By Thomas B. Edsall
Religious broadcaster Marion G. "Pat" Robertson told 3,000 cheering members of the Christian Coalition yesterday that President Clinton has so "debauched, debased and defamed" the presidency that resignation is too easy an out.
Robertson said the president turned the White House into a "playpen for the sexual freedom of the poster child of the 1960s." He said Clinton's affair with Monica S. Lewinsky and his attempts to keep it from becoming public have so violated and corrupted the political system that impeachment proceedings are crucial to restoring national political health.
"Our national trust has been deeply wounded. And while resignation might be easier for America, it's not best for America," said Robertson, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988. "We need to prove to the American people that our elected officials have the courage and the love of country to do what is right for America."
Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr sent Congress a report in which he found 11 possible grounds for impeachment of the president.
Some legislators have suggested that a presidential resignation would minimize national trauma, Robertson said. But, he said, resignation for Clinton "is not all that bad. He gets to collect a pension for the rest of his life, and before he leaves office, he can pardon himself for all the crimes he committed. . . . I disagree with that simplistic point of view."
Robertson's remarks repeatedly brought the audience of conservative Christian activists to their feet, more enthusiastically than for either House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) or Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) whose comments to the intensely anti-Clinton gathering were critical of the president, but more tempered than Robertson's.
The opening day of the Christian Coalition's eighth annual "Road to Victory" conference demonstrated that Clinton has become a hot-button figure to religious conservatives and that political leaders can invoke the president almost at will to build emotion in this core of GOP voters.
The one elected official to match Robertson in rousing the audience was House Majority Whip Tom Delay (R-Tex.): "The only choice of the House of Representatives is to impeach or not to impeach. [There is] no other way to get out of it."
Delay said, "This is about a pattern of conduct that this president has exhibited since he was governor of Arkansas -- lying, covering up and destroying his enemies."
Clinton, Delay said, does not understand the three-step process of "remedying a sin" -- contrition, confession and cleansing. The president "is stuck on contrition [and] he must be a man and stand up and accept the consequences of his actions."
Without offering any evidence, Delay and Gingrich denounced as White House mudslinging the disclosure that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) had an affair 30 years ago while married. The affair contributed to the breakup of the marriage of the woman with whom he was involved.
In his appearance yesterday, Gingrich told coalition members, "In Henry's case, it's human and it's personal and he is a decent, wonderful man. . . . Let him know that you share his pain and you're sorry that doing his duty leads to that kind of treatment by this White House." White House officials have denied promoting the Hyde story.
Shifting to the foreign policy implications of the presidential scandal, Gingrich said: "No foreigner should mistake the openness and the chaos that sometimes appears on the surface of American politics for instability or timidity," he said.
Delay, however, voiced concern about the president as an international leader. "He is reckless. This president has his finger on the button. . . . That means that everyone of us . . . are in danger."
Lott brought the news that the attempt to override Clinton's veto of a ban on so-called partial birth abortions failed by three votes. He called on the gathering to help defeat four Democratic senators up for reelection: Carol Moseley-Braun (Ill.), Russell Feingold (Wis.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Patty Murray (Wash.).
On a day largely devoid of humor, House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) evoked laughter when he told the gathering that he learned what women think of the scandal from his wife. She told Armey that if he ever behaved like Clinton, he would find himself "in a pool of blood" listening to her say, "how do you reload this thing?"
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