GOP Plays Down Censure Option
GOP Plays Down Censure Option
Sep. 15, 1998
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republican congressional leaders brushed aside Democratic talk of mere censure of President Clinton on Tuesday, as the House Judiciary Committee pointed toward release of the next installment of Kenneth Starr's evidence of impeachable offenses.
Censure is ``not an option that holds a lot of attraction,'' House Majority Leader Dick Armey told reporters, adding that he had been talking to members of the GOP rank-and-file about the issue. ``We believe that committing perjury and obstruction of justice, these are feats of enormous consequence,'' said the Texan.
Across the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott told reporters it was ``inappropriate at this time to be talking about what might happen'' to Clinton.
Neither he nor Armey closed the door on the idea of a sanction less than impeachment. Nor did White House spokesman Mike McCurry.
Asked about calls for Clinton to reimburse some of the costs Starr has incurred _ said to be some $4.4 million investigating the Lewinsky cover-up allegations _ McCurry said, ``if there's a serious effort made in Congress to that, we'll consider it when the time comes.''
Meanwhile, the White House moved to prevent further erosion in Clinton's political standing among Democrats. Chief of staff Erskine Bowles and a phalanx of aides journeyed to the Capitol to join the weekly closed-door Democratic Senate caucus for a discussion of Starr's report.
Bowles later told reporters little about what was said. But he was emphatic when asked whether any senator had called for Clinton to leave office: ``No.''
Starr's report on the president and his affair with Monica Lewinsky, a portion of which was made public last week, cited what the prosecutors said was evidence of impeachable offenses in 11 instances, including perjury and obstruction of justice. The president has apologized for his behavior but has not admitted violating any law.
The steady criticism of Clinton by congressional Democrats continued during the day. ``Joe Q. Citizen can't apologize. Joe Q. Citizen isn't censured. Joe Q. Citizen is prosecuted,'' said Rep. James Traficant of Ohio. ``An America with two legal standards is an America with no legal standards.''
Added Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee, ``Now is the time for the president to come clean and allow this matter to be resolved.''
Behind the scenes, Democratic sources said the House rank-and-file was split over the issue of the president. In an irony, most of Clinton's strongest supporters in his current crisis are the more liberal lawmakers, members from relatively safe congressional districts _ and men and women who have often felt betrayed by his centrist ``New Democrat'' politics over the past six years.
But Clinton's customary political allies, moderate Democrats, as well as those in political swing districts, are less eager to defend him at all costs and more comfortable with some sort of sanction.
Democratic leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., in a statement issued Tuesday, criticized Clinton for relying on ``the fine distinctions of a legal argument'' in his defense but took no position on whether the president should be punished in any way.
Behind the closed doors of the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans and Democrats struggled to establish mutually acceptable guidelines on releasing more of Starr's information.
One Democratic staff source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two parties had informally agreed to withhold additional sexually explicit material; information on Secret Service operations; material that would jeopardize criminal investigations and information that would harm innocent parties.
The two sides clashed, however, over a Republican demand for the release of the videotape of Clinton's testimony on Aug. 17 before Starr's grand jury. Democrats argued that it was unfair, since Clinton was the only witness to have been videotaped. Republicans argued that his appearance was an essential portion of the record.
Distribution of the videotape could cause further embarrassment for the president, who was forced to answer a series of questions about sex with Ms. Lewinsky, and who sources say became irritated at several points.
Aides in both parties said the written version of Clinton's testimony, as well as Ms. Lewinsky's grand jury testimony, would probably be released by the end of the week.
Democrats have talked of possible censure of the president in recent days, a middle ground that would administer a punishment but allow him to remain in office _ an idea that has been well-received in public opinion polls. Such talk most frequently includes an additional sanction, perhaps a repayment of some of Starr's costs.
While some Republican aides say the ultimate outcome of the case may well be less than impeachment, the party's lawmakers were having no part of it for now.
At his weekly meeting with reporters, Armey said some GOP lawmakers feel ``that option, as it has become touted, trivializes the weightiness of the matter.''
Still, he refused to rule it out.
Asked whether there was any option available other than impeachment for punishing Clinton, Armey said it was important to ``wait this process out, be serious about it and come to that conclusion at the appropriate time.''
For his part, Lott suggested censure several months ago but withdrew the proposal recently as the evidence against Clinton became more widely understood.