogation of the power of impeachment.” Railsback among others believed the language might “alienate” attempts to attract other Republicans. Indeed, Railsback and all but one other member of the “fragile coalition” (Ray Thornton of Arkansas), would oppose the measure, which nonetheless was adopted 21-17.
Before the articles were voted on, McClory proposed an amendment on July 26 that would postpone further impeachment proceedings for ten days if the Nixon administration would indicate willingness within 24 hours to turn over the tapes. McClory never actually believed the administration would follow through on delivering the tapes. He simply wanted it noted that the committee gave them every opportunity to do so. But the majority felt they had been stonewalled long enough, and it was defeated 11-27, with six Republicans joining the Democrats. That fall, enough backlash was present — perhaps from some republicans angered at his sponsorship of am amendment, that he was held to just 55%. But by ’76, he was back to 61%.
McClrory won his House seat at a relatively old age for a member of the House (54) and his voting record actually grew more moderate as his tenure went along. There may have been a reason for that. McClory’s district was among the few in Illinois that Barry Goldwater carried, so he may have wanted to guard his right flank. but he could only assuage them so much, and by 1978, he was mustering just 59% in the primary.
Eventually, McClory became a “knee-jerk” moderate. McClory opposed abortion but backed busing and the Alaska Act. He was a prime sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment and the Fair Housing Act and opposed attempts to cut food stamps benefits. But on other issues, McClory would align with his party, opposing the creation, for example, of the Consumer Protection Agency. He sponsored highway legislation and bills mandating drivers be 16 to drive. But he was known for his expertise on Judiciary matters, and it was a perch from which few could doubt his intelligence, even if they were sometimes irritated by his techniques.
After Hutchinson retired, McCrory became top Republican on Judiciary. But his problem became redistricting. A plan enacted in 1982 paired the bulk of McCrory’s territory with fellow Republican moderate John Porter, which he called “blatantly political.” McClory was far more senior, in both age and position (he was 74, Porter was the reversed 47). McClory was not ready for his career to end, but ultimately yielded to political reality. He’d be the 4th senior Illinois Republican who would not be returning to Congress following year’s end. Railsback lost his primary, as did Ed Derwinsky, elected in 1958. Downstate colleague Paul Findlay lost the general to Dick Durbin. And a fifth, House Minority Leader Bob Michel, narrowly avoided joining them.
McClory returned to Illinois where he died in 1988 at 80.