Senator's colleagues find qualities to praise PACKWOOD RESIGNATION

September 08, 1995|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- When it was finally over -- when Sen. Bob Packwood gave in to what even his supporters thought was inevitable and resigned yesterday -- there was no more invective, no more accusations, no more talk of misconduct and lying and (( abuse.

Instead, the Oregon Republican, his voice trembling as he announced his resignation on the Senate floor, received a string of emotional tributes as colleagues faced the reality of all but expelling one of their own.

"I cannot bring myself to say his departure is welcome," said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. "I cannot accept it with anything but profound regret."

Appearing to choke up to the point of tears, Majority Leader Bob Dole said that, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Mr. Packwood had an unparalleled knowledge of budget and tax issues.

"I think colleagues on either side of the aisle would acknowledge that Bob Packwood has no peer," the Kansas Republican said. "He is someone whose legacy will be around for a long, long time -- and a friend of mine."

The tributes to Mr. Packwood -- "our brother from Oregon," as Sen. Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming affectionately called him -- stood in contrast to the earlier events of the day, when the senator was lambasted by Ethics Committee members as an embarrassment to the institution.

At this forum, as one of the members of the nation's most exclusive club was turning in his key, there was barely a word about the charges of sexual and official misconduct that torpedoed his 27-year career.

For nearly an hour, colleagues -- Republican and Democrat -- praised the outgoing senator as a patriot, a devoted public servant, a superior legislator, an intellect and, above all, a human being.

They said they shared his pain.

Careful not to defend "what Bob Packwood did or did not do," as Mr. Simpson put it, the senators nonetheless insisted that, if he had flaws, if there were skeletons in his past, he was no different than anyone else.

"How far back in life do we go?" an angry Mr. Simpson asked. He offered up his own transgressions -- at 18, he was on federal probation; at 21, in jail for clubbing a man on the head -- as if to show solidarity with Mr. Packwood and taunt those who pressed for his ouster.

Even Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, calling it a "sad day" in brief remarks, said that, although senators are often held to a higher standard, they are like everyone else -- "complete with moles and warts and our own problems."

Sen. John H. Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican, recalled his complete trust in Mr. Packwood during their 400 squash matches over the past 12 years, and said he would miss his colleague's pacing on the Senate floor and his distinctive walk.

He and others pointed out the high points of his career, such as his shepherding of the 1986 tax reform bill and his championing of women's reproductive rights.

"Every single activist women's group was on his side through thick and thin until recent times," said Mr. Simpson.

The Wyoming senator then launched into an angry attack on the Ethics Committee, which voted 6-0 Wednesday to recommend Mr. Packwood's expulsion from the Senate. He said the process had been "seriously thwarted and twisted. Something has surely gone awry."

His voice laced with sarcasm, he added that his concerns would be brushed aside because "the feeding frenzy is on in blood-flecked waters with scissor-teethed piranhas."

Senator McCain, too, said he resented colleagues who were holding up the Packwood ejection as a sign that Senate males were now more sensitive to charges of sexual harassment than they were during the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings -- that they now "got it."

"We should not be congratulated for suddenly evolving into more sensitive beings," he said, his sarcasm rivaling Mr. Simpson's.

Mr. McCain said he hoped Mr. Packwood would be remembered for the whole of his life and career and devotion to an institution he loved.

At least for an hour yesterday, he was. But it took his leaving that institution to make it so.

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