US air attacks could delay impeachment move on Clinton

 

The decision to postpone today's impeachment debate in the House of Representatives if military action takes place against Iraq came as President Clinton's situation worsened. More Republicans, formerly undecided, announced that they would favour a vote on impeachment. But almost 90 of the 435 members of the House have still not publicly declared their position, so the White House has not given up all hope of the President surviving the impeachment vote.

The leaderships of the Republican and Democratic parties on Capitol Hill agreed yesterday that the impeachment debate would be postponed if military strikes against Iraq took place. Earlier President Clinton had briefed the Congressional leaders on the situation concerning Iraq. The White House at this time was refusing to make any comment on the likelihood of strikes but strongly denied that the timing was linked to the impeachment debate. The State Department spokesman, Mr Jamie Rubin, insisted that the timing of any strikes would be "generated by Iraq's failure to comply with Security Council resolutions" on getting rid of weapons of mass destruction. Inevitably there was speculation in Washington that a military strike was calculated to help the President, and references were made to the strikes Mr Clinton ordered last August against Sudan and training camps in Afghanistan just after he admitted his affair with Ms Monica Lewinsky.

One Republican member of Congress, Ms Tillie Fowler, said: "I think this President is shameless in what he would do to stay in office. He will use our military and he will use our foreign policy to remain President. I do not put it past him."

The White House spokesman, Mr Joe Lockhart, strongly rejected this view, saying: "The President of the United States makes national security decisions based on the recommendations of his national security advisers and on the best interests of the people of the United States." Vice-President Al Gore, who postponed a visit to New Hampshire to help Mr Clinton in his efforts to fend off impeachment, made an impassioned appeal to Republicans to abandon bi-partisanship and reach out for a compromise solution.

Mr Gore said at the White House: "I believe on Capitol Hill there is still time for Democrats and Republicans to come together and embrace a bipartisan compromise to seek a resolution that is both quick and fair and try to turn away from the bitter partisanship that we have seen so far." An Associated Press telephone poll of the members of the House of Representatives found that 167 said they would support impeachment, 180 said they would oppose it, 64 said they were undecided and 24 would not answer or did not return calls. One of these, Mr Amo Houghton of New York, was proposing a censure motion and a $500,000 fine for the President.

The other Republican to visit the White House was Mr Christopher Shays of Connecticut. He had earlier opposed impeachment but has been wavering in recent days. On Tuesday night he held a town hall meeting attended by several thousand people in Norwalk to discuss the issue. A narrow majority appeared to be in favour of censure.

The Republican and Democratic caucuses, or parliamentary parties, met on Capitol Hill last night to discuss their tactics in the impeachment debate. The Republican leadership was expected to reaffirm its decision not to allow a censure motion against President Clinton to be tabled alongside the impeachment motion, as some moderate Republicans had hoped.

The Democrats are expected to try to use the House rules to table a motion sending the impeachment resolution back to the Judiciary Committee and replacing it with a motion of censure.

The 435 House members also received the final report of the Judiciary Committee on its investigation into the charges against President Clinton of perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power. Last week the committee split along party lines to vote for four articles of impeachment. If the House votes for one or more of the articles the Senate would conduct a trial of the President according to the US constitution.

The committee's report included sections from the Republicans and the Democrats. The majority report said that the President "disgraced himself and the high office he holds".

"His high crimes and misdemeanours undermine our constitution. They warrant his impeachment, his removal from office and his disqualification from holding further office," the majority report said.

The minority report concluded: "We do not believe that the nature of the misconduct is the metal with which the founding fathers intended impeachments to be made."