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KWAME HOLMAN: At the capitol today there was only minimal indication the House of Representatives was approaching a historic debate. A mix of members, media, and tourists crisscrossed the Plaza, traffic typical of legislative day. But this wasn’t a legislative day; there hasn’t been on Capitol Hill since late October. In fact, the final days before Christmas traditionally find members of the House in their staffs at home for the holidays. Today they were returning to Washington instead. The 435 members of the House of Representatives were preparing to convene in special session to debate and vote on articles of impeachment against the president of United States for only the second time in history.
REP. MIKE PAPPAS, (R) New Jersey: I have concluded that I have no choice to support the articles of impeachment.
KWAME HOLMAN: At noon, Mike Pappas of New Jersey join a growing list of previously on declared Republican who announce this week they will vote to impeach. For Pappas, who was defeated in his bid for re-election, it will be his last vote in the house.
REP. MIKE PAPPAS: It has been said this history will judge our actions. Before history judges us, though, we must ensure that the youth and citizens of our nation respect the principle that no one is above the law.
KWAME HOLMAN: Shortly after Pappas’s news conference, nine-term Republican Sherwood Boehlert of New York announced he too would vote to impeach. Iowa Republican Jim Leach joined that list, as did John Porter of Illinois.
REP. JOHN PORTER, (R) Illinois: To me, the evidence is clear and convincing that the president lied within the civil proceeding and before the grand jury. He also lied to the American people. And the fact that he persists, even today, in these lies exacerbates the case against him.
KWAME HOLMAN: Even as Porter was making his announcement, his staff back in his district office in Deerfield, Illinois, continued to take phone calls from constituents for and against impeachment. Some constituents even came to Porter’s office to sign petitions. And several miles away in downtown Chicago, there was a lunch-time rally against impeachment.
SPOKESMAN: They’re going to vote the impeachment on party lines, but we’re sure that in the end they are going to pay. The Republicans are going to pay for this conduct. Thank you very much.
KWAME HOLMAN: Similar events were held across the country today. In Seattle, the downtown rally was organized by four people who met through computer online Web site month ago and didn’t need face-to-face until this morning.
KWAME HOLMAN: South of Los Angeles, local politicians from three of the areas poorest communities also condemned the impeachment effort and praised the president for his efforts on behalf of the disadvantaged.
DELORES ZURITA, Compton City Council: Leave our president alone. Leave him alone!
KWAME HOLMAN: And in West Los Angeles, stars from Hollywood’s entertainment industry turned out to support President Clinton.
BARBRA STREISAND: With a true abuse of power the current congressional leadership is determined to force the removal of it twice elected president from office, one U.S. than a great job here at home and who is acclaimed as a peacemaker around world. (applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, back in Washington, White House officials intensified their push for a compromise. Earlier in the day Vice President Al Gore told reporters such a compromise, worked out with the help of undecided Republicans, still was possible.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I would just say that I believe on Capitol Hill there is still time for Democrats in Republicans to come together and embrace a bipartisan compromise to seek to resolution that is both quick and fair, and try to turn away from the bitter partisanship that we have seen so far.
KWAME HOLMAN: At his mid-day briefing, White House Spokesman Joe Lockhart accused the House Republican leadership of blocking such a compromise.
JOE LOCKHART: It’s been a partisan effort to do that based on this group’s – not so much on the facts – on the evidence, but on their desire to damage the president or remove him, and to their desire to exercise the power that they have of the majority.
KWAME HOLMAN: Lockhart also dismissed charges President Clinton instigated a crisis with Iraq in order to delay the impeachment vote.
JOE LOCKHART: I’m not going to speculate on the decision-making process here. I will say that the President of the United States makes national security decisions based on the best interests of the United States of America.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, it appeared the confrontation with Iraq will affect the impeachment process. This afternoon, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde said the schedule for the debate and vote would be reassessed if a military strike against Iraq occurred.