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Clinton Foes Plan Resignation Drive

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  • By Thomas B. Edsall
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, December 18, 1998; Page A43

    With a House vote to impeach President Clinton a virtual certainty, anti-Clinton forces are gearing up to put pressure on the president to resign to avoid the debilitating process of a Senate trial as a post-impeachment strategy.

    After the House vote, the politics of the impeachment debate will be "flipped upside down," said Randy Tate, executive director of the Christian Coalition, which has been pushing hard for impeachment.

    So far, the burden to end the process the public clearly finds distasteful and disruptive fell on House Republican leaders, Tate and others in the GOP and the conservative movement said. These leaders, and the full House, could end the whole process by rejecting impeachment and choosing censure, Tate noted. But once impeachment is passed, the power to bring the process to a halt shifts to Clinton, who, by resigning, could prevent the nation from having to undergo the ordeal of a trial before the Senate presided over by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

    Former representative Vin Weber (R-Minn.), a close associate of outgoing Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Speaker-designate Bob Livingston (R-La.), said the arguments the president and his advisers have been using can "in a strange way be flipped on them." The "president himself said we should not put the country through the trauma of an impeachment trial," Weber noted. He added that polling trends suggest that Democratic calls "to heed public opinion" may backfire as support for resignation appears to be growing.

    John Feehery, a former aide to House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), made the same case: "If you want to avoid a trial and want to get something done [legislatively], best thing is for the president is to resign."

    He added that many major newspapers called for Clinton's resignation after his Aug. 17 television address acknowledging an "intimate" relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky, and said, "there is still a lot of fertile ground out there to get the president to resign."

    "It's been ugly and there is no question it's going to get uglier," said Kim Gandy, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women. She said the Republicans' call-for-resignation strategy became apparent earlier this week when Livingston met with leaders of women's groups.

    "Clearly, it's what they intend to do. Bob Livingston is on a resignation course. He brought it up several times, 'Bill Clinton could take care of this, he could just resign. Al Gore could step right in. He's a good guy, you like him.' I was shocked at the lighthearted treatment he gave the idea."

    Michael Lux, political director of People for the American Way, said he and others in the anti-impeachment movement are struggling to counter what they see as a GOP attempt to take the high ground while shifting the liabilities of impeachment back onto Clinton and the Democrats.

    He said allied groups are considering trying to initiate recall campaigns against pro-impeachment members of Congress in states that permit such voter initiatives, while also trying to "frame a message building on people's outrage that they [the GOP Congress] are putting the country through this."

    In a bid to stop impeachment, the AFL-CIO released a survey of voters in 21 moderate Republican districts that showed 33 percent of the voters in these districts support impeachment, 24 percent "strongly," while 63 percent oppose impeachment, 50 percent "strongly."

    "What these numbers show is that if Clinton is losing the votes of some of these moderate Republicans, it is not at all a function of what is happening in public opinion, and more a function of what is happening in terms of internal Republican politics," said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who conducted the survey.

    Democratic strategists said that moderates voting for impeachment are putting themselves in the sights of Democratic challengers in 2000. "If people feel this Congress spent what would be close to three years in an attack mode instead of an accomplishment mode, then they are going to be mad," said Democrat Peter Fenn.

    Georgia-based GOP pollster Whit Ayres countered: "Purely in terms of political calculations, if there is a credible [Republican] primary challenge on the horizon, a vote against impeachment becomes a very difficult vote."

    He said that in most cases, a primary threat has to be taken more seriously than a Democrat opponent because voters who feel most intensely about impeachment are Republicans hostile to Clinton. "The really intense voters on this issue tend to be conservative Republicans."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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