In another ominous sign for President Clinton, one of the Senate's senior and most respected Democrats, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, said Sunday that the House and Senate need to take up the issue of impeachment--and soon.
Until now, most Democrats have suggested the president needs to apologize sincerely for lying to the nation about his secret sexual affair with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky, and perhaps, be censured in Congress for it.
But Moynihan, along with another Clinton loyalist in the House, insisted that neither an apology nor an official censure will suffice.
"We have a crisis of the regime. You cannot have this kind of conduct as normal and acceptable and easily dismissed," Moynihan said on ABC-TV's "This Week."
"What we have before us, and we ought to get on with it, is an impeachment procedure," he continued. Lawmakers "must not be afraid of it. It's provided in the Constitution. It's a very straightforward provision."
Although Moynihan stopped short of saying the president should be removed from office, he expressed the opinion that lying in a civil suit, or lying to the American public, is "an impeachable offense."
"We can have this all behind us in six weeks time if we just get on with it," he said.
Comments by Moynihan and other lawmakers suggest the president's support in Congress is eroding, even before independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr finishes what is expected to be a blistering report on Clinton's actions in the Lewinsky matter.
Last week, the White House was shaken when a Clinton ally, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), rose on the Senate floor to condemn the president's behavior as "immoral and disgraceful."
Lieberman's denunciation signaled that key Democrats on Capitol Hill are not necessarily going to line up to defend the president or demand that the Lewinsky matter be put to rest now that Clinton has admitted his wrongdoing.
Still, Lieberman did not raise the prospect of impeachment. He said some kind of "public rebuke," such as a congressional vote to censure Clinton, "will be the maximum we will want to do to end this sad chapter in our history."
"My highest hope here is that President Clinton is able to repair the damage that his misconduct has done and go on and end his presidency in two and a half years honorably and effectively," Lieberman said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
But the prospect of a censure vote appears to be fading, with some Democrats and Republican lawmakers expressing concern that it would be too mild.
"I now don't think that [censure] is really an option," said Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.), a House moderate and Clinton supporter, on "Fox News Sunday." "I think we're bound to go through with impeachment proceedings."
Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), in another TV interview, predicted that an impeachment vote in the House is likely.
"It is almost certain that a House committee is going to consider more than one article of impeachment. I think we have passed the point where we might wish this away," Gramm said on CBS-TV's "Face the Nation."
Although Democrats as well as Republicans were talking about impeachment, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said he was against the idea of moving quickly to resolve the matter before the November elections.
"My instinct tells me that we should not rush to judgment and . . . try to do it in the middle of a campaign or even in a lame-duck session. . . . Calmer and cooler judgment might be better," Lott said on NBC.
In 1974, Lott was a member of the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach President Nixon over the Watergate scandal.
"Having been through it, it's something that takes months, not weeks, if you're going to do it right," he said.
The president was not without his defenders.
"We were sent to Congress as legislators and not as marriage counselors," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) on CNN's "Late Edition." "Lying about adulterous acts are things that members of Congress really ought to say, 'Those without sin cast the first stone.' "
Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) described "a very fluid situation" on Capitol Hill in which opinions are changing quickly. Nonetheless, he insisted that lawmakers should continue to distinguish between private misbehavior and illegalities that would justify impeachment.
"We know one thing conclusively: The president engaged in some rather significant immoral acts," he said on the CBS program. "It is not clear whether that constitutes a statutory offense that in any way approaches the constitutional standards of impeachment."