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Morella Opposes Impeachment;Other Local Congressmen Split Along Party Lines

Jim Moran Jim Moran (D-Va.), left, leaves a meeting of House Democrats before going to the House floor for more debate on impeachment. (Dudley M. Brooks — The Post)

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  • By Spencer S. Hsu
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, December 19, 1998; Page A37

    Defying her party, but only when the outcome seemed sealed, Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.) said yesterday that she will oppose efforts to impeach President Clinton because she believes his conduct in the Monica S. Lewinsky matter does not warrant his removal from office.

    The Montgomery County lawmaker's announcement last night from the House floor constituted a hollow victory for Clinton supporters on a day when area lawmakers and their colleagues moved inexorably toward a historic vote today to put the president's fate before the Senate.

    Morella, 67, said that impeachment was "intended not so much to punish an individual's wrongdoing but to preserve and protect a nation." Although Morella said Clinton had disgraced himself by lying under oath, she argued, "Putting the country through the turmoil and tumult of a Senate trial is wrong."

    The speech won rare applause from Democrats in the House and preserved Morella's reputation as one of that body's most liberal Republicans. Her defense of the president may please constituents in her Democrat-dominated district, but one Montgomery County Democrat pounced on her for waiting to take a stand until it was too late.

    "When the most important constitutional debate in decades demanded timely and effective leadership, Representative Morella had nothing to offer but silence," said Ralph G. Neas, a former civil rights leader who ran unsuccessfully against the popular lawmaker last month and who has said he will challenge her again.

    "Because of her unwillingness to influence her colleagues," Neas said, "Representative Morella has helped impeach the president of the United States."

    Morella defended her silence and said impeachment votes would not have much impact on the political fortunes of any member.

    "This is the kind of issue I don't think you lobby on," she said.

    One by one yesterday, other Maryland and Virginia representatives weighed in for the record, voicing their views and indicating their votes on whether the president had committed offenses that justified his impeachment.

    As expected, Thomas M. Davis III (Va.) declared his support in the House for impeachment, joining fellow Republicans Frank R. Wolf (Va.), Herbert H. Bateman (Va.), Robert L. Erlich Jr. (Md.) and Roscoe G. Bartlett (Md.). Washington area Democrats James P. Moran Jr. (Va.), Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and Albert R. Wynn (Md.) spoke against impeachment.

    District residents suffered a defeat yesterday when the presiding House officer, Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), ruled out of order a resolution offered by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) that would have granted her the right to vote on impeachment.

    "The same Constitution that gives the District the vote for president must recognize the right of District residents" to vote on removal of the president, Norton argued in a brief debate. She denounced the process as "a petty political proceeding," adding, "This impeachment is raw with unfairness."

    Area lawmakers who could vote laid out mostly familiar arguments.

    "There is no blinking at the fact that the president lied under oath," Davis said, accusing Clinton of perjury.

    Responding to Democrats' demands for a vote of censure, he said that punishment would be "a toothless tiger" if approved by the House without a vote of impeachment. But he said he hoped for "an expeditious resolution" by the Senate, which could deal directly with the White House in negotiating a lesser penalty.

    Democrats pounded away on a central theme: Although they deplored Clinton's misleading accounts under oath, his lies about sex did not amount to constitutional crimes.

    "Our nation and our sustaining values will survive one man's failings," Hoyer said. "But our democracy will be threatened if we destroy the due process and high standard that the Founding Fathers established."

    Moran said a conversation he had with Clinton secretary Betty Currie last week helped him conclude that Clinton's conduct, while "immoral and reckless" and possibly illegal, did not amount to "high crimes."

    Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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