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Speaker Hopeful Mulls Impeachment Question

Livingston, AP Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., leaves the ABC studios in Washington Sunday after being interviewed on ABC's "This Week". (AP)

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  • By Pete Yost
    Associated Press Writer
    Sunday, November 8, 1998; 2:58 p.m. EST

    WASHINGTON In his first remarks on President Clinton's troubles since the Republican upheaval, the leading contender to succeed Newt Gingrich as House speaker said Congress must take into account the public's view that the presidential affair and cover-up do not warrant impeachment.

    "I don't know if he's home free or not," Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., said on television Sunday, the eve of a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on what constitutes an impeachable offense. "The charges are that he ... lied under oath. And I think that is very serious."

    Livingston said he would vote for impeachment "if the evidence is there."

    "We cannot simply disregard the fact that there are other people in our society, in the military and in various other walks of life, CEOs or principals of schools, who have been likewise charged and have lost their jobs," he said.

    He added, however: "I think that the American people have certainly indicated in the polls that they don't see it as an impeachable or dismissible offense, and that would have to be considered in the political arena."

    Livingston was asked about polls suggesting voters felt last Tuesday's poor election showing by Republicans was due to their handling of the Lewinsky matter. "Obviously they have decided that we didn't do a good enough job," Livingston said on ABC's "This Week With Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts."

    Both Livingston, currently chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and his opponent for the speaker's job, Republican Policy Committee chairman Chris Cox, said they would rely heavily on Judiciary Committee's recommendations in the impeachment inquiry. The committee plans to hear testimony on Nov. 19 from Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.

    "There's no alternative to the present inquiry," said Cox.

    "We need to get this over with," said Rep. Dick Gephardt, the House's top Democrat as minority leader. "This committee has not spent one day on the standards of impeachment. They should have done it four weeks ago. They need to get to work starting tomorrow." Gephardt appeared with Cox on CBS' "Face the Nation."

    With the stage set for Monday's hearing on the definition of an impeachable offense, witnesses chosen by Republicans said the standard should be whether Clinton's efforts to cover up his affair with the former White House intern make him unfit for office.

    Democrats countered that the standard for impeachment should be whether the president's actions have undermined the government.

    More than 400 academicians wrote that impeachment would weaken the presidency by allowing Congress to draw up charges against anyone chief executive whose behavior displeased them.

    For now, Republicans are treading carefully.

    "If this is just about sex with an intern, and being caught off guard and making false statements but not really having a criminal heart about it, then that's one thing," said Republican Rep. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "But if it's really about grand jury perjury, then we've got to say, given the context of that situation" that impeachment is justified, Graham said, also on CBS.

    Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., whose victory over Sen. Alfonse D'Amato vanquished the man who ran the protracted Senate Whitewater investigation, predicted that impeachment proceedings will die in the House.

    "I think the House Judiciary Committee Republicans are looking for a way to wriggle out of this mess," said the senator-elect. "I think they thought when they did it, it would be politically advantageous to have the president hanging out there with the potential impeachment trial over his head. It actually backfired on them.

    On NBC's "Meet the Press," Schumer said he thinks neither the Judiciary Committee nor the full House "will vote to move the impeachment proceedings to the Senate." Under the Constitution, the Senate must vote whether an impeachment finding handed them by the House merits removing the president from office.

    © Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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