Moderates in GOP look to impeach President's chances to avoid impeachment fade with declarations

House debates tomorrow

Former undecideds jump off the fence

censure is unlikely

December 16, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's chances of avoiding impeachment faded almost to black yesterday as a flood of moderate House Republicans announced that they would vote this week on at least one measure calling for him to be removed from office.

Each moderate Republican's announcement in support of impeachment has made it easier for others to join the pro-impeachment stance of the party leaders, who for weeks have made clear which way Republican House members should vote. The House will begin debating four articles of impeachment tomorrow, with the votes expected by Friday.

The half-dozen Republicans who had announced their opposition impeachment weeks ago have come under withering pressure from conservative forces to retreat. Yesterday, in a severe blow to the president, Rep. Jack Quinn of New York, who had been one of the first Republicans to oppose impeachment, unexpectedly switched sides and now favors impeachment.

And Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, who days ago resolutely declared that there were no impeachable offenses, will meet with the president today, hopeful that Clinton can reassure him that a vote against impeachment is the proper one. Shays is also expected to try to broker a deal between the White House and moderate Republicans in which Clinton would accept a sternly worded resolution of censure and a fine as punishment for his misdeeds in the Monica Lewinsky matter.

But for that to succeed, Republican leaders would have to back down and allow a censure resolution to be voted on by the full House. House leaders have said they will allow only a yes-or-no vote on impeachment.

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee will try today to keep the pressure on House members by issuing a sharply worded final report, calling for Clinton's "impeachment, his removal from office and his disqualification from holding further office."

"President Clinton violated the sanctity of the oath without which 'Equal Justice Under Law' cannot survive," the report concludes.

The president's options are rapidly vanishing. At least 18 Republicans have announced their support for impeachment in the past two days. And many of the moderates Clinton once expected to rescue him say there is nothing he can do now to avoid the ignominy of only the second presidential impeachment in history.

There are still 25 undecided Republicans whom the White House considers possible votes against impeachment. But realistically, perhaps only a dozen are politically moderate enough to vote that way. With three Democrats stating publicly that they will vote to impeach, the president would need at least 14 Republicans on his side to stave off impeachment. So far, he has just three firm votes.

Many of the Republican moderates who have recently declared their support for impeachment seem disinclined to consider any offers from the president.

"Of course we'd listen to whatever the president of the United States wished to say, but one cannot avoid the conclusion that he would be saying it only because of the imminence of the vote as opposed to it being a confession from his heart or an expression of his sincere sentiment," warned Rep. Tom Campbell of California, an influential moderate who taught law at Stanford University and announced his support for impeachment yesterday.

"It's my judgment that the president will be impeached by the House of Representatives," Campbell declared.

Rep. Michael P. Forbes, a New York Republican who has bucked his party's leadership before and was considered a sure vote against impeachment, surprised and upset Democrats yesterday by announcing his support for all four articles of impeachment.

The articles charge Clinton with two counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

"By our words and by our deeds all of us have an obligation to teach our children right from wrong, and that when you do wrong, there are consequences," Forbes said.

Other surprising announcements for impeachment came yesterday from GOP Reps. Nancy L. Johnson of Connecticut, Sue W. Kelly of New York and Fred Upton of Michigan. Months ago, Johnson used photos of herself and Clinton in 1998 campaign literature.

In a last-ditch appeal, Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Delaware Republican and leader of the moderates, appealed to party leaders to let the House vote on a harshly worded censure resolution that would punish Clinton without impeaching him. The resolution, Castle said, should include a voluntary fine of at -- least $2 million, half the cost of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation of the Lewinsky scandal.

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