Just two days after their historic impeachment vote, keymoderate House Republicans yesterday expressed misgivings about the ultimateremedy endorsed by the impeachment articles they approved -- the removal ofPresident Clinton from office.
And in a show of regret, they prepared to formally implore the Senate toinstead consider a sharp rebuke of the president that would spare the countryfrom a divisive Senate trial.
Buoyed by soaring public approval, Clinton sought yesterday to prove thathe can lead the country under the cloud of impeachment, even as the Senatemoved toward a landmark trial to determine whether he should be removed fromoffice.
Continued public support for his presidency, White House aides say,depends on Clinton's ability to project leadership in the face of a grievousthreat to his tenure.
The developing White House strategy is to capitalize on the public'sundiminished approval of Clinton's steward-ship despite his impeachment. Tothat end, the president plans to stay publicly engaged in voter-friendlyissues such as Social Security, health care and housing for the poor.
Far from hunkering down in the Oval Office, Clinton traveled yesterday toa Washington soup kitchen and then to a service at Arlington National Cemeteryto commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack on Pan Am Flight103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. And last night, he and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, feted the White House press corps at a Winter Wonderland on the WhiteHouse South Lawn.
Tomorrow morning, Clinton will journey to Baltimore to visit the Boys andGirls Club on East Fayette Street and announce grants to fight homelessness.The president had planned to announce the grants in his weekly radio addresslast Saturday. But White House aides decided that Clinton should travel out ofWashington for his first major public event since the House impeached him onSaturday.
Yesterday, Clinton made scant mention of his looming Senate trial.
"I hope everyone in the country will take some time to think about otherpeople and do something in the spirit of the season like this," he said at thesoup kitchen when asked if he had a message for Congress.
White House aides have called on Vice President Al Gore to step forward asthe administration's forceful voice on the impeachment issue.
"Saturday's vote in the U.S. House of Representatives was wrong -- wrongfor our Constitution and wrong for America," Gore declared yesterday. "Butthis much should be clear: President Clinton and I will continue to focus allof our energies on the business of the American people."
Yesterday's most striking development was the letter from Reps. SherryBoehlert and Benjamin Gilman of New York, Mike Castle of Delaware and JimGreenwood of Pennsylvania, which they prepared to send to Trent Lott, theSenate majority leader. They released its text last night, and plan to send ittoday.
"We are not convinced, and do not want our votes interpreted to mean, thatwe view removal from office as the only reasonable conclusion of this case,"they wrote, although the articles of impeachment for which they voted eachconcluded: "Wherefore, William Jefferson Clinton, by such conduct, warrantsimpeachment and trial and removal from office."
They argued in their letter that while it was "questionable" whether theHouse had authority to deal with censure, the Senate clearly "does have theauthority and the precedents to consider a range of options. Those optionsshould include a tough censure proposal, which would impose a fine and blockany pardon."
The four voted Saturday against allowing consideration of a Democraticmove to allow a House vote on censure.
Another House Republican who voted for impeachment, W. J. Tauzin ofLouisiana, was consulting with colleagues yesterday about asking the Senate toavert a trial. His spokesman, Ken Johnson, said, "The feeling is the presidentpaid a terrible price for his actions. The Clinton presidency has beenindelibly stained by impeachment."
Even studied nonchalance could not distance Clinton from the ominousprospect of the second presidential impeachment trial in history. White Houselawyers met to review any legal avenues available to head off such aspectacle, and Gore appealed to the Senate to put the Lewinsky scandal behindthe nation at last.
"I do hope that the United States Senate will rise to this moment, as itso often does, to be the voice of reason, deliberation and healing thatAmerica needs," Gore said yesterday.
"I hope the Senate will, therefore, forge a fair, bipartisan compromise toend this matter promptly and to end it in a way that will respect the will andthe wisdom of the American people."
But key senators warned yesterday that the White House should not expectto negotiate a settlement that would include a censure of the president. Itincreasingly appears that a Senate trial cannot be avoided.
