One day after the Senate Ethics Committee unanimously recommended his expulsion, Sen. Bob Packwood resigned Thursday in an emotional, rambling speech on the Senate floor.
Charged with gross abuses of his power that extended beyond the most salacious sexual allegations, the Oregon Republican put an end to his 26-year career and the 34-month saga that may have forever altered the culture of the Senate.
"I am aware of the dishonor that has befallen me over the last three years," Packwood said. "It is my duty to resign. It is the honorable thing to do for this country and the Senate. So I now announce that I will resign from the Senate.
"I leave this institution not with malice but with love," the 62-year-old moderate concluded, breaking into tears as he sat down in a leather chair surrounded by some of his oldest friends in the Senate.
In the 12-minute speech, Packwood reflected on some of the high points of his five terms, but made no mention of the barrage of charges levelled against him. Although the litany of graphic sexual-misconduct charges received the most attention, Packwood was accused of equally serious violations involving job solicitation for his ex-wife and evidence tampering.
About 75 lawmakers and dozens of Capitol Hill staffers sat quietly in the Senate chamber watching Packwood as he gripped the hand of his closest aide and listened to a tribute by his political mentor.
"It saddens me deeply that recent events have overcome my longtime friend," said Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, the Oregon Republican who taught Packwood in college. "I am very sorry to see his career end this way."
The two men then hugged.
One-by-one Packwood's colleagues stood to praise Packwood as a brilliant legislator, a fair squash player, a true civil libertarian and a gentleman for sparing the Senate the added indignity of having to cast a vote on his expulsion.
"I do not believe this is a happy day for the United States Senate," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "This is a day for some courage and bravery on the part of Sen. Packwood. Even those of us who did not know him well know of his love for this body; it is palpable."
Packwood's departure leaves the Senate without a chairman for the vitally important Finance Committee at a time when that panel was preparing to oversee top legislative priorities such as welfare reform and tax cuts.
But his resignation also puts to rest one of the messiest episodes in Senate history, one that not only threatened Packwood's future but also the presidential prospects of his close ally, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.
"He has great respect for the Senate," Dole said on the floor after the resignation. "I believe Sen. Packwood made the right decision. I must say I think it was very severe punishment."
This was the first ethics case in Senate history involving sexual misconduct and many lawmakers said that with its resolution the elite club of 100 has turned a corner in the thorny area of gender issues.
"I know that at various points in this case, there were those out there who wondered whether the Ethics Committee would "get it' in the Packwood case," said the panel chairman, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "Well, there can be no doubt today that the Ethics Committee "got it' concerning the gross and persistent misconduct demonstrated by Sen. Bob Packwood."
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat and the only woman on the Ethics Committee, attributed the cultural change to the 1991 nomination hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. During the televised hearings, the all-male Judiciary Committee squirmed as Anita Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment. Although Thomas was confirmed, the case helped propel four more women into the Senate.
"The Anita Hill matter had a searing effect on the psyche of the Senate," she said, adding the Thomas-Hill fight ensured that "any issue related to sexual misconduct would be taken seriously."
Several senators said Packwood would not have suffered such punishment in an earlier era.
"I came here in '75; those were the Wilbur Mills days," said Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vermont, referring to the congressman embarrassingly discovered in the Tidal Basin with the infamous stripper Fanne Fox. "You put your mistress on the payroll even if she couldn't type. The public was suddenly finding out the horrible moral ethics of members and society."
When asked why this was the first sexual-misconduct case, Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kansas, replied: "Nobody brought charges before."
But Kassebaum, who long urged Packwood to resign rather than further humiliate himself and the Senate, said she couldn't be certain the case would forever change the attitudes of her colleagues.
Even as they decried Packwood's behavior, several senators argued sexual misconduct was not sufficient grounds for expulsion. "We never used any criteria short of treason or things like high crimes," said Sen. Trent Lott, the No.
2 Republican in the Senate.
The last time anyone was expelled from the Senate was for treason during the Civil War. In 1982, Democratic Sen. Harrison Williams Jr. avoided expulsion in the Abscam corruption case by resigning his seat at the last moment. Packwood is entitled to his pension, estimated at $89,000 annually.
Members of the Ethics Committee, visibly agitated over Packwood's handling of the case, said the vote for expulsion had less to do with societal attitudes than the egregiousness of his behavior.
"The Senate has zero tolerance for this kind of conduct," said Richard Bryan, D-Nev. "This is the atomic bomb _ expulsion _ we can do no more. . . . The conduct Sen. Packwood was convicted of would have been unacceptable at the time Columbus discovered America."
The historic day opened with an hourlong news conference by McConnell and Bryan, the top two members of the Ethics Committee. Pointing to 10,145 pages of evidence, the pair vowed to make sure Packwood left the Senate either voluntarily or by force.
"The committee has heard enough. The Senate has heard enough," said McConnell. "The public has heard enough. Now is the time for justice to be done."
On Wednesday, the three Republicans and three Democrats on the committee found Packwood guilty of molesting more than a dozen women, using his influence to solicit jobs for his ex-wife and tampering with his personal diaries, which became crucial evidence. The panel referred the tampering charges _ which carry criminal penalties _ to the Justice Department.
The diaries were contained in documents released Friday and include lurid descriptions of his sex life on Capitol Hill.
Nearly three years ago, when the charges first surfaced in the Washington Post, Packwood apologized for boorish behavior that he blamed on alcohol. But as the months wore on _ and Packwood resisted subpoenas for his diaries and hurled counterattacks at his accusers _ his explanations rang hollow with the committee.
"I detected no remorse," said Mikulski.
In the final weeks and hours, the beleaguered Packwood made several desperate attempts to salvage his damaged career. First he waged a bitter floor fight, beating attempts by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to force hearings in the case. No sooner had Packwood narrowly escaped the hearings, than he called for them, angering many of the Republicans who had stood by him.
When he learned of the Ethics Committee's recommendation Wednesday night, Packwood dismissed his behavior as misplaced kisses and accused the panel of conducting a process worse than the inquisition. That night he said on national television he would not resign.
But by Thursday afternoon, it was clear Packwood was not long for the institution where he spent almost half his life.
Although he did not set a date for his departure, many speculated he would be gone within a few weeks.
Said Hatfield: "The political nightmare that has faced my colleague from Oregon now for almost three years is coming to an end."