Md. Republicans except Morella vote to impeach She dismisses political fallout from her stance

December 20, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Constance A. Morella of Montgomery County found herself in small company yesterday when she became one of just a scattering of Republicans -- and the only one from Maryland -- to vote against all four impeachment counts facing President Clinton.

The state's three other House Republicans voted to impeach Clinton on two counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland, the state's most conservative congressman, also voted for the fourth and final article, which alleged abuse of power.

Minutes after the first article of impeachment passed, Morella dismissed the potential political fallout from her vote, which could alienate some conservative voters at a time when Morella is considering a bid for statewide office.

Although she had withering words of criticism for Clinton's behavior, Morella said, she could not support impeachment for lying about a private sexual matter. She was one of just five Republicans in the House to vote against the first article of impeachment, which alleged that Clinton lied to a grand jury about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

"If we start drumming up information about personal lives, you're not going to find good people who have a commitment to government who want to get involved," she said, pointing to the surprise resignation of Speaker-designate Robert L. Livingston yesterday.

Morella, a liberal-to-moderate Republican whose Montgomery County constituents are predominantly Democratic, was one of just two House Republicans to break ranks and support a failed procedural vote that would have allowed consideration of censure as a lesser punishment for the president.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest of the Eastern Shore, a moderate, and Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich of Baltimore County, who is more conservative, rejected the failed final article, which alleged that the president abused the power of his office in intentionally giving false responses to 81 questions posed by the House Judiciary Committee. But they voted for the three articles that alleged perjury and obstruction of justice.

"I looked for ways to vote no -- I really did," Ehrlich said. "Then you read the evidence."

Bartlett, who had called for the president to face impeachment months before this fall's proceedings, voted for all four articles. And, Bartlett said, the impeachment vote was a somber but valuable occasion for the nation.

"The rule of law is so important," Bartlett said last night. "We're telling our young people that it does matter. The justice system is predicated on the belief that you're telling the truth. Without the truth, you cannot have justice."

Bartlett and Morella had spoken intently for several minutes while she waited late Friday to reveal her vote, something she had previously refused to do.

"We were talking about the political consequences of her voting one way, and the political consequences of voting another," Bartlett said. "If I was Connie and felt like Connie did, and represented a district like Connie's, I might vote like Connie, too.

"She is a Republican in a strong Democratic district, and she keeps getting elected by strong margins," he said.

Many senators released statements or otherwise commented publicly about yesterday's impeachment vote, which could put an American president on trial in the Senate for only the second time in history. But Maryland's two Democratic senators, both of them frequent Clinton allies -- Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes -- remained silent throughout the day.

Instead, the president found personal support in Maryland from his sometime ally, Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who sent the following telegram at 5 p.m. yesterday: "Frances Anne and I are thinking of you today. The American people support you. Hang tight and stay the course. The country needs you."

Glendening had a seesaw relationship with Clinton during this fall's hard-fought election season. After Clinton acknowledged misleading the nation in August, the governor initially distanced himself from the president, but ultimately reconciled.

Democratic Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore and Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County proclaimed the unfairness of the proceedings leading up to yesterday's vote.

"We should pause here for a moment," Cummings told his colleagues in the final hours of debate yesterday. "The framers of the Constitution did not entrust this body with the power to impeach in order to establish this body as a court of personal morality."

Democratic Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore County and Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland have worked closely with the Clinton administration on many major policy initiatives. Without defending his acts, they strongly defended his presidency during the impeachment debate this week.

Clinton has depended lately on the core Democratic base -- particularly African-American lawmakers such as Cummings and Wynn. Both men stood near the president as he addressed the country yesterday from the White House lawn flanked by a large group of House Democrats.

"History is not going to look fondly on the performance of the Republicans," Wynn said after the vote. "There's no legitimacy to a one-party impeachment process. The legitimacy occurs when you have bipartisan support -- whether it's for a budget or it's for war.

"Nobody thinks they did it for the country," Wynn continued. "They think they did something for the Republicans."

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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