Maryland delegation casts votes according to party After evoking principles of Constitution, both sides go back to verbal sparring

October 09, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The eight Maryland lawmakers in the House split precisely along party lines yesterday in voting on how to handle allegations against President Clinton, foreshadowing the partisan divide likely to mark impeachment hearings this year.

Moments after their party's leaders invoked lofty principles and constitutional precedents, the two sides swapped charges of disingenuousness.

"America saw a lot of grandstanding, a lot of theater," said Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican who had called for impeachment hearings well before the president acknowledged an intimate relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky.

But Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore-area Democrat, said: "This group wants to investigate. They want to embarrass. They're not interested in concluding."

As evidence, Cardin pointed to the derisive applause from Republicans after House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt told the House that some Republicans wanted to expand the House inquiry to review the first-term Clinton scandals known as Whitewater, Filegate and Travelgate, even though independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has so far produced no impeachable evidence on those matters.

Even Rep. Constance A. Morella of Montgomery County, who is among the most liberal Republicans, backed the Republican plan for an impeachment inquiry, though she said the president's acts do not appear to merit impeachment.

"I don't think you can have any closure without an inquiry," Morella said. "I do not look for an impeachment. I hope they don't find grounds for it."

Along with Morella, Maryland's three other Republicans -- who have already urged Clinton to resign -- voted to convene an inquiry without a deadline or limits on what topics can be explored by the House Judiciary Committee.

"This inquiry, in my mind, has nothing to do with Monica Lewinsky and everything to do with the further inquiry into perjury, witness tampering and obstruction of justice," said Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican. "I don't think any of us knows at this point whether or not Ken Starr's report rises to the level of impeachment."

All of the state's Democrats, even those who have been among the president's most fervent supporters, voted for an alternative measure that would have initiated a more narrowly defined inquiry. Under this plan, the inquiry would have been limited, at least initially, to Clinton's efforts to hide his relationship with Lewinsky.

"Many Democrats wanted to make clear to their constituents that they were not for dropping this," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat. "Whatever their opinion of the impeachment hearings, the American people, by large numbers, want to conclude this matter."

Maryland Democrats said they had no faith that Republican leaders would run the inquiry fairly. Based on how the matter has been handled so far, Cardin said, he doubted that Rep. Henry J. Hyde, the Judiciary Committee chairman known for his evenhandedness, is calling his own shots.

"Clearly, the Republican caucus has directed how those

hearings would work," Cardin said.

Cardin, Hoyer and Rep. Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County said a limited inquiry was warranted. Another Democrat, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore, who voted for his party's alternative resolution, said he was troubled by the prospect of voting even for that, because he believes the president's conduct was not impeachable.

Republicans "want, basically, a political soap opera that plays on TV for the next 12 months," Wynn said. "They make these grand statements about constitutional responsibilities, but this is chiefly about politics."

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican, replied: "Everybody knows the American people don't want a drawn-out process. They do want the truth, in the end. Tomorrow, [Democrats] will have a different spin."

Pub Date: 10/09/98

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