By Guy Gugliotta and Juliet Eilperin
Several GOP lawmakers also took Clinton to task for being too critical of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr: "I'm glad he admitted he had a relationship," said Rep. Charles T. Canady (R-Fla.), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, which would be charged with any impeachment inquiry. But, Canady added, "I was disappointed that the president in his speech attacked the independent counsel. The president was standing before the nation to explain his conduct, to explain what he did."
Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-Mo.) said, "I think we've witnessed the effective end of this presidency," and "he's lost his moral authority to lead." Ashcroft noted that "Harry Truman said the buck stops here. President Clinton said the buck stops with the independent counsel."
Neither House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R), at home in Georgia, nor Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), in Florida for a vacation, commented on the speech. Also unavailable was House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), the pivotal figure in an impeachment inquiry.
Democrats as a whole were difficult to find. Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) was traveling in rural areas of South Dakota and unreachable throughout the day yesterday, his office said. House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) was in Europe.
Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.), who leads House Democrats' election efforts, said he felt "sad" for the president, adding that "he was very direct and made it clear he had not told the truth to the American people and to his family," Frost said. "As of right now, the president has denied he has obstructed justice. Until anyone can prove anything to the contrary, he's entitled to the benefit of the doubt."
Frost warned Republicans against partisan attacks. "I don't think there is anything for the Republicans to gain by turning this into a campaign issue. The American people are tired of this."
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), a staunch Clinton defender during the recent House campaign finance investigations, said she was "saddened and disappointed" by Clinton's confession but "glad he's taking responsibility." Now, she added, echoing the president, "it's time to move forward with the important business of the country."
There seemed little possibility of that. Several Republicans found fault with the president's use of the phrase "legally accurate" to describe previous misleading statements about his relationship with Lewinsky.
Clinton had denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky in the Paula Jones case, "and now he is apparently admitting a relationship with her," Canady said. "I don't see how that is 'legally accurate.' We still don't have all the facts."
Other lawmakers scoffed at Clinton's view that the Lewinsky relationship was now a matter between him and his family: "He focused on what he wanted to focus on," Rep. Robert L. Barr Jr. (R-Ga.), a leading Clinton foe, told CNN. "Then he leaves us with silliness about his private life."
House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) said, "The president was defiant and asserted, improbably, that it is private and nobody's business -- a fantastic notion, that having sex with an intern on the job in the Oval Office is private."
Despite the harsh criticisms, several Republicans were pleased that Clinton had acknowledged the Lewinsky relationship. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) said the speech was "an important step forward," although "it's sad and tragic for America and the presidency to have brought us to this point.
"At this point, however, at least we have put that issue to rest," she said. "All the other questions are really difficult to comment on until American people have an opportunity to see the Starr report."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who had been conciliatory toward Clinton in recent days, told NBC news: "I commend him for taking the step" of assuming responsibility for the Lewinsky relationship. But, a visibly irritated Hatch added, "I was personally offended by the continued attacks on Starr. If I ever hear another Democrat" complain about the cost of Starr's four-year investigation, "I'm going to blow my stack."
Both Republicans and Democrats agreed, however, that ultimate resolution of the Clinton affair could only come with submission of Starr's report to the speaker of the House, expected sometime in September. Gingrich has said he will refer the matter to the Judiciary Committee, which will decide whether to proceed with an impeachment inquiry.
"Mea culpas are not enough," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). "People want to know what the facts are. I'd like to see it finished, and I think we're going to need to see the Starr report."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company