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GOP Moderates Waver on Impeachment

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  • By Howard Kurtz
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, December 14, 1998; Page A16

    Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) may have spoken for a number of Republican moderates yesterday when he said: "We're as conflicted as America is."

    Perhaps two dozen undecided GOP lawmakers hold the key to whether the House will impeach President Clinton this week. In a series of interviews yesterday, several of them wrestled with what it would take for them to break with their party on impeachment – and the news was not encouraging for the White House.

    The message expressed most often is that Clinton would have to admit that he lied under oath – precisely what the president denied in a news conference in Israel.

    Rep. Scott L. Klug (R-Wis.) said such an admission would influence his vote. "If the president's trying to throw himself on the mercy of the court, as you would in any kind of criminal proceeding, you have to admit your guilt. . . . in this case, criminal wrongdoing," Klug said on NBC's "Meet the Press." He added, "The president has very little credibility left with, you know, the 59,000th confession this week."

    Clinton "needs to help us, give us a reason why we can . . . maintain the concept that every American, even the president, is responsible to the law," Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Calif.) said on the same program. Bilbray said Clinton "needs to be telling the truth."

    Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) said on ABC's "This Week" that "the president hurt himself very clearly" by denying that he committed perjury in the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation. "I think the president could have been honest today," said Ney, and "I think it would have helped me. At this point in time if he does it, it's too late."

    In a telephone interview, Rep. James C. Greenwood (R-Pa.) also expressed dissatisfaction with Clinton's latest statement. "When I heard him say that today, I turned to my wife and said, 'That's it,' " Greenwood recalled. "If he had any chance of escaping this thing, he may have really damaged himself with that. Members are going to say to themselves, 'If this guy cannot say he chopped down the cherry tree, he has to be punished.' "

    At the same time, Greenwood said, "We are all tortured with the responsibility to clean this all up. . . . It is an agony."

    Personal factors come into play as both sides lobby the moderates. Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) is upset with what he called "a threat from the White House." He told ABC that an unnamed White House official was quoted by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as saying, "If Jay Dickey votes to impeach the president, it's probably an indication he will not run for reelection in 2000. It's suicide. We will make sure it is." But Dickey also said he is getting "threats on both sides" among his constituents.

    Tauzin, on "Meet the Press," said he is still angry at Clinton for deceiving him about a 1993 energy tax the president proposed and later dropped. "This president has lied to me personally, and I have a prejudice there," said Tauzin, a former Democrat. "I've got to put that prejudice aside and try to make a judgment on the facts here."

    Klug said a White House official called the other day and offered an opportunity to discuss the matter with the president. Asked by host Tim Russert if he wanted to speak to Clinton, Klug said, "Not particularly."

    But Klug, a former Washington reporter, also expressed concern that "if we act too precipitously, does this open the door to a series of impeachment fights over the next 30 years? That's a tough balancing act."

    Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

    © Copyright The Washington Post Company

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