Sex scandals leave House shell-shocked Developments bring cry of 'sexual McCarthyism'

December 20, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON SUN STAFF WRITER ELLEN GAMERMAN CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — WASHINGTON -- The announced resignation of House Speaker-designate Robert L. Livingston sent shock waves through Capitol Hill yesterday, forcing the nation's political establishment to confront just how dangerous a wave of sexual recrimination has become.

"Sexual McCarthyism," declared Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York. "An incredible turn of events," marveled John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the lead Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

"How many more people will be destroyed next, tomorrow, by Christmas?" asked an emotional Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, a Democrat who worked closely and cordially with Livingston on the House Appropriations Committee. "What are we going to do? Line them up and mow them all down?"

On a day when the president of the United States was impeached for offenses stemming from a sexual affair and the incoming speaker resigned over his own extramarital dalliances, political Washington was shell-shocked -- and wondering what would come next. Historic as it may have been, the president's impeachment was expected. Livingston's resignation was a bombshell.

"If there was ever a point where [members] have to come together before this place melts down, it's now," said Tennessee Republican Rep. Zach Wamp. "Somebody new needs to emerge and bring consensus and peace."

The sexual recriminations sparked by the Lewinsky scandal have now tarred Livingston, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde and Reps. Dan Burton of Indiana and Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, two fierce presidential critics. House Speaker Newt Gingrich was forced to step down in the wake of Republican electoral losses last month, in part due to the GOP's effort to impeach Clinton over the Lewinsky scandal.

Some Democrats could not hide their glee yesterday.

"In their attempt to get Bill Clinton, they have lost one speaker and one speaker-to-be," chuckled Rep. Chaka Fattah, a Pennsylvania Democrat.

But most members from both parties could find no joy in the wanton political destruction at work in Washington.

Nadler said: "Bob Livingston's resignation, while offered in good faith, was wrong. It is a surrender to a developing sexual McCarthyism."

GOP leaders did not take up the cry too loudly, instead using Livingston's resignation to turn up the pressure on the president.

"We're all in absolute shell-shock," said Alabama Republican Rep. Sonny Callahan. "This demonstrates leadership on Bob's part. It's the kind of thing I've never experienced here. I hope he sends a message to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

But more than the Democrats, the GOP realizes the perils of sexual politics. Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt offered a million-dollar bounty to any woman who could come forward with proof of marital infidelities with Republicans, especially high-ranking Republicans. When Flynt announced last week that the fruits of that offer are soon to be revealed, he sent a chill through GOP ranks.

"It's time to stop the madness. We're destroying ourselves here," said Rep. Peter King of New York, one of only five Republicans who opposed all four articles of impeachment.

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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