Even a Democrat, the highly respected Sen. Robert C. Byrd of WestVirginia, who is the most ardent defender of Senate prerogatives, declaredthat the White House should stay away from senators, who would serve as jurorsin an impeachment trial. A conviction would require the votes of two-thirds ofthe Senate.
"One thing is clear: For the good of our nation, there must be no 'deal'involving the White House or any entity beyond the current membership in theU.S. Senate," Byrd said yesterday in a statement. "Whether there is a trial orwhether there is some other solution, that decision must be made by senators."
And even those Democratic senators who are considered reliable defendersof the president sounded circumspect after the House's impeachment vote.
"There is a process, and the next step in the process will occur afterJan. 6, when the new Senate is seated," said a spokesman for Sen. Paul S.Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat.
Sen. John H. Chafee of Rhode Island, perhaps the most liberal Republicanvoice in the Senate, praised House Republicans for what he called a"discriminating" and "thoughtful" impeachment deliberation.
Chafee pointed to the House's rejection of two of the four articles ofimpeachment as a clear sign that serious thought had gone into the approval ofthe two other articles. The two articles that passed charge Clinton with lyingto a federal grand jury and obstructing justice to hide his affair with MonicaLewinsky.
"This is not just a partisan stampede," Chafee said of his HouseRepublican colleagues. "These are thoughtful people. Let's get started, getsworn in, start hearing evidence. Then, if there is sentiment for censure,fine."
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who chairs the Senate JudiciaryCommittee, echoed those sentiments: "Once they've sent over articles ofimpeachment, I think we have to proceed with the trial. But we're going tohave to really, at one time or other, determine just whether or not you couldget anywhere near 67 votes to convict the president on the impeachmentcharges."
"If you clearly can't do that," he said, "then it's apparent that weshould not spend the next two to six months trying this matter. We ought toresolve it, and we ought to resolve it in the best possible way we can."
Under Senate rules, a simple majority could vote to adjourn the trial --or never convene one. But most senators appear convinced that it is theSenate's duty to at least convene the first presidential impeachment trial in130 years.
Chafee even suggested that cutting a deal now would only encourage theHouse to lower the threshold for any future impeachments, confident that theSenate would dispose of the matter with little serious consequence.
"You can see the sense and rationale, that if it's just casually passed inthe House, with people saying, 'Oh, well, the Senate will take care of it,'you would encourage this activity, and we certainly don't want to do that,"Chafee said. "We should take it seriously in the Senate."
As they prepare a legal defense, White House lawyers appear confident thatthey can retain the backing of the nation's voters. Indeed, a flurry of newpublic opinion polls indicates that support for Clinton has actually risensince the House passed two articles of impeachment on Saturday.
A New York Times/CBS News survey conducted Saturday night and Sunday foundthat 66 percent hope that the Senate censures or fines the president. Only 30percent said the Senate should proceed with a trial.
The poll also showed Republicans with their worst popularity ratings inthe 14 years that CBS News and the Times have asked about it. Nearly 60percent expressed an unfavorable view of the Republicans; 36 percent had afavorable one.
The Times/CBS poll put Clinton's job approval rating at 73 percent, up 5percentage points from a week before and tied with the all-time high heachieved just after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke in January.
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll over the same period showed a 9 pointincrease, from 64 percent to 73 percent. A Washington Post-ABC News pollshowed Clinton with a job approval rating of 67 percent, up 3 points from aweek earlier. Clinton's 73 percent approval rating in the CNN poll matchedPresident Ronald Reagan's high in that poll.
Perhaps most encouraging to the White House was a sharp decline in thepercentage of Americans who believe that Clinton should resign. Last week,polls showed that up to 45 percent believed the president should step down ifimpeached.
But now that Clinton has been impeached, the CNN/USA Today/ Gallup pollfound that 69 percent oppose his resignation and just 30 percent favor it. TheNew York Times/CBS News poll found similar results: Two-thirds of the publicwant Clinton to stay; 31 percent favor his resignation.
Sun staff writer David Folkenflik and the New York Times contributed to this article.