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A Shift in Venue Alters the Pressure

Clinton on Trial

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  • By Thomas B. Edsall
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, January 15, 1999; Page A19

    The momentum appears have shifted to the right in the battle between pro-impeachment conservative groups and anti-impeachment liberal organizations, with anti-Clinton forces maintaining a full-court press on the Senate as it begins the president's trial.

    On the right, the major lobbying effort has changed somewhat from the deluge of e-mails, letters and telegrams that was used to pressure members of the House as the scene of battle has moved to the Senate.

    Conservative groups are targeting individual senators, other conservative allies and the media with the message that legal precedents in past impeachment cases and the Constitution itself require the Senate to give full and detailed consideration to the charges against President Clinton, and that votes on whether to abandon the process before the trial runs its course would be illegitimate.

    On the left, People for the American Way (PFAW), which led the lobbying fight against the House impeachment vote, is planning rallies next Tuesday, the night Clinton is scheduled to give the State of the Union address, in at least 17 cities, the centerpiece of which will be a gathering at Franklin Hall in Philadelphia.

    "We feel like the country needs to get back to the business of the people, the normal issues that Congress works on," said Mike Lux, PFAW's political director. He said that when the Senate gets closer to taking up a "motion to dismiss," the anti-impeachment movement would enter "an entirely different phase" with the "anger level rising in the populace."

    But reflecting the lack of interest much of the public has in the impeachment, a number of anti-impeachment leaders said they are having difficulty building enthusiasm.

    "Many of our activists are suffering from war weariness about this," said Patricia Ireland, head of the National Organization for Women. "It's tough," said Eleanor Smeal, head of the Fund for a Feminist Majority, noting that an effort to put together an anti-impeachment demonstration in Washington has fizzled.

    Conservatives have adopted themes developed in part by Thomas L. Jipping of the Free Congress Foundation. He argues that the Constitution explicitly grants to the House "the sole power of impeachment," in effect declaring that it is up to the House to decide whether an action is impeachable.

    "It would be absurd for the Senate to vote on a question that, in fact, has been decided . . . the Senate would be exercising power it is expressly denied," Jipping wrote.

    In addition, Jipping argues that in past impeachment proceedings against federal judges, the Senate has viewed perjury as adequate grounds to force them out of office.

    Citing the support of Democrats in the conviction of District Judge Walter L. Nixon Jr. on two perjury counts, Jipping, director of the foundation's Center for Law & Democracy, said that senators "can't say there are separate impeachment standards for judges and presidents."

    Echoing that, Gary Bauer, head of the Family Research Council and a possible GOP presidential candidate, has sent out a memo arguing that in the 1989 Nixon case, 48 current senators voted in favor of conviction, including 27 incumbent Democrats, along with then-senator and now Vice President Gore.

    Bauer also faxed the media Clinton quotes from the 1974 Watergate period, including: "Yes, the president should resign. He has lied to the American people time and time again, and betrayed their trust" and "the president should resign and spare the country the agony of this impeachment and removal proceeding."

    A number of conservative organizations, including the Eagle Forum and Concerned Women for America, are conducting traditional lobbying campaigns.

    "We are encouraging our membership to call, write letters, e-mail, to make sure the Senate does what is constitutionally right for them to do. We believe they should call all witnesses, should vote to either acquit or convict the president, and, if convicted, he should be removed from office," said Carmen Pate, president of Concerned Women.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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