Effect on Clinton's Ability to Lead A Long Trial Could Distract the President on Issues Ranging from Social Security to Foreign Policy.; LAME DUCK, PLUS

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It's tough for a president to move his agenda when he's a lame duck. But it's even tougher when he's an impeached lame duck.

Already, President Clinton has been considerably weakened by the Monica Lewinsky scandal. If the House votes Thursday to impeach and the Senate follows up with a trial, his power will only diminish further, say political analysts.

Everything from Social Security reform to America's credibility overseas would be undermined, they warn, and the longer the Senate grappled with the case, the harder it would be for Mr. Clinton to get anything done. "Every day brings him that much closer to being a lame duck," says Robert Dallek, a presidential historian in Washington. "If it's bad now, it will be even worse if he faces a trial." The trial is the critical thing, say analysts, especially if it takes the four to six months that some lawmakers and constitutional scholars predict. That would effectively shutter the window of opportunity that the president and Congress have before they switch into campaign 2000 mode in September. In that window, the president hopes to fix Social Security and pass a patients' bill of rights. "The distraction is the biggest matter," says presidential scholar George Edwards, at Texas A&M University in College Station. Another spinoff from an impeachment and a long trial could be severe partisanship. The intense division between Democrats and Republicans that produced party-line votes on articles of impeachment in the House Judiciary Committee - and which might tip the full Congress to do the same - may set the tone for the remainder of the president's term. "The right-wing folks will see Clinton as weakened, and will fight him tooth and nail," says Mr. Dallek. Rather than pragmatism in the next Congress, as promised by House Speaker-elect Bob Livingston (R) of Louisiana, "you will see a stiffening of the backs," he says. He points to Mr. Livingston's refusal to allow the House to vote on censure as the first detour from bipartisanship. Clinton may play hardball But a former Clinton administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, sees the president hardening his stance as well. …


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