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Livingston Cool on Impeachment Inquiry

Rep. Bob Livingston is set to be the new House speaker. (Reuters)

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  • Key Stories: The GOP Leadership Fight

  • By Juliet Eilperin and Guy Gugliotta
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Thursday, November 12, 1998; Page A4

    House Speaker-to-be Bob Livingston (R-La.) is talking tough about President Clinton's behavior, but privately he has suggested he has little interest in pursuing an impeachment inquiry during his speakership.

    With House Republicans seemingly split over whether to seek the impeachment of the president, Livingston has yet to take an active role in bridging the differences. In fact, knowledgeable congressional sources said yesterday that Livingston has not discussed the issue of impeachment with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) since he announced on Friday that he would seek the speakership.

    In his private conversations with other House members, Livingston has made clear that "he is leaving the whole thing to Hyde," one source said.

    But with Republicans on the Judiciary Committee still anxious to press a confrontation with the White House, many rank-and-file party members are hoping that Livingston and other GOP leaders will find a way to avoid that prospect before the new Congress meets in January. Exactly how is unclear.

    "There is a very widespread feeling [among House Republicans] and amongst much of the leadership that they want this off the table for the new Congress," said one leading GOP lawmaker. "It is my clear perception that there is nothing the new speaker would want more than to start the next Congress with a clean slate."

    "Bob's a pragmatist," said Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.), a close associate of Livingston's. "I think he's going to want to work through things as quickly as possible. You're not going to see Bob moralizing on the issue or letting the issue divide the House."

    With no declared opposition and widespread support, Livingston is virtually certain to be chosen the next speaker when incoming House Republicans meet next Wednesday to pick their officers and apportion committee assignments for the 106th Congress. Livingston will not receive the gavel until the new Congress is sworn in Jan. 3. Until then, the House's pending affairs -- particularly impeachment -- will remain at least nominally under outgoing Speaker Newt Gingrich's direction.

    Still, Livingston's wishes would be paramount, and at least in public he has been circumspect about his intentions. That's in contrast to Gingrich, who made the scandal a centerpiece of GOP strategy for the Nov. 3 midterm elections.

    On ABC's "This Week" last Sunday, Livingston seemed to take note of the election returns, in which public impatience with the impeachment proceedings appeared to play a role in the GOP's disappointing performance.

    "The American people have certainly indicated in the polls that they don't see it [the Monica S. Lewinsky matter] as an impeachable or dismissible offense," he said.

    But on MSNBC's "Imus" radio show yesterday, Livingston was sharply critical of Clinton, saying "the president of the United States has a responsibility to the American people to live by the laws, to obey the laws," according to the Hotline newsletter.

    "And if it's proven that he did not, he's either going to have to be dealt with or he should voluntarily recognize that he's got a problem," Livingston was quoted as saying. "So far, I haven't heard any singular recognition of his problem, so we'll just have to let the processes move forward."

    He also criticized House Democrats. "We'd like to see a little Democrat cooperation with Republicans sometime on this effort," Livingston said. "But we haven't gotten much."

    In a lunch with reporters yesterday, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said that he expects Republicans to bring an impeachment resolution to the floor next month. Gephardt refused to predict the outcome, but he criticized the GOP's handling of the process.

    "We've done a lot wrong now and it's hard to put the thing back together again," Gephardt said. "The problem now is that we're out of time. . . . I still think it's very important to get it over with by the end of the year."

    Hyde is scheduled to convene Judiciary Committee hearings next week on an impeachment inquiry concerning Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky, a former White House aide. Committee Democrats sent a letter to Hyde yesterday asking that the panel make a "summary judgment" on whether independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's allegations, "if assumed to be true, could constitute grounds for the impeachment of President Clinton." The letter asks for a formal committee meeting next week to consider the motion.

    Few Republicans have been willing to take public stands on the proceedings. Some say in private they will vote against articles of impeachment while others say they are undecided, but virtually everyone wants the matter to be resolved as rapidly as possible. "It's a bad taste in their mouths, and they'd like to get it out," said Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Calif.).

    "There are people who genuinely believe these are not impeachable offenses, and others who believe it's politically crazy to go ahead," said moderate Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who opposes impeachment. "You combine the two, and I don't think there's any way to pass an impeachment resolution on the House floor."

    But at this point, many members agreed, the outcome remains uncertain. "If I had to vote five minutes from now, I don't know how I would vote," said Rep. James C. Greenwood (R-Pa.), another moderate. "I don't think a majority of the conference knows what it wants to do."

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