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As Voters Weigh In, Strain Shows in Capitol Communication Networks

Impeachment Stacy Flynn, scheduler for Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), fields telephone constituent calls on impeachment. (Ray Lustig — The Washington Post)

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  • By Edward Walsh
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, December 15, 1998; Page A23

    A flood of telephone calls, e-mails and other messages strained the communications system on Capitol Hill yesterday as Americans who favor or oppose the impeachment of President Clinton began to weigh in with their passionately different opinions.

    Calls to the main Capitol switchboard were double the normal volume, while callers to many congressional offices were greeted by busy signals or recorded messages telling them no one could take their call but to leave a message.

    Many offices were setting records for voter input: Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.) received 12,000 e-mails this weekend while Rep. Sue W. Kelly (N.Y.), another undecided Republican, received 8,000.

    Retiring Rep. David E. Skaggs (D-Colo.) said his office recorded 120 calls for and 180 calls against impeachment yesterday, far more calls than his office normally receives, and "it's still early in Colorado," he said.

    Ken Johnson, a spokesman for Rep. W. J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.), told the Associated Press that about 1,500 phone calls were made to the Washington and Louisiana district offices yesterday and that 1,000 e-mails, faxes and letters also were received on the impeachment issue.

    "We've been averaging 14,000 calls a day, which is about double the workload of an average day," said House Oversight Committee spokesman Jason Poblete. "There's a lot of demand."

    But not every congressional office was buried in the deluge. Susan Dryden, press secretary to Rep. Bob Riley (R-Ala.), said the Washington office was getting 20 to 30 calls a day on impeachment while 40 to 50 impeachment calls a day were being received by the district office.

    "That's not a whole lot different from other major issues," she said.

    Part of the upsurge in communications to members of Congress was the result of organized campaigns. The AFL-CIO has set up an 800 number to oppose impeachment and the liberal People for the American Way has started an e-mail campaign encouraging people to call their lawmakers and urge them to vote against impeachment.

    The strain on the system started to become evident yesterday. Steven C. Schwadron, chief of staff for Judiciary Committee member Rep. William D. Delahunt (D-Mass.), said Delahunt's office learned yesterday an e-mail server that delivers messages to several congressional offices began having periodic outages Saturday because of the heavy volume. Just after 5 p.m. yesterday, Schwadron said, the House Information Resources office also sent congressional offices a message that it was "experiencing intermittent slow response time on the House public Web server due to increased traffic."

    Delahunt's own Web site appeared to provide a guide to the public's interest in Clinton's problems stemming from his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky. Schwadron said that when independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report was released, "there was a deluge across the board" of electronic visits to the site.

    But then the public appeared to lose interest, until last week. "After a while [interest] dropped off and by the time the House adjourned it didn't exist, which is where it stayed until last week," Schwadron said. "Particularly after the election it completely died. Then beginning last week there was just a trickle. Starting Friday it really jacked up. On Friday we got a month's worth of hits on our Web site: 1,000 hits."

    Schwadron said Delahunt's staff worked over the weekend handling impeachment messages so they wouldn't have to come to work yesterday and find themselves hopelessly behind the task.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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