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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly Analysis CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Analysis - 'Toons

Analysis: Moving toward 'super censure'

By Craig Staats/AllPolitics

WASHINGTON (December 12) -- Even the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, which wrapped up its case against President Bill Clinton on Saturday, can count.

They know that if the full House sends the Clinton/Lewinsky sex-and-perjury affair to the Senate, there are not 67 votes to kick Clinton out of office.

They also read the polls and know that most Americans don't want Clinton removed, even though they're convinced Clinton committed perjury in the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky cases.

So what's behind the strange, sometimes casual proceedings that have unfolded in the past week?

Many words Americans use today have lost their shock value, and "impeachment" is turning into one of them right before our eyes.

It's on its way to becoming a sort of "super censure" of Clinton, a last attempt by Republicans to document for the history books what sort of man occupied the Oval Office between 1993 and 2000: his reckless stupidity, his arrogance, his hypocrisy in preaching to the nation about right and wrong.

Republicans don't care about a possible voter backlash in 2000. That's two years away, and the swing voters that are important at election time will decide in about October 2000 what they're going to do, not now.

After nearly a year wallowing in this muck, and with the full House vote set for next Thursday, this is as good a time as any to take stock.

First, we wouldn't be at this point if Clinton had said four words to Lewinsky when she flashed her thong underwear at him: "I'm a married man." We're not here because of Ken Starr, Bob Barr or Linda Tripp; we're here because Clinton -- Rhodes scholar, policy wonk, New Democrat -- acted like a dolt.

Next, no one has acquitted themselves well in the latest House Judiciary proceedings.

The committee deliberations were a set piece. No one appeared to change anyone's mind on anything in the committee. Rather, it was an attempt to argue for the cameras, influence 20 or so GOP moderates and try to change those poll numbers which, for the Republicans, must be as maddening as Clinton's lawyerly parsing of words.

Republican Chief Counsel David Schippers didn't do himself any credit either in his closing argument. Either you have evidence or you don't. To tell the committee you think Clinton did more bad things but you didn't have time to prove it was unfair on its face. Schippers should be ashamed.

The committee's chairman, Rep. Henry Hyde, has the respect of most of his colleagues, but his trifling jokes and that meandering aside about ceremonial gavels detracted from gravitas of the committee's work and gave the proceedings a surreal tone.

Democrats were right to pounce on Hyde Friday night when he suggested, in effect, don't worry, we're not throwing Clinton out of office, we're just sending this on to the Senate. That's not the way the committee or the full House should approach what they're doing.

The prospect of impeachment ought to be shocking, but step by step, Clinton's political opponents are reducing it to something less. In a few years, will it be like a "fix-it" ticket when a state trooper pulls you over for burned-out taillights?

Clinton didn't accomplish anything either with his latest apology Friday from the Rose Garden. He covered the same ground with new words, convinced that saying anything more would lead him into a Republican trap.

Consider this scenario: Before next week's House vote, Clinton finally admits he lied, says he will take his chances with a Starr indictment and a jury trial in 2001 and again declares he will accept whatever consequences the full House and Senate decide on.

It would have been a bold move in January or February or even August, but now it's too late and too desperate. Clinton has reportedly told friends he feels powerless and in this situation, he is.

Get ready for "super censure" in the House, a Senate trial but no conviction next year and a burnt-out case of a president in 1999 and 2000.


RELATED STORIES

Judiciary Committee approves final article of impeachment (12-12-98)

What's next in the impeachment process? (12-12-98)



MORE STORIES:

Saturday, December 12, 1998

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