Impeachment Debate Resumes

Article excerpt

The House of Representatives will meet at 9 this morning to consider the impeachment of President Clinton after a second day that closed with a dramatic bombshell.

After House Democrats lost a battle late last night to put off the impeachment debate indefinitely, a Capitol Hill newspaper posted an article on its Internet site reporting that Speaker-elect Robert L. Livingston "has had sexual affairs in his past and will offer to resign."

A late-evening meeting of the House Republican Conference concluded with an announcement that Mr. Livingston, contrary to the report in the weekly Roll Call, did not offer to step down as speaker-elect and has no intention of doing so.

"I will not be intimidated," he said.

The revelation did not change the vote of moderate Republicans, several more of whom announced yesterday they will support impeachment. The announcements make it mathematically all but impossible for the president to avoid being impeached.

The Livingston disclosure followed the harshest words yet from the incoming speaker, who spoke passionately on the House floor in support of opening the impeachment debate, delayed after Mr. Clinton began bombing Iraq.

"Let us not prolong the harm to the country by hanging this issue out in this body," Mr. Livingston said. "It allows us to face the issue head on. If it is meritorious it will pass. If not, it will fail."

It was not clear last night how long debate will last, or when the final votes will be taken.

Republican House leaders were hoping to extend the debate beyond the one hour allowed for a privileged resolution under House rules. They met last night to review rules and procedures; Democrats will meet this morning to do the same.

During a contentious floor debate yesterday on whether to proceed with the impeachment debate, Democrats seized on the military action in the Persian Gulf as reason to hold off until at least next week.

"We must think not only of how this activity will be received by members or other Americans around the country," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt. "We believe we've got to also look at how Saddam Hussein will perceive the idea and the information that, while he is under physical attack by the United States and its people, we are having a debate in our House of Representatives to remove the commander in chief from his office."

But Mr. Livingston and others noted that the House moved to impeach President Nixon while the Vietnam War was under way.

Rep. Tillie Fowler, Florida Republican and vice chairman of the Republican conference, said that when Mr. Clinton and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen were asked yesterday whether a vote on impeachment would undercut his authority, they each answered "no."

"Both the president and the secretary of defense are saying it does not undermine their authority," she said. "It's time we move forward."

Several Republican military veterans said impeachment would have no bearing on troop morale.

"Our fighting men are fighting for our constitutional privilege," said Rep. Sam Johnson, who spent seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Mr. Johnson said if Congress had not continued its operations - providing for the troops - "I probably wouldn't be here today."

Duncan Hunter, California Republican and another Vietnam veteran, said he has concluded that "If we hold up this process as a result of the strikes that are going on, the troops will feel they've been used for political purposes. And then they will be demoralized."

Democrats - most of whom, like most Republicans, have never served in the military - argued that voting to impeach Mr. Clinton would be perceived as a vote of no confidence in Operation Desert Fox.

"It makes no sense to go forward when our young men and women are under arms," said House Minority Whip David E. …