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In Cross-Capitol Clash, House Republicans Are Target of Wrath

Senate Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) talks with a reporter outside the Senate chamber. (Ray Lustig — The Post)

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  • By Terry M. Neal
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, January 8, 1999; Page A17

    When a reporter asked Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) yesterday morning about his most recent conversations with Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), he responded: "I talked to Senator – to Congressman Hyde this morning and just sort of went over what my thinking was."

    Lott's quick correction notwithstanding, several Democrats angrily complained yesterday that Hyde was indeed being treated like a senator – one who was exerting more control over the process than they were.

    As the Senate continued to struggle over how to conduct President Clinton's impeachment trial, several members – particularly Democrats – accused the House of trying to dictate terms of the process.

    The two chambers have been sniping at each other for days, despite predictions from senators that the impeachment proceedings would move into a more decorous phase in the upper chamber. Several Democrats have angrily denounced the House "managers" presenting the case against Clinton and said GOP leaders in the Senate have gone too far to accommodate their desire to call witnesses and hold a full trial.

    Republicans "made a mess of it in the House, and now they're trying to redeem themselves in the Senate," Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said yesterday.

    Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) accused House Republicans of "gross hypocrisy" for insisting that witnesses be called in the Senate when none were called during the House impeachment hearings. He and others said they believed at least six Republican senators – enough for a majority, including the Democrats – did not want witnesses called, especially Monica S. Lewinsky. But those members were being strong-armed by House Republicans, Democrats alleged.

    "It would turn into a circus, a verbal version of Hustler magazine," Harkin said of possible testimony from Lewinsky. "There is no other purpose but to titillate. Maybe that's what some of these House people want."

    Sen. Strom Thurmond
    Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), the Senate president pro tempore, at Thursday's trial proceeding. (C-SPAN)

    And Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) went on a protracted tirade against Senate and House GOP leaders shortly after the Senate's morning session. "We can do a deal across the aisle, but we can't do a deal across the Capitol," he said, raising his voice. "Henry Hyde did not get elected over here." He added that "Senator Lott has got to decide between" negotiating with House Republicans or Senate Democrats.

    House Republicans said yesterday that they were not trying to control the process but simply to ensure that it is fair. "This is the Senate's process, but the case is ours," said Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), one of the House impeachment managers.

    Several Senate Republicans dismissed the criticism from Democrats, saying the House had a constitutional obligation to present its case and that the Senate, out of respect, should consider its opinions about how the process should work.

    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Democrats were being disingenuous by suggesting House Republicans are to blame for the discord. He said the Senate could have come closer to an agreement had Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) not refused to allow Democrats to meet with Republicans in a closed-door session yesterday. Such a caucus is now planned for this morning.

    "If we all sat down together, and they voiced [their concerns] to us rather than to you, we might be able to solve this," McCain said to a reporter.

    A few GOP senators, such as Robert F. Bennett of Utah, expressed irritation with their House counterparts for insisting on witnesses. But they insisted the Senate was firmly in control.

    To some extent, the impeachment issue has exposed the stark differences between the two chambers. Senators from both parties have expressed dismay at last week's comments by Rep. Robert L. Barr Jr. (R-Ga.) in the New York Times: "A senator's attention span is probably less than an average juror's, so we'll need to simplify, simplify, simplify."

    Such comments magnified resentment against House Republicans at a fragile time, some Democrats said. "I think those kinds of comments don't endear them to most senators," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). "I've tried a whole lot of cases, and I know attention spans vary. But I didn't see an awful lot of senators on the floor who weren't paying attention today."

    Staff writer Juliet Eilperin and researcher Ben White contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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