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Somber president calls for 'renewal'

Sun Reporter

A subdued and somber President Clinton -- showing no trace ofjubilation -- said yesterday he was "profoundly sorry" for triggering thescandal of the last year and called for "reconciliation" in the wake of thevote allowing him to keep his job.

In a brief statement delivered in the Rose Garden soon after the Senatevoted to acquit him on both articles of impeachment, the president avoided anyglimmer of a smile or a gloat, and said he was "humbled and very grateful" forthe support and prayers he's received from millions of Americans over the pastyear.

"Now I ask all Americans, and I hope all Americans -- here in Washingtonand throughout our land -- will rededicate ourselves to the work of servingour nation and building our future together," he said to a large throng ofcameras and journalists. "This can be -- and this must be -- a time ofreconciliation and renewal for America."

Clinton spent much of the morning composing the short statement, WhiteHouse spokesman Joe Lockhart said, and seemed careful to avoid any hint ofdefiance or vindication that could antagonize political opponents.

Two hours after the Senate vote, ending the more than yearlong saga thatseriously threatened his presidency, the second chief executive to beimpeached walked solemnly from the Oval Office to a podium in the roselessRose Garden as much of his staff looked on.

He began his public statement, on the oddly warm and sunny winter day, withan expression of remorse similar to one he made before.

"I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I am forwhat I said and did to trigger these events, and the great burden they haveimposed on the Congress and the American people," Clinton said, occasionallybiting his lip as he often does when delivering emotional remarks.

After reading his statement, he started to head back to the Oval Office butpaused, and then returned to the microphone when a reporter asked whether hecould "forgive and forget," a reference to his reported ire at RepublicanHouse members who tried to oust him.

"I believe any person who asks for forgiveness has to be prepared to giveit," Clinton said, before walking back to the White House that will be hishome for two more years.

There was much internal debate between Clinton and his aides yesterday overwhether the president should appear on camera or merely respond to the Senatevote with a written statement.

The measured public response Clinton finally decided upon was in markedcontrast to the more elaborate and defiant South Lawn ceremony several hoursafter his historic impeachment by the House in December.

That event included a show of support by more than 100 House Democrats whocheered the president. It drew the ire of some Republicans -- and later someDemocrats -- who found it unseemly for Clinton to be holding what many of themdubbed a "pep rally" in the wake of impeachment.

Yesterday, the White House took pains to keep a lid on any signs ofcelebration, even though neither impeachment article received even a simplemajority, much less the 67 votes needed to convict and remove the president.

"Given the circumstances of this matter that's gone on for this long, wecan be relieved that it's over, but there's really nothing to celebrate,"Lockhart said. "For most of us who have had to engage on this on a dailybasis, relief is the most descriptive and accurate word that I can use."

In contrast, Clinton's lawyers couldn't contain their joy as they walkedout of the White House and down the street for a celebratory lunch, skippingthe president's statement.

"We are going to lunch. We will enjoy it. It feels really good," said DavidE. Kendall, as a small crowd outside the White House cheered the lawyers withapplause and shouts of "Well done!"

Lockhart said Clinton did not watch yesterday's Senate votes. Instead, hewas exercising in the White House residence when the Senate began its rollcall vote of "guilty" or "not guilty." He then spent some time with first ladyHillary Rodham Clinton and some of her visiting friends.

Chief of staff John Podesta called the president after each vote to informhim of the results, including who voted which way. Clinton then continued workon a statement he had started drafting Thursday night.

In addition to his public remarks, the president called some SenateDemocrats yesterday afternoon to thank them for their support and sent ane-mail message to his staff also expressing his gratitude.

"Your dedication and loyalty have meant more to me than you can ever know,"Clinton wrote. He said the best way for him to show his appreciation was to"redouble my own efforts on behalf of the ideals we all share."

Although yesterday's vote brought an end to Clinton's most threateningpolitical woes, his troubles springing from the Monica Lewinsky scandal arefar from over. For one thing, he could still be indicted by independentcounsel Kenneth W. Starr when he leaves office or possibly before.

Yesterday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde said he did notthink Starr should bring criminal charges against Clinton.

Asked about Hyde's remarks, Lockhart said the administration, too, thought"the time has come" to put the scandal to rest.

"But it's an issue that the independent counsel will have to search his ownsense of whether the time has come to wrap this up," the spokesman said.

More immediately, Clinton has to find a way to work with theRepublican-controlled Congress after such a bitter and partisan impeachmentordeal. He wants desperately to repair his presidency -- and legacy -- withlegislative accomplishments such as Social Security reform in his remainingtime in office.

Lockhart said the president "tried to reach out a hand" with his call forreconciliation and renewal yesterday.

"The president's going to have to work hard at talking about the issues andthe agenda," he said. "He will work hard. He will reach out across partylines. And we're very confident that we're going to get a lot done this year."

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