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On a Day for the History Books, the Subtext Is Sex

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  • By Michael Powell
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, December 20, 1998; Page F01

    The Sex-Libido-Catting Around Wars are in official overdrive on Capitol Hill.

    There is talk of impeachment -- and SEX!

    There is talk of war -- and SEX!

    There is talk of the House leadership -- and SEX!

    Forget these votes to impeach the Leader of The Free World. It's the sex stuff that's got everyone a little jellied in the knees. The latest hit came when Speaker-elect Bob Livingston (R-La.) interrupted the impeachment debate yesterday to announce that his id had done him in. He's out of here.

    A reporter listening to the impeachment debate or strolling through the ornate, Versailles-like Speaker's Lobby of the House heard much talk of Les Legislative Liaisons Dangereuses. And to listen to our legislators, they might have a thing or two to chat about with their spouses.

    First the Democrats make a clean breast of it.

    "No one standing in this House today can pass a puritanical test of purity that some are demanding that our elected leaders take," says Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.). "If we demand that mere mortals live up to this standard, we will see our seats of government lay empty."

    Then the Republicans.

    "Those of us who are sinners must be especially crushed," says Judiciary Committee eminence grise Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), in a tone that suggests he has in mind a rather inclusive club. "One's self-esteem gets totally crushed."

    Outside, in the Speaker's Lobby, Rep. Clifford Stearns (R-Fla.), holds forth on the Constitution and impeachment. All of a sudden he's talking about sex.

    "I'd like to ask why it's only Republicans who are being attacked?"

    Stearns's tone is a bit plaintive. "Are they all sacrosanct over there? I don't think so."

    A few feet away a scrum of reporters clusters around Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.). He's trying to do substance, talking Iraq and missiles and bombs and briefings and strategy. He's worried, this is national security, he doesn't trust President Clinton . . . and all of a sudden he's talking about sex.

    "We all need to take a breath because the mood in Washington is particularly poisonous," he offers. "Opposition research has taken this below gutter depth."

    Even the red-meat wing of the Republican Party seems a bit wan.

    Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, what do you make of Livingston stepping down? His eyes narrow a shade, lips tight as a wire. (Burton's fathered one child out of wedlock and wants to make it very clear that impeachment is really not about sex.)

    "It's another one of the casualties of the digging that's going on here." Burton casts a reproving glance at reporters. "Our private life is none of your business."

    Georgia's thrice-married Bob Barr, who's happiest when debating whether merely to impeach Clinton or draw and quarter him, also seems off his rhetorical game. "I don't have any answers," he says. "I still haven't gotten over the shock, I just haven't."

    Over there, under the Louis XIV-style chandelier, is Idaho's Helen Chenoweth. She was a celeb of sorts on the right wing of the Republican Party until word came of her affair with a married man . . . and, well, she flashes a tight little smile and, reluctantly, talks libido.

    "I just feel, it's heavy," she says. "We need to be a little thoughtful, it's surreal."

    Then there's Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who is something of an expert on impeachment as he was himself impeached as a federal judge. He regales reporters with stories of his previous disgrace -- "When I was impeached . . . " And he displays a let-the-good-times-roll insouciance toward the sexual blues afflicting his colleagues.

    "Larry Flynt says he's ready to list 11 more people in the House," Hastings says expectantly of the Hustler magazine editor. "I can already predict for you that George Bush Jr. won't run . . . because like most men he can't remember all the women he was with when he was drunk and in college. Isn't that the case?"

    If you say so, Alcee.

    So what next? Whose trousers drop next? What White Knight steps forward as candidate for House speaker? A quick roundup finds a candidate or two of unimpeachable carnality: The Vestal Virgins. Ottoman eunuchs . . .

    "Maybe the pope's available," Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), suggests helpfully. "Or somebody who hasn't been through puberty yet."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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