Ambassador to the U.N. Andrew Young amended his statements on political prisoners in U.S. jails yesterday while the House of Representatives tabled a move to impeach him for his original, controversial statement on the matter to a French newspaper.
In Geneva, Young was summoned to a private luncheon with Secretary State Cyrus R. Vance, who rebuked the outspoken ambassador in terms suggested earlier in a phone call from Prsident Carter.
After the lunch Young issued a statement saying he had never "equated the status of political freedom in U.S. with that in the Soviet Union. I know of no instance in the U.S. where persons have received penalties for monitoring our government's position on civil or human rights," he added.
"Let me assure you," Young said, "that I am fully in accord with the strong statements condemning the persecution of Soviet dissidents issued by President Carter and Secretary Vance." He noted he was a longtime supporter of "the cause of Soviet Jewry," and that he had once met the brother of Anatoly Scharansky, one of the Soviet dissidents on trial this week in Moscow.
Young said his views had been distorted in the excerpts of an interview published by the Paris newspaper Le Matin. The paper quoted him as saying there were "hundreds, maybe even thousands of people I would call political prisoners" in U.S. jails.
Yesterday he told the Associated Press in Geneva that there are "likely to be tens of thousands of political prisoners" in the Soviet Union, and said the terms "political prisoner" could be defined in different ways.
Young did not retract his earlier assertion in the widely publicized French newspaper interview that there are "political prisoners" in U.S. jails.
The proposal to impeach Young was made in the House by Rep. Larry McDonald (D-Ga.), an acknowledged member of the John Birch Society. Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) moved to table the motion before McDonald could speak, and the motion carried 293 to 82.
Told of congressional efforts to impeach him, Young, a former House member, said yesterday in Geneva: "All I can say is they can help themselves. . . They are welcome."
Though debate on the impeachment resolution was effectively cut off by the tabling motion, House members used a period during which they can make one-minute speeches on any subject to debate Young's statements. Young had his defenders, but Minority Whip Robert Michel (R-Ill.) was applauded when he called for Young's resignation. And Rep. James Collins (R-Tex.) complained that the Democratic leadership had "put a gag rule on Congress" by shutting off the impeachment debate.
While the 45 minutes of debate were emotional, they were relatively controlled and somber. But discussions in the cloackrooms and the halls were said by a leadership aide to be heated.
McDonald tried to offer his impeachment resolution Wednesday night during a debate on an education bull, but Wright adjourned the House before McDonal could be recognized.
McDonald in a prepared statement said Young "in no way represents the people of the United States." Though he has been appointed to represent them at the United Nations, Young is "either more abysmally misinformed than any other American citizen or is callous beyond words," McDonald added.
Rep. Steve Symms (R-Idaho), who helped McDonald form the impeachment strategy, told reporters that Young had "undercut the entire foreign policy of the United States" and said Carter should have fired him immediately. Young's statement "takes the guesswork out of whose side he is on," Symms said. "Hi ambassadorship seems more favorable to the Soviet Union than the United States."
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), said at his daily press conference that Young should not be impeached. "No, no, no. Not at all. I never heard of a man being impeached for a newspaper article," he said. But O'Neill went on to say, "I think Andy would have done well if he had curbed his tongue. I have the highest regard for Andy Young. I cannot conceive of his making the statement that there are political prisoners in America. I guess it is all in how you interpret the word."
During the debate, Michel was loudly applauded when he said President Carter should fire Young.
"I am sure the president is as embarrassed this morning as I am," Michel said. "The president should take a firmer hold on the reins of his administration and call for Andrew Young's resignation. I believe he has no alternative."
But Rep. Teno Roncalio (D-Wyo.) said Young's remarks should be taken in their full context, in which Young said he himself was arrested for organizing a protest movement. Human rights abuses had increased throughout the world, Roncalio said, and "we should not be turned away" by Young's remarks. "I believe all of us would best be served if Andy Young can continue in his present role."
Rep. Fortney (Pete) Stark (D-Calif.), said, "I rise to commend Andy Young," adding that the Washington 10 were proof that there were political prisoners in U.S. jails. Stark added many blacks "will be in jail because we failed to get them jobs and educations."
Perhaps the most poignant speech was by Rep. John Buchanan, an Alabama Republican and supporter of civil rights. "Andrew Young is my brother and I love him. I testified at his confirmation. But I sincerely believe my brother has erred and done wrong. Scharansky and (Alexandria) Ginzburg are fighting the same battle for human rights that Andy Young has fought in this country," and Young had hurt them, Buchanan said. "I now call on Jimmy Carter and Andy Young to get themselves together."
After yesterday's session, Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Parren Mitchell (D-Md.) and others took the floor to defend Young.
Mitchell said, "Ambassador Andy Young does have a fault - his fault is he is an honest and moral man attempting to tell the truth to a world which is immoral and dishonest."
Mitchell said if Young's words were taken in context, what Young said was that the blacks and their white friends of the '30s, '40s and '50s who protested racism are now heroes of the '70s. Young, according to Mitchell, said he hoped today's Soviet dissidents would be heroes in later years.
Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Calif.) said the impeachment resolution of the morning lacked "intellectual support . . . was an insult to the Constitution . . . and had no legal validity.
"Is it treason, high crimes or misdemeanors even for a government official to offer his point of view?" Dellums asked. He cited the First Amendment that any citizen had a right to free speech.
Dellums called it "folly, madness and insanity" to offer an impeachment resolution. This remark was challenged by Rep. Bob Bauman (R-Md.), who made a point of order that it is against the rules of the House to characterize the motive of the makers of resolutions. Dellums withdrew the remarks.
Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) said he disagreed with Young's statements but impeachment was "wholly inappropriate."
"I hope the president talks with him about his words but he remains a U.N. ambassador," Downey said.
Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) said, "when the yells and screams died down" after Young'd controversial statements, "no one steps forth and proves him wrong."
Majority Whip John Brademas (D-Ind.) said asking Young to resign would be "going too far" but Young's statements weren't "helpful" to the administration's foreign policy position.
The reaction of Young's Paris interview was one of several signs of the emotions set off in Washington by the new dissident trials in Moscow.
The Associated Press conducted a survey that found that 17 of about 50 senators surveyed felt the United States should respond to the trials with economic sanctions or withholding of high-technology items sought by the Soviets.
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) joined those calling on Carter to dissapprove pending sales to the Soviets of a large Sperry-Univac computer and a plant to manufacture oil-drill bits.
Sen. Clifford Case (N.J.), ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, called on all western governments "to reassess thoroughly their trade, scientific and other relations with the Soviet Union with a view toward curbing or cutting off activities which might benefit the Soviet Union more than the West."
Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) circulated a letter signed by 59 other senators asking Soviet President Leonid L. Brezhnev to intervene personally to see that slander charges pending against two American journalist based in Moscow are dropped.
The Senate approved a resolution 90 to 1 supporting the nomination of members of Helsinki "monitoring groups" in the Soviet Union for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. The dissidents on trial in the Soviet Union this week belonged to these monitoring groups.
Bill Brock, the Republican national chairman, issued a blistering statement calling on Carter to fire Young. "If his perception of the differences between Soviet and American justice are so weak," Brock said, "he has no business representing the people of the United States. . . "