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Congress sees through party-colored glasses

By BILL ADAIR

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 12, 1998


WASHINGTON -- For more than a week, members of Congress said they would avoid partisan politics when they got Kenneth Starr's report on President Clinton. But when they finally saw it Friday, they split along party lines.

More coverage:
Full text of Starr's report

The president: America judges Clinton

Monica Lewinsky: The story of a naive intern, lust and love

White House reacts: Read the rebuttal text via AP [part one and two]

Capitol Hill: Congress sees through party-colored glasses

Locally: Reaction of Floridians in Congress

On the Net: Lurid details of affair disgust many

Troxler: Lunchtime diversion is difficult to digest

Special forum: What's your take on the crisis?

Republicans were aghast at Clinton's behavior, with many saying it showed he had lied and abused his power.

"It's vile," said Rep. Mark Foley, R-West Palm Beach. "It's more sad than anything else, to see someone with such potential throw it all down the drain because of a sexual addiction."

Democrats said they, too, were troubled by the explicit details about Clinton's sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky. But several Democrats said there was nothing in the report to justify impeachment.

"It's tabloid," said Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md. He said the report was a sensational account of the times and locations of Clinton and Lewinsky's sexual encounters, but it did not break any new ground about the allegations against the president.

"I don't think you need to know the times or the hallways" where the encounters took place, Wynn said.

Clinton's fate now lies with Congress.

Next week, the House of Representatives is expected to formally send Starr's report to the Judiciary Committee, which will decide whether to recommend impeachment proceedings. The full House would then decide whether to impeach the president. If that happens, the case will then move to the Senate, where the case would be tried with senators sitting as jurors.

Some of the strongest reaction Friday was in response to Starr's account of Lewinsky performing oral sex on Clinton as he chatted with members of Congress on the telephone.

That was "just sad," Foley said. "It's unbelievable that he could behave so carelessly in that setting."

Starr's report said Clinton was on the telephone with Rep. Sonny Callahan, R-Ala., during his second sexual encounter with Lewinsky. Callahan, in a prepared statement, said he was talking to Clinton about the American mission in Bosnia. He said he "had no knowledge I was sharing the president's time or attention with anyone else."

Rep. Thomas Davis, R-Va., said the report is "worse than I had thought. Starr lays out a very strong case."

"I have read enough of the report to believe we should have an impeachment hearing," said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. "I think the president has a very serious problem on his hands."

Rep. Constance Morella, R-Md., said the report "read like a novel. I was very shocked by the graphic nature of it."

But Democrats said the report centered on a personal sexual relationship that did not warrant action by the House.

Rep. Charles Rangel of New York said that in the atmosphere of "rancorous partisanship" gripping Congress, some members "are demanding a moral standard for the president that is higher than they would set for themselves."

Next week, the Judiciary Committee's first task will be to determine how much of the evidence can be released to the public. The committee has until Sept. 28 to review about 2,600 additional pages of evidence to determine what is releasable. Some committee members could begin looking at the documents today.

The committee's primary task, though, will be determining whether to recommend Clinton be impeached. That could be contentious because the judiciary committee is one of the most partisan in Congress.

Among the 19 Republicans are Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, one of Clinton's strongest critics. The 15 Democrats include Rep. Robert Wexler of Boca Raton, one of Clinton's most loyal supporters.

Wexler said Friday: "There was nothing in the report that laid out a case (that Clinton) tampered with witnesses or obstructed justice. The president has betrayed his wife, but I don't think he has betrayed the American people."

Two other Florida Republicans on the committee, Bill McCollum of Longwood and Charles Canady of Lakeland, also are expected to play prominent roles in the inquiry.

Despite the growing partisan rhetoric, Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., vowed the process would be fair.

"Due process and fundamental fairness will be observed," Hyde said. "We're going to wait and hear what the president has to say."
-- Information from Reuters and Bloomberg was used in this report.

 

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