It seems almost certain that the House Judiciary Committee will vote along straight party lines to report out one or more articles of impeachment against President Clinton. One article is virtually inevitable: that Clinton committed perjury i.e., lied under oath repeatedly in his deposition in the Paula Jones case, and again (once more, repeatedly) in his testimony before the Washington grand jury.
Practically the only people who still deny this are Clinton and his lawyers, who don't dare admit to perjury because they are well aware that this would make an open-and-shut case for his indictment and prosecution the day after he steps down as president in January 2001. (Whether a District of Columbia or Arkansas jury would convict him, as the recent case of O.J. Simpson shows, is something else again.)
The Democrats in the House of Representatives, rather than denying his perjury, prefer to argue that it doesn't "rise to the level" of an impeachable offense though bribery is specified in the Constitution as one of those "high Crimes and Misdemeanors" that are impeachable, and nobody has hitherto regarded bribery as worse than perjury. Both are garden-variety felonies.
Knowing this, the House Democrats are desperate to work out some compromise with cooperative Republicans under which Clinton would be "rebuked" or "reprimanded" or "censured," but not impeached. Only if the full House votes to impeach him would the case then be referred to the Senate for trial. Their most insistent argument for such a compromise is that polls show "the American people don't want him impeached."
But just how clear is this? If the polls are to be believed, the people don't want him removed from office certainly not for consensual sex with Monica Lewinsky, and perhaps not even for committing perjury when asked about it. Times are good, so don't rock the boat. This apparent public attitude is what gives the Democrats room to maneuver for a slap on the wrist. (And it would be just a slap on the wrist. Congress censured President Andrew Jackson for his actions in a furious banking controversy, but a later Democratic Congress expunged the censure and a still later one put his picture on the $20 bill.)
But has anybody seen a poll in which people were required to distinguish clearly between impeachment by the House and removal by the Senate, and then asked whether they would oppose impeachment if it weren't followed by removal? I haven't, because (I suspect) there aren't any. The pollsters have been busy helping the Democrats obscure the distinction between the two steps, counting on the public's confusion to spare Clinton the devastating impact of being impeached but not removed.
For that would be the beauty of a resolution by the whole House to impeach the president. It is the only action open to the House that is unquestionably constitutional, and that fits his crimes like a glove. Far more than any "rebuke," it would stand on the historical record as the appropriate response of the House of Representatives to his actions, which even the vast majority of House Democrats condemn as shameful and inexcusable.
But the question of whether to remove him from office would then go to the Senate, where it is clear that there is no chance of amassing the necessary two-thirds vote to do so. The public would then get what it apparently wants: Clinton's retention in office not after some slap on the wrist, but after a history-making impeachment by the House.
The great majority of House Republicans will favor this. All but a few Democrats will oppose it and try to substitute some meaningless condemnatory resolution. A number of the usual Republican wimps are said to be ready to go along with them perhaps enough to carry the day, barely.
The vote of the members of the House on the impeachment resolution, in the teeth of President Clinton's manifest crimes, will be one that they had better be prepared to explain to their fellow Americans until their dying days.