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Clinton to give State of Union address in spite of trial


In this story:

January 11, 1999
Web posted at: 1:50 a.m. EST (0650 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton will present his State of the Union speech to Congress and the nation on January 19, despite the Senate's plan to conduct proceedings the same day to determine whether to remove from office, a White House spokesman said Sunday.

On Sunday several Democrats joined Republicans in urging Clinton to either delay his speech or submit it in writing because of the timing of the impeachment trial, being held by the Senate to consider charges stemming from his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

But Clinton has "no intention of being diverted from addressing the issues that are important to the country," said White House spokesman James Kennedy. "The president looks forward to delivering the State of the Union address on January 19th," he said.

The U.S. Constitution requires a president to present Congress annually with a status report on the nation. Presidents first submitted them in writing, but since the administration of Woodrow Wilson they have given them as formal addresses.

Under the compromise procedures agreed to by Senate Republicans and Democrats, Clinton's legal defense team will begin its presentation in the Senate on the day of the address -- offering a rebuttal to charges he committed perjury and tried to obstruct justice.

Speech expected to draw large audience

The nationally televised address, set for 9 p.m. EST, is expected to draw an enormous audience. Last year when Clinton delivered the address soon after the Lewinsky scandal first broke, nearly 60 million viewers watched, a 30 percent increase over the previous year.

Clinton advisers said the president might have delayed his speech had there been a sign the Senate trial would be brief.

Under the current procedures, however, the trial could last months if the senators decide to listen to witnesses before casting votes on the two articles of impeachment against Clinton.

"There is no point in waiting now, because there's no way of knowing" when the trial will end, said one senior White House official.

By going ahead with the address, White House strategists hope Clinton will project the sympathetic image of a man concentrating on the nation's business, despite the turmoil surrounding him.

Several lawmakers said Sunday they would prefer to see Clinton delay his speech, including a key Democratic ally, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

Feinstein: timing is 'almost schizophrenic'

Asked if it would be appropriate to delay the address, Feinstein said: "I think it would be. I know the White House doesn't think that, but I think when we're in the middle of this kind of fact-finding ... it's almost schizophrenic then to turn around and go that evening into a State of the Union."

"I know for me it's going to be very difficult," she said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Another Democrat, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, said on the same program that he was worried the joint session of Congress would be reduced to partisan cheers and jeers.

"I think if the president went before the House of Representatives and the Senate, you would end up with the partisan cheering sections, one side and another, overdoing it on both sides," he said.

"I think it would create acrimony within the chambers that is really unnecessary," said Schumer, who Clinton helped campaign for last November.

The Democratic leader of the Senate, Tom Daschle, defended Clinton's decision, saying "the business of the country still must go on, even if the trial is under way."

"It will be uncomfortable clearly, but I don't see any other real option ... Let's get on with the business. This is important, but so is running the country," Daschle said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Many Republicans have called for a delay, although Sen. Susan Collins from Maine said the timing should be driven by circumstances. If the Senate was "almost to the conclusion of the trial, the president should wait. If it looks like it's going to be a longer period than anticipated, then he should go ahead," she said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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