Bipartisan grin starts historic day in the House

October 09, 1998|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Perhaps the most deadly serious day of the 105th Congress began, oddly enough, with House members smiling goofily and staring into the distance for several minutes.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde and the others turned in their seats to pose as photographers snapped an official group portrait of all 435 lawmakers. Hyde, twiddling his thumbs during the process, managed only the slightest smile while his wisecracking colleagues shouted "Yo!" and "Hang On!" to the waiting cameras. Bipartisanship was achieved for a moment, at least, as Democrats and Republicans clapped together when the photographers finished the job.

On the House floor, proceedings were civil, but sometimes barely so. Hyde counted the hours that Judiciary Committee Democrats had spent reading the Starr material and concluded that the GOP studied harder (114.59 hours for the Republicans vs. 21.81 hours for the Democrats). The announcement irked Rep. John Conyers Jr., the ranking Democrat on the committee, who sneeringly replied, "Thank you, Mister Hyde." The chairman responded, with equal sarcasm, "You're welcome, Mister Conyers."

For all but the Watergate-era veterans, it was a day like no other. Rep. Mary Bono, a California Republican and widow of Sonny Bono, said, "Just hearing the words 'Impeach President William Jefferson Clinton' -- it was a sinking feeling that hit me hard in the gut."

At least one spectator was glued to the show. Online dirt-digger Matt Drudge watched the proceedings unfold from the House gallery, trademark hat in hand. When asked why he was there, the cyber-gadfly who scooped much of the mainstream press on the Monica Lewinsky story, replied, "Oh, I'm an American."

For one departing House member, yesterday's vote offered a fitting punctuation to his long career. Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat who used to regularly issue a solitary call for President Reagan's impeachment, returned to the Hill yesterday after being ill and absent for almost a year. "It's an excessive abuse of power," Gonzalez said, sitting in a high-backed leather chair just outside the House floor. "I've always been sensitive to the abuse of power."

By the end of the day, members were clearly tiring of their moment in history. As Rep. Gerald Solomon walked onto the House floor late in the afternoon, the New York Republican carried three Excedrin in the palm of his hand.

The day wasn't negative for everyone involved. According to wire reports, Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern whose sexual relationship with Clinton is at the base of the impeachment charges, was discussing a reported $3 million book and Fox TV interview deal with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. for a "multimedia tell-all package."

Fox executives said they did not believe that any deal with Lewinsky was close to completion because other bidders were still active.

Pub Date: 10/09/98

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