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Most Americans tuning out impeachment noise

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In Washington this week, the House of Representatives will begin debating articles of impeachment against a sitting president for only the second time in U.S. history.

In this story: Impeachment

The task of presiding over the historic debate will fall upon the shoulders of Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Illinois), who's undecided how he will vote on President Clinton's impeachment.

His constituents aren't offering much input. They did give him quite an earful this weekend at the Stark County Farm Bureau meeting -- asking direct and pointed questions about ethanol, Social Security and anti-trust legislation.

No one mentioned impeachment until LaHood himself broached the subject.

"For me personally, I will be glad when it's over. I am sick of talking about it, sick of hearing about it, and I know that all of you are, too," LaHood said.

Is anyone watching?

Lahood meeting
LaHood, right, speaks with a constituent  

A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll reflects similar sentiments nationwide. Only 25 percent of Americans polled said they were following the impeachment hearings closely.

In Washington's Capitol Rotunda on Monday, tourists awed by the nation's history seemed unfazed that perhaps equally important events would take place in very same building on Thursday.

"I don't feel like we have much power here. My representative is Barney Frank [D-Massachusetts], and I don't know what to do. Ask him to be more vigorous in his defense of the president?" said Chris Willemsen, a Harvard graduate student who says she opposes impeachment.

Another tourist offered a different opinion.

"I favor impeachment for future generations," said Connie Duffy of Charlotte, North Carolina, as she toured the Rotunda with her son.

But neither those favoring impeachment nor the majority opposed are vigorous in their opinions. Few have called their congressmen or protested in the streets the way many others did during Watergate.

Apathy or common sense?

Such public apathy has baffled journalists and Washington insiders, who have lived and breathed the Lewinsky scandal and ensuing impeachment debate this year.

Nixon impeachment
In the passionate days of 1974, the Watergate scandal brought down Richard Nixon  

Some conclude that people simply don't care.

"I think the main fact simply is that people care more about what happens in their living rooms, their children's classrooms, their doctors' examining rooms," said Steve Roberts of the New York Daily News.

The House is expected to vote on four articles of impeachment alleging President Clinton committed perjury, obstructed justice and abused his power in office. A simple majority on any one of the articles would send the matter to the Senate, where a two-thirds majority is required to remove Clinton from office.

Will 67 Senators vote to impeach Clinton?

"I don't think he's going to get kicked out," said Willemsen, standing before a statue of Andrew Jackson, who himself was censured by Congress in 1834.

Jackson's portrait now adorns the $20 bill.

Correspondents David Ensor and Jeff Flock contributed to this report.


Investigating the President

MORE STORIES:

Monday, December 14, 1998

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