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Washington Journal: Protesters Demonstrate Against Impeachment

Washington, 18 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- With the U.S. House of Representatives nearing an impeachment vote on President Bill Clinton, some Americans are saying they want Congress to censure the president and get it over with.

About 2,000 protesters rallied on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building Thursday to demand an immediate end to the impeachment proceedings against Clinton.

Led by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, the crowd prayed, chanted and waved signs asking the House of Representatives to reprimand the president instead and then get on with the business of governing. Speakers also expressed support for American troops currently involved in the air action against Iraq.

Jackson and his organization (called the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition) organized the rally and bused Clinton supporters from all over the country to Washington. In his speech, Jackson said Republicans in the House of Representatives have acted with a fundamental lack of fairness in attempting to remove a legitimately elected president on partisan grounds.

Jackson said of the president: "His behavior was wrong, but it was all too human. Fairness to our nation demands mature judgment. The far greater offense to our nation, the far greater offense to our Constitution, to our most fundamental values as a democracy is to take our vote away. The right to vote is a precious one."

Jackson asked the House of Representatives to consider censure as a fair and bipartisan alternative to impeachment, saying the House is hurting its own image in its haste to tarnish the Democratic president.

He also criticized Congress for rushing to impeach Clinton before the members who failed to be reelected in November leave at the end of the term. Jackson said the new Congress, which arrives in January, would most likely not go through with an impeachment. He added: "The bills of impeachment designed to brand Bill Clinton forever are the work of a lame duck Congress, speeding down a fast track. If those who were defeated were not voting, and those who won were voting, we would not be in this crisis."

Jackson added: "History will not treat us kindly if we go blindly in meanness." He accused the Congress of ignoring the needs of everyday Americans in order to concentrate on a partisan vendetta against the president.

Other speakers, including several labor leaders and Democratic members of Congress, echoed Jackson's sentiments. Rep. Donald Payne, a New Jersey Democrat, said: "They couldn't beat Bill Clinton at the polls, so now they want to take him out another way. We're not going to let that happen."

Clinton is at the center of criticism over his decision to bomb Iraq on the eve of the impeachment vote. Some House Republicans have accused the president of initiating the attack to distract America from the ongoing scandal. Speakers at the rally did not address those criticisms, although several participants said they thought the president made the right decision.

Jackson urged the crowd to keep up the fight against impeachment, saying "It's healing time! It's hope time! It's morning time!"

Republican congressional leaders have said the impeachment proceedings will begin today with voting anticipated on Saturday.

Clinton faces four articles of impeachment charging perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power. The charges stem from his cover-up of an affair with a former White House intern.