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GOP Tilts Away From Impeachment

Democrats believe there are at least 12 Republicans ready to vote against impeachment if it comes to a vote in the full House of Representatives -- more than enough to kill it, reports CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer reports.

Breaking from their solidly pro-impeachment counterparts on the House Judiciary Committee, two Republican congressmen said Friday they will vote against removing President Clinton from office and believe more GOP lawmakers will join them.

"If I'm correct, the votes aren't there," said Rep. John Edward Porter, R-Ill., adding he supports a censure vote, for an alternative punishment. Porter is not a member of the Judiciary Committee conducting the impeachment inquiry.

Lawmakers began thinking about an impeachment end game that is likely to play out next month as the committee made plans to delve into possible obstruction in the case of Kathleen Willey -- an ex-White House aide who says Mr. Clinton groped her. The panel scheduled depositions next week for two witnesses in the matter.

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The effort to look beyond the Monica Lewinsky scandal to other issues comes as the GOP majority on the judiciary panel continues to search for evidence that might change the political landscape against the president. All 21 Republicans on the 37-member committee have demonstrated a united, pro-impeachment view, both in hearings and in comments to the media.

But Porter estimated that as many as 50 Republicans in the House might not support impeachment if it reached the floor. Another anti-impeachment GOP lawmaker, Peter King of New York, put the number at 15 to 40.

However, Democrats are worried that the attack the president's lawyer David Kendell launched on Ken Starr Thursday night during the impeachment hearings could backfire, causing some of those Republicans to reconsider.

South Carolina Congressman Lindsey Graham is a case in point. He's been one of the most open-minded Republicans on the committee, but he said Kendall was so busy attacking Starr that he forgot to give the committee reasons why the president should not be impeached.

"Before I take that vote, I want somebody to know who can affect my decision, that I want what you've got," Graham said. "If you've got it, put up or shut up. Stipulate, show where we're not right."

Kendall declined comment on Graham's statement. But the committee's decision to subpoena more witnesses or questioning -- including presidential lawyer Bob Bennett -- drew sharp comment from President Clinton.

". . .As far as I know, there's never been a case where a person's lawyer was asked to come and testify," Mr. Clinton told reporters while on a diplomatic mission in Japan.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Miss., said more subpoenas would just drag out the process endlessly.

"The committee should make a decision, I hope, in the next week or two at the latest, and bring something out, whether it's an advisory or not, to have impeachment or an impeachment resolution," said Gephardt.

Other Republicans who have been quoted in news stories in opposition to impeachment include Reps. Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Jack Quinn of New York. Republicans have only a 228-206 margin in the House, with one independent.

King, who also favors censure, said any move to stop impeachment before it reached a floor vote would have to come from incoming House Speaker Bob Livingston, R-La.

"How we get there I'm going to leave up to Bob or a designee of Bob," King said. Livingston has said only that he wants the inquiry to be finished by year's end.

King and Porter, both Republican moderates, said they don't intend to rally up support for their position. "The worst thing would be for the committee to offer a resolution of impeachment and it fails (in the full House). Then the president has gotten off scot-free," Porter said.

With polls showing a large majority of the public opposed to impeachment, the White House is content for the time-being to wait for an overture to put the issue to rest short of a vote to remove President Clinton from office.

Reported By Bob Schieffer

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