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Lawmakers Want Clinton to Admit Lies

By Stephen Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 30, 1998; Page A4

House Republicans and Democrats yesterday grappled with whether to impeach President Clinton, with some lawmakers saying that a censure might be a more appropriate punishment if the president would clearly admit he lied about his affair with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.

"If the president would have the character to come forward and admit to the wrongdoing that I think is obviously there, then maybe I would treat him differently," said Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a House Judiciary Committee member.

"But right now," Graham added, "he is an unrepentant perjurer who should lose his job unless he changes his tone with the American people and reconciles himself with the law."

Despite GOP dissatisfaction with Clinton's answers to 81 questions posed to him by the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) predicted that the vote to impeach Clinton would fall short in the House.

Between 15 and 20 Republicans will not vote for impeachment "that I know of, and it could go higher than that," said King, who has already said he does not think Clinton should be impeached despite "illegal" and "irresponsible" conduct in trying to cover up his affair with Lewinsky.

King warned that Republicans "need to show that we're a governing party. And if we are going to push this impeachment issue and lose, I think it's going to hurt us going into the next session [of Congress]. It's going to make it harder to get our agenda across."

Graham and King appeared with other House members on NBC's "Meet the Press," where King, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), a Judiciary Committee member, and Rep. Paul McHale (D-Pa.), who has urged Clinton to resign, argued for censure rather than impeachment.

"If the president were to show some true candor and genuine remorse, I think there is an emerging sense in the House of Representatives that we can honorably conclude this matter with something short of impeachment, provided a censure resolution is both blunt and bipartisan," McHale said.

The nationally televised comments underscored the two-track approach that has developed in Congress in recent weeks on how to deal with Clinton's conduct. Some members advocate a bipartisan censure, while House GOP leaders appear to prefer impeachment and seem to be resisting any rush toward a lesser action.

A week ago, House Speaker-designate Bob Livingston (R-La.) said that if the House Judiciary Committee approves articles of impeachment against Clinton, it would be wrong for the House to short-circuit the process.

Yesterday, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said on CNN's "Late Edition" that "the House has no other option but to vote impeachment or not."

DeLay said he disagrees with King's estimate that at least 15 to 20 Republicans would not vote to impeach Clinton. He said he respects King's opinions "but I don't respect his ability to count votes." DeLay called a censure "nothing more than a political answer to the constitutional process. It means nothing. It's a piece of paper that said the president did something wrong."

Rep. Edward G. Bryant (R-Tenn.), on NBC, said Clinton last week had not satisfactorily answered the 81 questions put to him by Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.). Bryant noted that the White House will get one more chance to answer Clinton's critics in early December, if the president or his lawyers accept an invitation to appear before the Judiciary Committee.

The White House is still studying how to respond to the invitation, a Clinton spokesman said.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) recommended that Clinton appear before the committee and defend himself. "He has given answers which raise more questions than it provides answers, and let's bring him in and let's examine him, or even cross-examine him," Specter said on "Fox News Sunday."

If the House Judiciary Committee approves articles of impeachment, as is widely expected, then the full House would have to vote on the committee's list of offenses -- which could include allegations of perjury, obstruction of justice or abuse of power.

GOP leaders would need 218 votes in the 435-member House to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. There are 228 Republican members of the House. Were the House to vote to impeach the president, the Senate would decide whether to remove the president from office.

"I do believe the president perjured himself," King said, but added that he also does not think the perjury "rises to the level of treason or bribery or comparable crimes, and that really is the issue."

But Bryant said "perjury is an impeachable offense" and warned against rushing to censure Clinton. "I think we're going to be setting an awfully bad precedent here, but if there is any possibility . . . that you can interpret the Constitution to allow a censure," it should be the Senate's decision after receiving articles of impeachment, he said.

On ABC's "This Week," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said there is a "50-50 chance" that the House will send articles of impeachment to the Senate.

If the Senate does not want to vote for impeachment, Hatch said, "there has to be something, and that means censure." But resorting to censure could set a bad precedent in that future Congresses might attack presidents as "a matter of course," Hatch said.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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