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  • By Edward Walsh
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, December 18, 1998; Page A39

    Angry House Democrats prepared yesterday for what they saw as the inevitable impeachment of President Clinton and the culmination of what Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) described as "a deliberate and systematic effort" to bring down Clinton almost from the start of his presidency.

    The expressions of anger and gloom were made before the announcement by House Speaker-designate Bob Livingston (R-La.) last night that he had "on occasion strayed from my marriage." What effect, if any, this may have on the impeachment vote was unclear, but even before Livingston's announcement Democrats were beginning to criticize his first moves as the House GOP leader.

    Democratic Caucus Chairman Martin Frost (D-Tex.) said "it is clear that [Majority Whip Tom] DeLay [R-Tex.] is the de facto speaker. He's calling the shots. Livingston has not been very strong in the way he's handled matters. I think there is disappointment in Livingston."

    "The mood is one of they [Republicans] are going to lynch him, and there's not a lot we can do about it," Rep. Thomas M. Barrett (D-Wis.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said of the prevailing attitude among House Democrats.

    One previously uncommitted Democrat, Rep. Bud Cramer (Ala.), announced that he will vote against impeachment for the same reason most Democrats say they oppose impeachment.

    "As deplorable and disgusting as the president's personal conduct has been, and as much as I condemn what he, through his own actions, has put this country through, I do not believe that it reaches the level that the framers of the Constitution set for impeachment," Cramer said.

    Another Democrat, Rep. William O. Lipinski (Ill.), has said he has made a decision but that he has told only his wife and two children what it is and does not plan to make it public until just before the House vote.

    As of yesterday, two Democrats, Reps. Ralph M. Hall (Tex.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.), had announced that they will vote for impeachment. Democratic leaders did not rule out a handful of additional defections but said they did not expect many.

    Some Democrats acknowledged they also feel anger and resentment toward Clinton for his role in putting his presidency in jeopardy. "Sure, there is" resentment toward Clinton, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.) said.

    "Democrats have been very upset that he would conduct himself in the way he did with Monica Lewinsky and then lie about it," Waxman said. "I think he deserves public rebuke." But in voting against impeachment, Waxman added, "I don't think Democrats are standing up for Bill Clinton. We are standing up for the Constitution."

    Barrett said whatever anger and resentment Democrats feel toward Clinton has not been evident in their House caucus "because we feel more victimized by the partisan proceedings" of the Republican majority.

    Barrett said anger over Republican tactics, particularly the GOP's refusal to allow a vote on a censure resolution as an alternative to impeachment, helped unify the Democrats. But several Democrats also made clear that they view the impeachment proceedings as only the latest and most radical step in a long-running campaign to destroy the Clinton presidency.

    Speaking to supporters yesterday, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said Republicans were continuing their "obsession with taking the president."

    Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said "it is impossible for Democrats to divorce where we are now from what we know about [independent counsel] Kenneth Starr" and other conservatives who have vigorously pursued allegations of wrongdoing by Clinton. "You can't separate it. It's the totality of it all. It has a long history."

    "For some of us who were involved in watching the Republican charges, it seems some people on the political right have been out to get President Clinton," Waxman said. "There was an impeachment before there ever was a Monica Lewinsky."

    "There's a feeling that these guys, the [Republican] leadership, has been just hell-bent not just to impeach but to humiliate the president," Lewis said. "It's been going on since day one. They didn't like the fact that he was elected. It's turned into hatred."

    As the critical vote approached, Democrats said they saw little political risk in opposing impeachment, even those in conservative swing districts.

    "Members have to make their own decisions, but as long as a member can articulate why they have taken a stand, I don't think there's any political risk in voting against impeachment," Frost said.

    Frost added that in the battle over impeachment, House Republicans "have made it very clear that the next two years are going to be war, that there is no possibility of cooperation." He said this has boosted Democratic hopes for the 2000 elections.

    Staff writers Victoria Benning and Eric L. Wee contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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