By Juliet Eilperin
Over the past few days, the Texas Republican has mobilized the formidable resources of his Whip Office, calling staff members back to Capitol Hill from vacation so they can research political history and fax any relevant information to lawmakers who are spread around the country on recess. It is now the congressional clearinghouse of scandal, where members can find everything from President Richard M. Nixon's popularity rating in the midst of the Watergate crisis to Clinton's comments as a congressional candidate at the time.
In an interview yesterday, DeLay said he was more interested in "getting the truth out" than simply forcing Clinton from office. But he emphasized that his operation is aimed at putting pressure on the chief executive in light of his recent admissions that he had an affair with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky and lied about it.
DeLay and his senior aides emphasized that they were not recruiting other members to join in calls for Clinton's resignation. But DeLay's top aide left no doubt as to their preferred outcome.
"Most people want to see this all behind us," chief of staff Susan Hirschmann said in an interview. "Resignation is what's best for the country. Then we can move on."
Aside from asking his colleagues to speak about the scandal on radio talk shows and contacting grass-roots groups, DeLay is taking a few concrete steps to affect how Congress might act against the president. He is already criticizing the idea of passing a nonbinding resolution censuring Clinton, a move publicly supported by some Democrats.
"Silence sends the message that censure is acceptable," DeLay said, adding that the resolution amounts to "a Democratic cop-out. Censure means nothing."
He also has sent a letter urging lawmakers to support public disclosure of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report once it reaches Capitol Hill. Liberal Democratic Rep. John D. Dingell (Mich.) sent a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) yesterday calling for the same approach.
In a conference call among GOP House leaders last week, according to several Republicans, Gingrich indicated that lawmakers could discuss the possibility of Clinton resigning as long as they did not speculate on impeachment.
"There's no real leadership strategy here," DeLay said. "The only strategy we discussed was it was important for the speaker to stay above it all."
Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-N.C.), who serves as a deputy whip and participated in the conference call with DeLay and other whips Wednesday, said it made sense for Gingrich to refrain from commenting while other, more conservative members spoke out.
"Newt ought to be right where he is, keeping his cool and letting us crazies go off on our own," Ballenger said, noting that White House officials continue to speak to reporters on Clinton's behalf. "They're on the job while we're sitting back. Maybe a couple of us loudmouths ought to speak up."
Ballenger, along with other conservatives who participated in Wednesday's call, said they now believe Clinton should resign. Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) said the president should step aside because he had lied under oath, adding that she believed other Republican members shared her views.
"I think people are reluctant to say it, for one reason or another, but ultimately when we speak to one another, I think that's what most folks believe," Cubin said.
Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-Va.) yesterday joined the chorus. "We've had several very talented officers in the military that were involved in scandal and they resigned," he told a Charlottesville newspaper. "There's no question he's brought disrespect to the office, and he's got to correct it."
Though Clinton administration officials are more concerned about shoring up support among Democrats than deflecting Republican attacks, an energized Republican Conference could cause problems for the White House. As the GOP's chief vote-counter, DeLay commands a team of 65 members, whom he has begun contacting and asking whether they approve of his tactics and want to speak publicly on the issue.
Christian Coalition president Randy Tate, who worked as a deputy whip under DeLay when he served in the 104th Congress, said the Texas Republican's ties to conservative activists and lawmakers expand his political impact across the country.
"If he begins organizing and energizing the grass roots and becoming an information resource, he can be a force to be reckoned with on this issue, without a doubt," said Tate, who has called on Clinton to resign.
DeLay has won plaudits from Christian conservatives for publicly condemning Clinton, in contrast to the measured words of Gingrich, Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) and Republican Conference Chairman John A. Boehner (Ohio). Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation, argued in a commentary piece published Tuesday that DeLay's actions prove "he hasn't turned his back on where he came from."
"What makes DeLay different than many of his colleagues is that he doesn't operate out of fear," Weyrich wrote. "Most of them keep one eye on public opinion polls and one ear listening to their opponents."
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