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Livingston Wants House Vote on Impeachment

Livingston, AP House Speaker-designate Bob Livingston outside NBC studios following his appearance on "Meet the Press." (AP)

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  • By Ruth Marcus
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, November 23, 1998; Page A1

    House Speaker-designate Bob Livingston (R-La.) said Sunday he wants the full House to vote on impeaching President Clinton even if it becomes clear that an impeachment vote would not command a majority, and he expressed reservations about a House censure of the president.

    Livingston said that if the House Judiciary Committee approves articles of impeachment against Clinton, as is widely expected, it would be wrong for the full House to short-circuit the process.

    "For us to shy away from that responsibility and try to avoid it would just be absolutely, incredibly wrong," Livingston said on NBC's "Meet the Press." But he said the issue could be dealt with in "two or three hours of debate, vote on the issue up or down and be done with it. . . . If we did not have the votes to sustain the charge, that would be it."

    The Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on whether the president committed impeachable offenses by having an affair with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky and then lying about it.

    Asked about the alternative of censuring the president -- a path suggested Saturday by Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.), the new Democratic Caucus chairman -- Livingston said "that may well be an option," but he expressed strong reservations and said the Senate might be the better body to handle such an approach.

    "The fact is, it does constitute a version of plea-bargaining, which I think is outside the province of the House of Representatives," Livingston said. "If the House should decide to proceed with articles of impeachment . . . then the plea bargain, in my mind, seems to be more appropriately a question for the Senate, rather than for the House."

    He said that "if it is shown that the president of the United States is guilty of perjury, we have a major problem. What to do about it is a political problem and should be weighed, again, by each member when it is presented to him."

    White House special counsel Gregory B. Craig, appearing on CNN's "Late Edition," said the White House would respond this week to the 81 questions presented to Clinton by Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.).

    "We're going to file a timely and complete response," Craig said. "We intend to hit all the questions."

    Craig, in an appearance on NBC, said Clinton took issue with some of the facts in the referral to Congress by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr on possible impeachable actions by the president. "There are some areas that perhaps, given the details of the graphic sexual activity, that the president disputes," Craig said.

    Craig expressed openness toward a congressional censure of the president, saying, "We are in favor of any serious and reasonable proposition that has the promise of bringing this to a prompt and just conclusion."

    He also argued that even those who conclude that Clinton's offenses are "impeachable" do not have to vote to impeach him. "Just because you might find an impeachable offense, do you push the automatic impeachment button, or do you exercise some discretion and use your judgment as to what should be done?" he said.

    In appearances on Sunday talk shows, Democrats were generally more supportive of censuring Clinton than were Republicans.

    But Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.), on ABC's "This Week," suggested that the full House could end up rejecting both impeachment and censure.

    A number of Republicans are uncomfortable with the idea of censuring Clinton, either because they do not think it is constitutionally appropriate or because they believe it would be a meaningless slap on the wrist.

    Congress is heading toward "a vote on impeachment and not getting enough votes to censure the president or admonish him in some way," Meehan said. "And I think that's as dangerous as anything. I think the Republicans will have no one to blame but themselves if the president gets off without anything at all."

    Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said congressional leaders should agree on a censure motion this week.

    "If I were running the show, I would urge [House Minority Leader Richard A.] Gephardt and Bob Livingston, along with Henry Hyde and [Rep.] John Conyers [Jr. (D-Mich.), ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee], to sit down this week, come up with a suitable punishment in the form of a censure or a rebuke and move forward so that the next Congress can get on with issues that the American people care much more about," he said.

    But Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) said on CNN's "Late Edition," "I don't think there is any constitutional authority for us to do anything other than impeachment, and I would say that the very act of impeachment, which is sending the case over to the Senate for trial . . . is indeed a form of censure, if you will. And that's what we have the authority to do."

    Charles G. Bakaly III -- the spokesman for Starr, who testified last week before the House Judiciary Committee -- was critical of Samuel Dash, Starr's ethics adviser, for quitting with a public blast at the independent counsel on Friday, the day after Starr's appearance before the committee. Dash said he did not believe the independent counsel should testify before Congress.

    "I would not do that," Bakaly said on "Fox News Sunday." He said Starr, when he testified, knew Dash was upset about the appearance but had no idea Dash would issue a public letter.

    "We certainly knew about his view of the law," Bakaly said. "We disagree with that and for his decision to go public and certainly the timing to go public, the next day. He's the only one who knows why he did that."

    Asked on NBC whether first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton had -- like her husband -- been exonerated for her role in the travel office firings or gathering of FBI files, Bakaly said, "We have not . . . completed our investigation in those areas."

    Bakaly also criticized the White House strategy of attacking Starr. "This White House set out to destroy the prosecutorial authority of an officer of the court," he said. "And they were successful in doing that."

    A leading Senate Democrat also said that Clinton's relationship with former White House volunteer Kathleen E. Willey was an area of concern to him. The House Judiciary Committee plans to gather further evidence this week on Willey, who claims the president groped her in the Oval Office suite.

    Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said of Willey on "Fox News Sunday," "Assuming the allegations were true -- and the president was trying to use his influence as president to coerce a woman into doing something she otherwise would not do, against her will -- I think" that is different from the Lewinsky situation and could relate "to the abuse of the public office."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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