Tape Turned Tide, House Democrats Say
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 23, 1998; Page A10
House Democrats across the country registered a dramatic shift in public opinion in favor of President Clinton yesterday, enabling them to breathe a bit easier for the first time in weeks.
"It's as if the boil was lanced, and the fever has broken," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). "Last week the calls were coming in 3-2 against the president, but today it's three- or four-to-one in favor."
For Markey, a liberal from a solid Democratic suburban Boston district, the uptick was perhaps inevitable, but virtually every kind of Democrat in Congress said Monday's broadcast of Clinton's Aug. 17 grand jury testimony appeared to have helped his cause.
"New Yorkers root for the underdog," said South Bronx Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.). "People thought it was too much last week. Now they're saying, 'for God's sake, give the guy a break.' "
In the Senate, Democrats also reported a shift in Clinton's favor. Aides to Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said telephone calls changed to a "heavy pro-Clinton tilt," while Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said calls were running 2-1 in favor of the president, "a hell of a lot better than our friends on the other side think."
And even Republican senators reported a substantial drop in anti-Clinton calls, although most said impeachment or resignation remained the preferred choice. In heavily Democratic Rhode Island, Sen. John H. Chafee's (R) calls shifted from 4 to 1 against Clinton to better than 2 to 1 in his favor, but in the more conservative south, aides to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) said her calls shifted modestly from 14 to 1 against Clinton to 8 to 1 against.
Democratic House members said constituents were impressed with Clinton's forcefulness and self-control as he described his relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky. They also said the videotape told them nothing new, and complained to members that the Republicans seemed to be bent on embarrassing the president to no purpose.
"I turned on the television while I was getting dressed yesterday [Monday] and the tapes were on nine channels. You couldn't get any legitimate news -- just tapes or cartoons," said Monterey, Calif., Rep. Sam Farr (D). "People I ran into on the street thought that the tapes had been over-hyped, and frankly they were madder at the media than anyone else."
And most of all, said several members, voters had had enough: "I was out in four or five counties," said Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.). from a swing district on the Mississippi River. "Most of the people I talked to, not just Democrats, thought we needed to move beyond this, as quickly as possible."
Evans said telephone calls to his district office favored the president 94 to 4 after the videotape broadcast, the first positive rating "for quite a while." In California's central valley, conservative Democratic Rep. Gary A. Condit agreed there was "a softening of attitude," and "in some cases, some of the very same people who were harsh with the president called back with softer remarks."
But while there was general agreement that the videotape appeared to help the president, Democrats divided over what should happen next.
Moderates warned that Clinton's new popularity may not last.
Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) recalled that in a meeting of roughly 20 centrist and conservative Democrats last week, every single one indicated approval for a formal investigation. "On a scale of ten, it's a nine in terms of the likelihood of the House voting for an impeachment inquiry," Moran said yesterday.
Black Caucus members, however, opposed any move to impeachment. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) said impeachment "is dead, pretty much." Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) said, "I think we need to end it [deliberations on the Lewinsky affair]. The public wants us to end it."
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, said delegates to this week's Hispanic Heritage conference told him the investigation of the Lewinsky affair was "garbage."
Staff writers Thomas B. Edsall and Helen Dewar contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company