GOP faction makes pitch for censure House moderates rethink impeachment prepare letter to Lott

'We are not convinced

Bouyed by polls, Clinton strives to project leadership

December 22, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writer David Folkenflik and the New York Times contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Just two days after their historic impeachment vote, key moderate House Republicans yesterday expressed misgivings about the ultimate remedy endorsed by the impeachment articles they approved -- the removal of President Clinton from office.

And in a show of regret, they prepared to formally implore the Senate to instead consider a sharp rebuke of the president that would spare the country from a divisive Senate trial.

Buoyed by soaring public approval, Clinton sought yesterday to prove that he can lead the country under the cloud of impeachment, even as the Senate moved toward a landmark trial to determine whether he should be removed from office.

Continued public support for his presidency, White House aides say, depends on Clinton's ability to project leadership in the face of a grievous threat to his tenure.

The developing White House strategy is to capitalize on the public's undiminished approval of Clinton's steward-ship despite his impeachment. To that end, the president plans to stay publicly engaged in voter-friendly issues such as Social Security, health care and housing for the poor.

Far from hunkering down in the Oval Office, Clinton traveled yesterday to a Washington soup kitchen and then to a service at Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. And last night, he and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, feted the White House press corps at a Winter Wonderland on the White House South Lawn.

Tomorrow morning, Clinton will journey to Baltimore to visit the Boys and Girls Club on East Fayette Street and announce grants to fight homelessness. The president had planned to announce the grants in his weekly radio address last Saturday. But White House aides decided that Clinton should travel out of Washington for his first major public event since the House impeached him on Saturday.

Yesterday, Clinton made scant mention of his looming Senate trial.

"I hope everyone in the country will take some time to think about other people and do something in the spirit of the season like this," he said at the soup kitchen when asked if he had a message for Congress.

White House aides have called on Vice President Al Gore to step forward as the administration's forceful voice on the impeachment issue.

"Saturday's vote in the U.S. House of Representatives was wrong -- wrong for our Constitution and wrong for America," Gore declared yesterday. "But this much should be clear: President Clinton and I will continue to focus all of our energies on the business of the American people."

Yesterday's most striking development was the letter from Reps. Sherry Boehlert and Benjamin Gilman of New York, Mike Castle of Delaware and Jim Greenwood of Pennsylvania, which they prepared to send to Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader. They released its text last night, and plan to send it today.

"We are not convinced, and do not want our votes interpreted to mean, that we view removal from office as the only reasonable conclusion of this case," they wrote, although the articles of impeachment for which they voted each concluded: "Wherefore, William Jefferson Clinton, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial and removal from office."

They argued in their letter that while it was "questionable" whether the House had authority to deal with censure, the Senate clearly "does have the authority and the precedents to consider a range of options. Those options should include a tough censure proposal, which would impose a fine and block any pardon."

The four voted Saturday against allowing consideration of a Democratic move to allow a House vote on censure.

Another House Republican who voted for impeachment, W. J. Tauzin of Louisiana, was consulting with colleagues yesterday about asking the Senate to avert a trial. His spokesman, Ken Johnson, said, "The feeling is the president paid a terrible price for his actions. The Clinton presidency has been indelibly stained by impeachment."

Even studied nonchalance could not distance Clinton from the ominous prospect of the second presidential impeachment trial in history. White House lawyers met to review any legal avenues available to head off such a spectacle, and Gore appealed to the Senate to put the Lewinsky scandal behind the nation at last.

"I do hope that the United States Senate will rise to this moment, as it so often does, to be the voice of reason, deliberation and healing that America needs," Gore said yesterday.

"I hope the Senate will, therefore, forge a fair, bipartisan compromise to end this matter promptly and to end it in a way that will respect the will and the wisdom of the American people."

But key senators warned yesterday that the White House should not expect to negotiate a settlement that would include a censure of the president. It increasingly appears that a Senate trial cannot be avoided.

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