Defending the family

Really? Another Try To Get That Man Out of That Office?

Barry Newman
Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON -- The Committee to Impeach the President Again has crossed Independence Avenue and is advancing on the House of Representatives when it bumps into Lewis Uhler, an antitax lobbyist. Eugene Delgaudio shows him a letter the committee is hand-carrying to the Speaker of the House.

"Impeach Clinton again?" says Mr. Uhler. He claps Mr. Delgaudio on the shoulder. "Only you would be doing that," Mr. Uhler tells him. "It's not enough to roll him out at the end of the year and be done with it." The lobbyist lowers his voice for seriousness: "But at least there's a chance to press him on tax cuts."

"Unless we get rid of him first!" Mr. Delgaudio sings.

At the Committee to Impeach the President Again -- on this morning it marshals three people -- Eugene Delgaudio's role might be described as impresario. He comes from New York City, where his father ran campaigns for Vito Battista, a pol who once expressed his view on the size of the budget by turning up at City Hall with an elephant. A 45-year-old rightist-for-life with a saintly smile, Mr. Delgaudio has spent 20 years crusading for assorted commissions, councils and committees, but always with a thing for theatrics...

Also along is Jack Clayton, 60... He says, "I come from the religious right, a term I despise. Until they acknowledge the religious left, it's a disgrace." He grew up in Alabama and sounds like a courtly preacher, with a whiff of brimstone. "I have the highest respect for Gene Delgaudio," says Mr. Clayton. "He interdicts the moralistic bloviating of contemporary liberals and economic conservatives. We crossed paths and immediately saw things in common."

Apart from a vigorous yet contained contempt for William Jefferson Clinton, what every member of the Committee to Impeach the President Again wants most is to see the guy convicted by the Senate for something. Like Japanese soldiers on a cutoff island in 1946, their war isn't over. Let independent counsels and prosecutors wave white flags (at least until the president isn't president anymore). Let a prurience-pummeled public turn to electing somebody else. The impeach-him-againers are sticking to their guns. The cause is their energizer. Defeat is no excuse for surrender...

And Mr. Delgaudio: "OK, the first impeachment's over. But you can impeach many times. You build up to it. Just because it's impossible doesn't mean it's impossible. You follow? It doesn't seem doable in the current climate, but climates change. I concede no one's agitating to impeach again -- that's why we're working on it. It can all come raging back because of the work we do today."

Thus, as their friend the tax lobbyist calls, "Keep up the pressure!" the committee passes through the metal detector and into the marbled halls of the House. Their letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert objects to a federal inquiry on the possibility of policing politics on the Internet. This bears on impeachment because the committee has a Web site (www.ImpeachClintonAgain.org) and because, as Mr. Delgaudio says, "we believe everything bears on impeachment."

A young woman in jeans and a sweatshirt stands behind the appointments desk. "Can you call up to the Speaker's office?" Mr. Lauf asks her. He explains about delivering the letter. "Give it to me," she says. "I'll get it to the Speaker." Mr. Lauf isn't sure. "Can you stamp it with the office you represent?" he says.

"Office I represent?" says the young woman. She takes the letter, initials it and -- bang -- the Committee to Impeach the President Again is out the door.

How different it was the first time around. The committee (it was just the Committee to Impeach the President then) delivered a million petitions to Congress. The day the Starr report came out, its Web site absorbed 240,000 hits. At pivotal moments, its forces took to the sidewalks, handing out little paper cups (for White House drug tests), wearing prison outfits ("Criminals for Clinton") and overcoats in August (blizzard of lies), and giving away peaches on impeachment day. They made the Washington Times twice, the Comedy Channel once -- and evoked a rude gesture from Democratic operative James Carville's chauffeur...

Impeachment, however, left a broader sample of Americans totally zonked. "Oh, no!" is Debbie Vaughn's comment on the idea of a do-over. A teacher from Missouri, she is over at the National Museum of American History on another morning, checking out the Star-Spangled Banner's tattered remains. Arthur Allen, a biologist from Colorado, has three words for impeachment again: "Silly. Tedious. Redundant." And Greg, a building worker down from Boston, says, "That scandal? With the intern? What was that about?"

The committee has not forgotten. On Feb. 12, 1999, its Web site bewailed "the most shameful day in the history of the U.S. Senate," but a week after the Clinton acquittal, and every week since, it has posted an "impeachment update" bulging with impudent questions: "Is Clinton's pardon of terrorists grounds for removal?" "Is Clinton still snorting coke?"

Surfers wash up 3,000 times a day; some send money. Of course, other Billbashing sites still abound. Yet the committee's site maintains that only real steps will finally punish that man, Mr. Clinton.

Real steps of the shoe-leather kind, that is. So, with the Speaker off-limits, it's time for the men who would impeach again to step across the street for a march down the long, unpoliced halls of the Cannon House Office Building, where lesser representatives and their staffers inhabit small offices behind big doors...

And they're off, crisscrossing halls, opening doors, presenting letters, requesting responses -- and pointing out the name of their committee. Every receptionist who sees it brightens and chirps "Sure!" or "Wonderful!"

Mr. Lauf chirps back, "We're hopeful," and he smiles.

Two hours and 60 offices later, they repair to a place called Tortilla Coast, take a table, order lunch and talk strategy...

A new impeachment bombshell could land any second.

"Look how quickly the hearings and House vote took," says Mr. Lauf. "Six weeks." Mr. Delgaudio picks up the check. "This is an in-between period," he says. "A valley." On their way out, they meet another lobbyist friend and give him and a woman he's with their protest letter. "Impeach again?" the woman says in a faint voice. "Again?"

The lobbyist introduces her as Paige Ralston, deputy press secretary to none other than the Speaker of the House.

Outside, Mr. Delgaudio is exultant. "See! We got to Hastert!"

"That guy Gene," says Mr. Clayton. "He can convert red lights to green lights better than anybody in D.C."

As the Committee to Impeach the President Again pushes back up Capitol Hill, Mr. Lauf has a spring in his step. "This," he says, "is going to be a great year."

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