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Moderates in GOP look to impeach President's chances to avoid impeachment fade with declarations; House debates tomorrow; Former undecideds jump off the fence; censure is unlikely


WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's chances of avoiding impeachment faded almost to black yesterday as a flood of moderate House Republicans announced that they would vote this week on at least one measure calling for him to be removed from office.

Each moderate Republican's announcement in support of impeachment has made it easier for others to join the pro-impeachment stance of the party leaders, who for weeks have made clear which way Republican House members should vote. The House will begin debating four articles of impeachment tomorrow, with the votes expected by Friday.

The half-dozen Republicans who had announced their opposition impeachment weeks ago have come under withering pressure from conservative forces to retreat. Yesterday, in a severe blow to the president, Rep. Jack Quinn of New York, who had been one of the first Republicans to oppose impeachment, unexpectedly switched sides and now favors impeachment.

And Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, who days ago resolutely declared that there were no impeachable offenses, will meet with the president today, hopeful that Clinton can reassure him that a vote against impeachment is the proper one. Shays is also expected to try to broker a deal between the White House and moderate Republicans in which Clinton would accept a sternly worded resolution of censure and a fine as punishment for his misdeeds in the Monica Lewinsky matter.

But for that to succeed, Republican leaders would have to back down and allow a censure resolution to be voted on by the full House. House leaders have said they will allow only a yes-or-no vote on impeachment.

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee will try today to keep the pressure on House members by issuing a sharply worded final report, calling for Clinton's "impeachment, his removal from office and his disqualification from holding further office."

"President Clinton violated the sanctity of the oath without which 'Equal Justice Under Law' cannot survive," the report concludes.

The president's options are rapidly vanishing. At least 18 Republicans have announced their support for impeachment in the past two days. And many of the moderates Clinton once expected to rescue him say there is nothing he can do now to avoid the ignominy of only the second presidential impeachment in history.

There are still 25 undecided Republicans whom the White House considers possible votes against impeachment. But realistically, perhaps only a dozen are politically moderate enough to vote that way. With three Democrats stating publicly that they will vote to impeach, the president would need at least 14 Republicans on his side to stave off impeachment. So far, he has just three firm votes.

Many of the Republican moderates who have recently declared their support for impeachment seem disinclined to consider any offers from the president.

"Of course we'd listen to whatever the president of the United States wished to say, but one cannot avoid the conclusion that he would be saying it only because of the imminence of the vote as opposed to it being a confession from his heart or an expression of his sincere sentiment," warned Rep. Tom Campbell of California, an influential moderate who taught law at Stanford University and announced his support for impeachment yesterday.

"It's my judgment that the president will be impeached by the House of Representatives," Campbell declared.

Rep. Michael P. Forbes, a New York Republican who has bucked his party's leadership before and was considered a sure vote against impeachment, surprised and upset Democrats yesterday by announcing his support for all four articles of impeachment.

The articles charge Clinton with two counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

"By our words and by our deeds all of us have an obligation to teach our children right from wrong, and that when you do wrong, there are consequences," Forbes said.

Other surprising announcements for impeachment came yesterday from GOP Reps. Nancy L. Johnson of Connecticut, Sue W. Kelly of New York and Fred Upton of Michigan. Months ago, Johnson used photos of herself and Clinton in 1998 campaign literature.

In a last-ditch appeal, Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Delaware Republican and leader of the moderates, appealed to party leaders to let the House vote on a harshly worded censure resolution that would punish Clinton without impeaching him. The resolution, Castle said, should include a voluntary fine of at -- least $2 million, half the cost of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation of the Lewinsky scandal.

"Does anyone truly believe that any meaningful work will be done in Washington if an impeachment trial begins in the Senate and the fate of the president is unresolved months from now? Would not the country be better served if we took action now -- in the next 48 hours -- to bring this matter to the same conclusion that is likely to occur even after months of a Senate trial?" Castle asked. "Even at this late date, there are compelling reasons to pursue a different course, with a better solution for our nation."

Former Sen. Bob Dole, the Republican candidate Clinton defeated in the 1996 election, agreed, proposing in an opinion column that Congress end the crisis by passing a joint resolution of Congress to censure Clinton.

"It is time for a tough but responsible conclusion," Dole wrote.

For their part, senators warned that neither the House nor the public should assume that an impeachment vote this week would end at the Senate door. At the moment, the chances are extremely remote that two-thirds of the Senate -- including 12 Democrats -- would vote to convict Clinton and remove him from office.

"I have heard members of the House say that they are going to vote for one or more articles of impeachment really as a censure because they are convinced that the Senate will not convict and remove the president from office," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, an influential moderate Democrat. "And look, it's everybody's intuition that there will not be 67 votes for removal."

"But," Lieberman added, "it's only intuition. As far as I know, hardly any of my colleagues in the Senate have said how they would vote in a trial."

Surprisingly, some House Republicans who declared their impeachment votes yesterday did not appear deeply familiar with the charges. Campbell said he would oppose the abuse of power charge, in part because it included a measure condemning Clinton for claiming executive privilege. But that measure was actually dropped by the Judiciary Committee on Saturday.

Campbell and Forbes contended that lying to a federal grand jury was the most serious charge, and it will be the first article to come to a vote. But neither lawmaker would say which specific Clinton statements he believed were perjurious.

Starr has alleged that the president committed perjury in three statements before the Starr grand jury: Clinton said his sexual relationship with Lewinsky began in January 1996 while Lewinsky said it began in November 1995; Clinton said he believed he was accurate when he told Paula Corbin Jones' lawyers under oath that he did not have sexual relations with Lewinsky; and Clinton said he did not touch Lewinsky's breasts or genitalia.

The Judiciary Committee added one more: that Clinton lied when he said he believed he was not trying to influence the possible testimony of his secretary, Betty Currie, when he asked her a series of pointed questions after his deposition in the Jones case.

Pressed on what statements constituted perjury, Forbes said, "I refer you to the record."

Democrats have insisted that Republicans are consciously avoiding the details of the perjury charges because those details seem so trivial when spelled out. But Campbell said the alleged lies were material to the Jones case and serious enough to merit the president's removal from office.

"The matter is serious," Campbell said. "The matter is grave, but it is not complicated. The president of the United States, on several occasions, with premeditation, said what was not true under oath in a federal criminal grand jury with his attorney by his side."

Pub Date: 12/16/98

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