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  • By Spencer S. Hsu
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, December 18, 1998; Page A52

    Propelled by twin crises of military strikes on Iraq and a looming impeachment vote, area members of Congress ended weeks of silence yesterday and began speaking out in an escalating debate over President Clinton's fate.

    The region's lawmakers -- led by John W. Warner (R-Va.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and panel member Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) -- voiced strong, unanimous support for U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf.

    Warner emerged from a White House briefing and set a bipartisan tone: "My first concern is for the men and women who are involved in this strike."

    At the same time, area Democrats and Republicans joined their colleagues in searching for public support for their impeachment stances -- ratcheting up the rhetoric before the House begins its historic floor debate this morning.

    Reps. Frank R. Wolf and Thomas M. Davis III, both Republicans from Northern Virginia, gave their first interviews since announcing they would vote to impeach Clinton. They accused the president of violating the law and flouting the Constitution in his federal grand jury and civil court accounts of his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky.

    "We have impeached two judges on perjury, and the grounds for impeachment in the Constitution are the same for judges and the president," Davis said on WUSA-TV (Channel 9). "There is not a lower standard for the president."

    Wolf, who previously had called for Clinton's resignation because of his sexual involvement with the former White House intern, said: "It's a question of the rule of law. No man is above the law, and clearly the president did not tell the truth."

    But as Republican House members defended their votes, Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) uncorked some of the sharpest criticism yet of the GOP by an area member.

    "They hate [Clinton]," Wynn said, speaking at a Capitol rally called to rouse labor, feminist and civil rights groups to the president's defense. "They hate him on choice. They hate him on inclusiveness. They hate him on diversity. . . . This is an assault not just on Bill Clinton; this is an assault on us."

    At the same rally, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) invoked the District's long pursuit of equal representation in Congress, saying she will introduce a House resolution today seeking to be allowed to vote on the impeachment articles.

    While local House members jousted over impeachment, lawmakers carefully drew a line on Iraq. Warner and Robb joined Maryland's Democratic Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes in supporting the U.S. strikes on Iraq.

    Warner gently chided Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who on Wednesday questioned the timing of the strikes on the eve of a House impeachment debate.

    His focus, Warner said, would remain on achieving "real progress" in weakening Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

    Robb said "stress and strain" in the House had caused "partisan fissures" in the Senate. "The mood in Congress is fractious," he said, adding that he hopes the rancor will cool.

    As she has throughout the growing crisis, Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), one of the last handful of moderate Republicans undeclared on the impeachment vote, remained silent.

    But her husband, Anthony Morella, acknowledged having conversations with friends in which he shared the couple's seesaw views on the issue. "It is a very agonizing thing," he said.

    A senior professor of law at American University, Anthony Morella once represented U.S. District Judge John Sirica in his battle to subpoena President Richard M. Nixon's White House tapes during the Watergate scandal.

    In 1995, while university counsel, Morella nominated Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr to the American University board of trustees. The current crisis is more troubling than Watergate, he said, because of its complexity.

    "This one is deeper," Morella said. "It is almost surreal to me what is happening."

    © Copyright The Washington Post Company

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