Clinton and the Ford option


WASHINGTON -- There's a certain irony in former President Gerald Ford's idea that as an alternative to the impeachment of President Clinton or censure and a fine, the House could call on him to appear before a joint session of Congress and submit to a bipartisan "harshly worded rebuke" that would put an end to the dismal matter.

It was Mr. Ford who 24 years ago, after Richard M. Nixon avoided impeachment in the Watergate scandal by resigning, jolted the political world by pardoning him.

That decision so outraged many voters that it was considered a major factor in Mr. Ford's very narrow defeat in 1976 in his bid for a full presidential term.

With an apparent consensus in the country that Mr. Clinton should somehow be "punished" for his sexual misbehavior in the White House and lies about it before a grand jury, Mr. Ford's idea is an alternative to the notion of fining him as part of a negotiated deal with the House or Senate that would end in censure.

But the notion of dragging him into the well of the House, if indeed the legislature could so summon the head of the executive branch -- and if Mr. Clinton would agree -- to beat the impeachment rap, implies that such a step would inflict great shame on a man who has already demonstrated that he is shameless.

In any event, at least as matters stand now, the possibility that 34 Democratic senators would vote to convict Mr. Clinton after articles of impeachment were voted by the House is extremely remote. So he could simply decline to appear on the House floor and await the Senate decision with considerable confidence that he would survive in office. But Mr. Ford's advancing his idea at least has the merit of injecting a bipartisan approach to the nTC dilemma, an element sorely lacking in the whole fiasco.

Jack Germond and Jules Witcover write from the Washington Bureau.

Pub Date: 10/07/98

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