Area Congress Members Toe Party Lines
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 9, 1998; Page A19
With one exception, the Washington area's members of Congress split along party lines yesterday in the historic vote on whether to hold a broad impeachment inquiry into the conduct of President Clinton.
Rep. James P. Moran Jr., of Northern Virginia, was the only area Democrat who voted for the Republican-led resolution that called for an open-ended investigation of the president for possible impeachment. Otherwise, local representatives did as most of their counterparts across the nation: Democrats voted against the impeachment inquiry, and Republicans voted for it.
The Maryland delegation was evenly split, with none of the state's four Republicans and four Democrats breaking ranks with party leadership. Even Montgomery County lawmaker Constance A. Morella, who has long been one of Clinton's top GOP supporters on Capitol Hill, voted in favor of the Republicans' proposal for an impeachment inquiry.
"I had anguished for weeks about this, but I came to the conclusion a few days ago that this was the right way to go," Morella said after voting. "An inquiry is a requirement for closure."
Morella said an inquiry would give Clinton a chance to "clear things up" and allow the country to close this matter and move on. "This is a nonpartisan issue," she said. "This is about our country."
Yet the vote also provided an opportunity for candidates running for Congress in November to set themselves apart from the incumbents. And their reactions, too, tended to fall neatly along party lines.
Democrat Ralph G. Neas, who is making a bid to deny Morella a seventh term in the House, opposed an impeachment inquiry. "Her vote helps to assure that our government will be mired in extreme partisanship for months to come," he said.
Moran, whose Democratic-leaning district includes Alexandria and Arlington, previously had announced that he would buck the Democratic leadership and vote for the inquiry. He told reporters during a New Democrat fund-raiser last night that yesterday's vote amounted to a victory of sorts for the White House because relatively few Democrats 31 of 206 had sided with Republicans. But he added: "It will turn out to be a pyrrhic victory. It means the Democratic caucus will have no credibility for the vote of consequence" after the inquiry.
Moran said the reaction from his constituents has been almost universally against his stand. Even his daughter, he said, called to complain about his position. And he said it could hurt his reelection bid.
"People are upset that I'm voting with the Republicans, that I'm contributing to a conspiratorial effort to take down the president," Moran said. "However uncomfortable it is, I'm not ashamed of this vote."
His Republican challenger, Demaris H. Miller, applauded the House vote and for the first time gave an approving nod to her opponent. "Even Jim Moran sometimes gets it right," she said. "It's the right thing to do. I think it would have been irresponsible given the evidence that they had been given not to proceed."
Two other representatives from Northern Virginia, Republicans Thomas M. Davis III and Frank R. Wolf, also voted for the inquiry.
Davis, who has previously declined to comment on the allegations raised by the report from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, said through a spokesman yesterday that he voted for the inquiry because the report raised serious questions about the president's behavior.
"He believes that there are serious allegations that need to be looked at, and he is not alone on it," said Trey Hardin, spokesman for Davis.
Wolf said his party's proposal for an impeachment inquiry was the best way to evaluate the evidence against Clinton: Using the same process that was used in Watergate, he said, will assure a fair and quick analysis of the facts.
"This is a very serious act. The approach has to be sound," he said.
His challenger, Democrat Cornell Brooks, said he was concerned the inquiry could drag on and on. "Get it over with," Brooks said, criticizing the Republicans' insistence that the inquiry allow Congress to look at issues beyond the Lewinsky scandal.
In Maryland, Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer detailed his reasons for voting against the Republicans' proposal in a two-page statement, saying he favored a Democratic proposal that would have restricted the time and scope of the inquiry.
Hoyer, whose district includes part of Prince George's County and Southern Maryland, said the Republican proposal "is not only unnecessary and redundant, it is also not in the best interests of our country. . . . We must not continue to mire our public discourse in muck, ridicule, and nationally demeaning debate."
Republican challenger Robert B. Ostrom said Hoyer's vote didn't surprise him, given that the congressman has been a strong ally of Clinton's. But Ostrom said the Democratic proposal for a time limit on hearings would have "left room for great mischief."
"This is the best opportunity we have to get to the bottom of this," Ostrom said.
Republican John B. Kimble, who is running against Democratic Rep. Albert R. Wynn, of Prince George's, said he also would have voted for the inquiry. But Wynn said he was happy Democrats largely stuck together in opposition.
After voting against the inquiry, he emerged from the House chamber and raised a fist in the air. "The Democrats live to fight another day," he said, referring to earlier projections that as many as 60 Democrats would vote for the inquiry. "The Democratic base can take comfort in the fact that the Democratic leadership has not abandoned the president."
Staff writer Jackie Spinner contributed to this report.
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