Gephardt's Frank Talk Worries White House
He gets a call after his remarks about impeachment
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Aug. 26) -- White House officials contacted House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt Wednesday to discuss the minority leader's tough talk about the president's conduct with ex-White House intern Monica Lewinsky and his statement that Democrats will not blindly rush to the president's defense.
Several senior administration officials said they had no argument with what Gephardt said: that no one could rule out impeachment until they see the evidence in Independent Counsel Ken Starr's report; that Democrats would not be credible if they rushed to defend Clinton before they knew that evidence; and that Clinton's relationship with the young intern was "reprehensible."
But the officials said they would have preferred it if Gephardt was not so willing to discuss his views, and the deep Democratic anxiety, so publicly.
In an interview Wednesday with CNN's Bernard Shaw, Gephardt was asked whether he thinks impeachment is inevitable.
"I do not know that and I don't think anybody knows that," Gephardt said. "I hope we don't get a report and if we get a report, I hope there's nothing in it. That's my fondest wish." He disagreed that White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles was upset with his earlier comments.
Asked how much Clinton's behavior with Lewinsky has affected the Democrats' chances of retaking the house this fall, Gephardt said, "Not at all."
Gephardt predicted races will turn on candidates and their stands on issues that voters care about, including health care reform, education, Social Security and the economy.
But earlier in the day, Gephardt was still talking about impeachment. In an interview with CNN's Jonathan Karl, Gephardt said it is Congress' responsibility to carefully examine the facts and make a judgment.
"In the past, the most recent experience being the Nixon impeachment, it was pretty nonpartisan," Gephardt said. "There was some partisanship. There was some difficulty. But in the main, the Congress acted in a responsible, objective and fair manner and I think the people accepted it for that and thought the Congress acted in a high regard and felt they had done the right thing. I hope we can do that again."
Gephardt made the comments that drew the White House reaction during a campaign swing Tuesday to targeted House races. He spoke a day after sounding out roughly 15 Democratic members to gauge their view of the Clinton controversy and the impact it is having on their individual House races.
Gephardt, according to sources, told Democrats they should not hesitate to take issue with Clinton's personal conduct nor make clear they would enter the next few weeks with an open mind toward reviewing whatever report the independent counsel sends to Congress.