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Now Livingston's Past Becomes an Issue

Livingston Rep. Bob Livingston, with his wife Bonnie (left), announces his bid for House speaker in November. (AP)

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  • By Edward Walsh and Eric Pianin
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Friday, December 18, 1998; Page A39

    When it became clear last month that Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) was in line to succeed House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), he suddenly became a hot commodity on the television news circuit. At one of his first such appearances, Livingston was asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "Are you worried about anything from the past -- mistakes that have been made?"

    "Look," Livingston replied, "I'm running for speaker of the House. I'm not running for saint. I'm not looking to be canonized. I'm just a regular person. I've got a loving wife of 33 years. I've got four wonderful kids. . . . I didn't start out with money and I still don't have any."

    Yesterday, Livingston referred to that November statement when he shocked Capitol Hill with an announcement that "I have on occasion strayed from my marriage and in doing so nearly cost me my marriage and my family." In making that confession, Livingston became the latest casualty in the all-out war that has engulfed Congress as it considers whether to impeach President Clinton for allegedly commiting perjury in connection with his sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.

    Republicans rushed to Livingston's defense last night and said it would have no impact on the impeachment vote. They also expressed outrage that the media would be investigating Livingston's background and said his indiscretions did not compare to Clinton's misconduct in the Lewinsky affair.

    "It reminds us all of all the human frailties," said Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), a Judiciary Committee member. "I don't think we should feel uncomfortable proceeding to the floor tomorrow. We have a duty to do under the Constitution."

    "He was genuinely honest with us," said Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio). "He's telling the truth and the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue couldn't tell the truth if he had a gun to his head."

    Earlier during the impeachment battle three other House Republicans -- Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (Ill.), Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Dan Burton (Ind.) and Rep. Helen Chenoweth (Idaho) -- had acknowledged their marital infidelity.

    Whether these confessions and his knowledge of his own background played any role in his thinking is not known, but Livingston initially showed little interest in the impeachment controversy and made it clear after he sewed up the race for speaker that he wanted the House to dispose of it before he formally took control in January.

    Livingston preferred to stay on the sidelines while House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and Hyde served as the point men in driving the Republican effort to impeach Clinton. But all that changed last weekend, after Livingston announced in Louisiana that he intended to vote to impeach Clinton and that he would block Democratic efforts to bring up a censure resolution on the floor as an alternative to impeachment.

    By slamming the door on the efforts by the White House and Democrats to bring a strongly worded resolution of censure to a vote, Livingston made impeachment the first test of his speakership and risked alienating Democrats and some moderate Republicans.

    This week, as the House readied for the final vote and Clinton ordered the assault on Iraq, Livingston moved to center stage.

    First he disappointed many in his own party on Wednesday by putting off the impeachment vote in deference to Clinton's bombing mission in Iraq. That decision made him seem almost statesmanlike, compared with the shrill denunciation of Clinton's decision to bomb Iraq by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). Lott also suggested that the Iraqi mission was part of a desperate effort to frustrate the impeachment action.

    Then yesterday, Livingston enraged Democrats by deciding to move forward with the impeachment debate today, while the bombing continued.

    "I hope everybody will remember the troops are in the field to protect our right to do exactly what we're doing," Livingston said. "We are a self-governed people. We have a Constitution. We are a nation of laws. We do not have a king. . . . We have a president of the United States who stands accused of violating the law. And the only way that our Constitution envisions that he will be dealt with is through the impeachment process."

    House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said it was outrageous that the Republicans would begin a debate on removing Clinton, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, "while our young men and women, our sons and daughters, are in harm's way."

    The House Republicans who filed into a meeting in the Capitol basement last evening assumed they were meeting chiefly to discuss strategy for today's impeachment debate. Many were stunned when Livingston stood up and reveal his extramarital affairs.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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