Washington, 24 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Like spectators at a tennis match, Americans watching the investigation of President Bill Clinton's personal behavior find their heads turning back and forth as the sides involved in the drama seek out an advantage.
This week, the momentum seems to be with the White House, which is pressuring U.S. Congressional leaders to speed up the process of determining whether the full House of Representatives should debate whether Clinton should be impeached, a proceeding that could lead to Clinton's removal from office if he were to be convicted of "high crimes and misdemeanors" in a trial in the U.S. Senate.
Both chambers of the Congress are controlled by the Republican Party. Clinton is a Democrat. The issue that is gripping Washington is what the Congress should do with a report prepared by a special government prosecutor who charged that there are grounds for the Congress to conduct impeachment proceedings.
Among other things, the prosecutor accused the president of lying while under legal oath about a sexual relationship with a former White House aide. Clinton has admitted what he calls an inappropriate relationship with the woman, Monica Lewinsky.
He has also said he may have, again in his term, misled people about that relationship. But he says he has done nothing to deserve impeachment and he says he will not resign. Clinton's term expires in January 2001.
On Wednesday, the White House and Clinton's fellow Democrats in the House and Senate said it is time for the Congress to "move on" and conclude the inquiry. Spokesman Michael McCurry accused some Republicans of wanting to drag out the matter indefinitely. McCurry claimed that Americans are tired of the controversy and want to see it ended.
Said McCurry: "Well, the White House looks, as we have said the last several days, looks for the correct course of action here that a bipartisan, very strong bipartisan majority in Congress can support consistent with what the American people feel is right. And the White House well understands the desire of many Americans to see this matter resolved in some fashion and can certainly understand the minority leader suggesting that we need to get on with this and try to resolve the issue one way or another. And we are, obviously, in conversations to indicate our willingness to do the part that we must do to help bring this to some kind of conclusion."
However, it did not appear that the Republican Party majority is in any hurry to decide how to resolve the issue. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) even rejected talk of a deal with Clinton to avoid a possible impeachment inquiry, despite polls showing most Americans don't want the president removed from office.
In remarks to reporters outside Congress, Gingrich said: "For anybody to talk about doing anything before we finish the investigative process simply puts the cart before the horse."
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Said Gingrich: "I think all we can say to the American people is we swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States; that we will do our constitutional duty; that to do less than that would be to be derelict in our office. That the fact is neither the American people nor the members of Congress know this case thoroughly yet, the president has not had a chance to respond in a way that would present his side, and that the Congress will move forward in a calm and methodical way to seek justice.
"And I don't think people want this Congress to deal with a constitutional issue based on the latest overnight poll. And I think people would be, frankly, horrified if the Congress was simply a polling institution that enacted a grotesque version of justice based on the latest poll or the latest talk show."
House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri appealed to Republicans to set a firm timetable that could conclude the probe within a month or two and to stop simply releasing material that is highly sexual in nature.
Gephardt said that, "for the sake of the country and in the interests of limiting the exposure of our children to this kind of detail in an atmosphere of wall-to-wall media coverage, this needs to be dealt with due process and justice but also deliberate speed."
McCurry said the idea of a lesser punishment such as a congressional censure and a fine is a "bipartisan idea" that better reflects public sentiment. McCurry said Gingrich and his top lieutenants appear mainly interested in delaying the matter for partisan political advantage.
Congressional elections for all 435 House seats and 34 Senate seats are scheduled for November 3rd. Congress wants to adjourn on October 9 to allow members to finish campaigns.
McCurry said that, "it is some concern to the White House that people who are genuinely motivated, who want to bring this matter to some resolution, seem to be drowned out by those who want this matter to drag on and on and on."
Republicans intend to have the House vote within the next two weeks on whether to authorize the House Judiciary Committee to begin a formal inquiry of impeachment against Clinton. Many Democrats would like to avoid that inquiry by working out a punishment less than impeachment.