Censure resolution supporters struggle with wording Impeachment advocates see it as fruitless exercise

November 30, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers who believe President Clinton should be punished but not impeached are struggling with the wording of a censure resolution that is harsh enough to win votes from presidential critics but not so vicious that Clinton's allies refuse to sign.

Yesterday, Rep. Paul McHale of Pennsylvania, the first Democrat to call for Clinton's resignation, defended his sternly worded resolution that says Clinton "has prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice by providing false and misleading testimony under oath."

McHale's proposal, which he unveiled last week, goes on to "censure and condemn" Clinton for "a pattern of deceitful and dishonest conduct that was grossly inconsistent with his constitutional obligation and sacred duty to faithfully execute the laws of the United States of America."

In an interview yesterday, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, a Texas Democrat, characterized that language as too harsh and indicated that she and others are drafting resolutions of their own to bring the furor to an end.

"I believe it is appropriate to draw a resolution in a different form [from McHale's] and that's what I'm doing," Jackson-Lee said on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press." "Frankly, there are many being drafted right now."

Another Democrat, Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, made his case for rebuking the president in an Op-Ed piece in yesterday's New York Times that said the odds are against removing Clinton from office.

"Congress needs a strong statement that makes clear to ourselves and posterity that we are a nation that understands the difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehood," Lieberman said.

Still, the effort to find the right words to describe Clinton's conduct strikes impeachment advocates as a fruitless exercise, especially since the president refuses to admit to certain misconduct.

'Political cop-out'

"This censure idea, without an admission on the president's part, is a political cop-out, and our legacy will be that we have made the president above the law," said Rep. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who considers censure as no more than "a nasty letter."

Graham, also appearing on "Meet the Press," expressed disappointment that Clinton did not acknowledge lying under oath in the responses he submitted Friday to 81 questions by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, an Illinois Republican.

"The law allows people to be treated differently if they've come before the court and said, 'I'm sorry and I'm guilty,' " Graham said. "But somebody who plays games to the bitter end, tries to have it both ways, dances on the head of a pin, in my opinion, has forfeited the right to lead this country."

McHale, who appeared on "Meet the Press," agreed with Republicans that approval of a censure resolution could depend on Clinton being more forthright. "We can honorably conclude this matter," he said, "if the president were to show some true candor and genuine remorse."

Criminal admission unlikely

An admission of crimes by Clinton is considered unlikely. While acknowledging that he misled people about his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Clinton has steadfastly denied breaking any laws and would be unlikely to agree with censure resolution that could open him to legal liability once his term ends.

Rep. Ed Bryant, a Republican from Tennessee who opposes censure, said a punishment short of impeachment should not be considered until after the House votes on the recommendations of the Judiciary Committee. After a public hearing on perjury and several closed-door depositions this week, the committee is likely to vote on articles of impeachment in mid-December.

"The censure idea I think is dangerous," Bryant said on "Meet the Press."

"I don't think we ought to rush into something because of the expediency issue. If there's any possibility that you can interpret the Constitution to allow a censure, it would be where the Senate would do it, following articles of impeachment being sent over from the House."

Perpetuate negative image

One Republican who has come out against impeachment, Rep. Peter T. King of New York, predicted that a vote to impeach would fall short in the House and said pursuing that course could perpetuate the image that Republicans put the scandal ahead of the nation's legislative needs.

"It's going to make it harder to get our agenda across. We have to show that we can lead, that we can bring an end to this," he said on "Meet the Press."

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, on CNN's "Late Edition," said, "The Congress and the House have no other option but to vote impeachment or not."

Clinton has a chance to directly confront the committee Dec. 8 when he or his representatives have been invited to testify.

'Good-faith effort'

The White House is evaluating how to respond to the invitation, said James Kennedy, a spokesman for the White House counsel's office. Already, he said, "We've made a good-faith effort to respond to the questions despite the fact that they were designed more for a partisan purpose than a constitutional one."

If 218 House members vote to impeach, action would move to the Senate, where a two-thirds majority is needed to convict and remove the president from office. With opinions split down party lines, there is little chance of that happening.

Pub Date: 11/30/98

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