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  • By Spencer S. Hsu
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, December 20, 1998; Page B01

    Washington area House members voted nearly along party lines yesterday to impeach President Clinton, casting a series of searing but expected votes that some said could affect the political future of at least one Republican lawmaker.

    Opposing impeachment, Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.) joined the region's four Democrats in voting against all four articles of impeachment. The same bloc also voted unsuccessfully to revive a Democratic resolution seeking censure of the president.

    The five other area Republicans supported three impeachment articles alleging that Clinton committed perjury before a grand jury and during a civil deposition, and obstructed justice in trying to conceal his involvement with Monica S. Lewinsky. Only the grand jury perjury and obstruction of justice articles prevailed. A fourth article, alleging that Clinton abused the power of his office by refusing to answer 81 questions posed by the House Judiciary Committee, also did not pass. Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.), Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and Herbert H. Bateman (R-Va.) supported it.

    Morella, caught between her pro-impeachment party and her predominantly Democratic Montgomery County constituents, was one of five Republican moderates who broke ranks on the first perjury article. In a series of interviews yesterday, she explained her vote to unhappy Republicans while defending herself from Democratic charges that she waited too long to oppose impeachment. Her constituents, who gave Clinton 60 percent of the vote in 1996, "got leadership from me," Morella argued, rebutting Democratic complaints that she took a stand too late. "They got leadership because I listened to them, weighed what I heard, and I voted my conscience on it."

    Morella also rejected the argument of some GOP House members, including Northern Virginia Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who called an impeachment vote an "indictment" that would force the Senate to decide in a trial whether to oust Clinton.

    "I don't buy that," Morella said. "Impeachment means voting to remove the president. . . . The critical factor of it for me was, does this scandal imperil the nation? I feel we must move on."

    The Bethesda lawmaker received thousands of letters and telephone calls opposing Clinton's removal 70 to 30, aides said. They assigned three receptionists to handle the volume, created a voice mail program to automatically register calls, and collected still more notes constituents dropped on Morella's doorstep or stuffed under the windshield wipers of her car.

    Montgomery County Republicans backed Morella, though some conservatives did so grudgingly, for representing her district's wishes. Democrats said her vote was an attempt to position herself for a possible Senate run in 2000. "The question is whether voters ever make the connection that keeping her seat Republican keeps the majority in Congress Republican, even though she votes against her party on tough votes," county Democratic chairman George Leventhal said.

    Asked whether moderate Republicans in swing districts would be affected by yesterday's votes, Davis said: "Nobody really knows. . . . You can't predict what will happen in six months or a year. That's one thing this whole issue has taught."

    Lame-duck Maryland state Del. Barrie S. Ciliberti (R-Montgomery) said the "honorable thing to do" was to back impeachment. "But she chose to go with the Democrats. That's the game she plays." But Ciliberti, who won 27 percent of the vote in a 1996 primary challenge to Morella, speculated that in two years, "people will forget."

    "I think she's just doing her job," said Robert L. Clark, a former Montgomery GOP chairman.

    A. Harrison Hickman, a Democratic pollster, said that if Morella decides to challenge his client, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), she won't be hurt by her vote.

    "She wasn't going to solve the problems she had with the right wing by simply voting for one article of impeachment," Hickman said, referring to Morella's opposition to abortion limits and gun deregulation. Morella's brand of GOP moderation would be novel in a statewide campaign, he said. "She hasn't been tested at all outside Montgomery County."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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