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House proceedings elicit loud groan Mood: There is such weariness over the Clinton scandal that historic House impeachment action can hardly grab the public's attention.


For the three old friends, beer and gossip at Nick's Raw Bar in the middle of the bustling Cross Street Market is a Saturday afternoon tradition.

Marie Bracey, Geneva Jones and Rosalind Anthony perch atop wooden stools and watch shoppers hurry past, arms filled with poinsettias and Christmas cookies. Directly behind the three women is a giant television, tuned to an infomercial for an aerobics video.

Is there something strange about this picture?

No, not the television picture of the aerobics video (though the $68.35 price does seem a tad high). The other picture, the one of the busy, preoccupied patrons of Cross Street Market.

Doesn't anyone care about the historic event happening this very minute? The congressional impeachment hearings, unfolding less than an hour's drive away?

"Where's Washington?" bellows a guy in a NASCAR sweat shirt, as his buddy guffaws.

For the three 40-ish women friends sitting nearby, that pretty much sums it up.

"I am sick and tired of hearing about it," declares Jones. "I am so sick and tired of being sick and tired of hearing about it. That's all I got to say."

She spins around on her bar stool and lifts a plastic cup to her lips.

"It's a setup," chimes in her friend Bracey.

Jones whips back around. "It's a setup," she echoes.

Bracey, who is sipping her beer through a straw because of a temporarily missing front tooth, picks up the conversational ball again: "If Hillary can deal with it, why does the country have to be involved? Everybody has skeletons in their closets.

"As long as he does his job and does it well, they should leave it alone."

Seated at the adjoining sushi bar, a serious-looking young woman in a green leather jacket looks up from a crossword puzzle. For the most part, she agrees with Bracey and friends.

"It's so partisan," complains Wendy Weihs, 27. "And I definitely have an issue with the whole public interest in the sexual aspects. I wouldn't want that to ever happen to me."

Weihs has listened to the congressional debate on the radio, but she doesn't own a TV, so she misses the networks' coverage.

For that, she should be grateful, according to 21-year-old Jennifer Brauckhoff, who is dishing out bowls of split-pea soup in Cafe Manet, less than a block from the Cross Street Market.

"I see it on the news, and I try not to watch it," Brauckhoff confesses. "When it comes on, I think, 'I don't want to watch it.' But I do. It's like a soap opera. Watching the news is like a soap opera!"

Although most of the patrons at Cross Street Market express anger at the Republicans for holding the hearings, Brauckhoff places the blame firmly on the shoulders of the president.

"I didn't like him the first time I saw him," she says, resting her hand atop a glass case filled with salads. "He embarrasses me -- I'm embarrassed to be a U.S. citizen because of him. I hope he is impeached, but I'd rather see him resign."

So what exactly is in Bill Clinton's future?

"He's worth more if he's impeached than if not," offers Rob Miller, a 29-year-old mortgage banker from Cincinnati, who is visiting Baltimore on business.

Think about the possibilities, Miller urges: The book deals. The talk-show circuit. Clinton could rake in big bucks.

But it isn't likely that Congress would go that far, figures John Clark, 54, a child therapist, "In the Senate, nothing will happen because the numbers aren't there."

And there's no way Clark can see Clinton stepping down. "Are you going to resign the most powerful job in the world if they're not going to take it from [you]?" he asks.

Back at Nick's Raw Bar, the giant television behind Jones and friends is now tuned to a golf tournament. In a little while, the House Judiciary Committee will approve a fourth and final article of impeachment against Clinton. Then, the stage will be set for the first president since Andrew Johnson to face an impeachment vote in the House of Representatives.

But for the three women -- here to celebrate not only two decades of friendship but also Jones' recent good luck in the Maryland Lottery -- the entire debate raging under the U.S. Capitol's dome is just a huge waste of time.

They know a simpler way to test whether a person is good or bad, and in their opinion, Bill Clinton has passed with flying colors: Children can always sense such things, and kids still love the president.

"It's like the same way they tried to [hurt] Michael Jackson," the pop singer who also faced allegations of sexual misconduct, Jones says.

"The kids still love him."

Pub Date: 12/13/98

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