President Clinton says the dismissal of Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit removes an obstacle from his duties to the nation, and keeping his private problems and public obligations separate has "been a test."

Clinton scored a major victory last week when a federal judge in Arkansas threw out Jones' case against him. But he still faces independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation into his alleged sexual relations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and Jones is expected to decide this week whether to appeal.In an interview in this week's Time magazine, Clinton said that if he were "just an average citizen, Joe Six-Pack," he would have wanted the Jones case to go to trial so he could prove his innocence.

But as president, he said, having it dismissed "and putting this behind us is plainly in the best interest of the country."

Every president since George Washington, he said, has talked about how the country deserves a chief executive who can free himself of personal concerns "and become totally obsessed with the public interest. It's been a test. But I've tried to do that."

With the Jones case dismissed, Clinton said he was "freer to keep doing what I'm supposed to be doing," focusing on such issues as tobacco legislation, education and Social Security."

That was the theme of Clinton partisans on the Sunday television news programs, who emphasized that he continues to enjoy high marks among Americans for his political agenda.

"This president has chosen the politics of ideas and the battlefield of ideas. His opponents have chosen the battlefield of insult and innuendo," senior White House adviser Rahm Emanuel said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"I think (independent counsel) Kenneth Starr, no matter what bravado he may put forward now, clearly must be looking for an exit strategy," Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Starr is under pressure from both Democrats and Republicans to wrap up his four-year investigation, which began with an examination of the Whitewater land deal in Arkansas. He is expected to file a report within the next few months to the Republican-led House, which then must decide whether to launch impeachment proceedings against Clinton.

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, one of the few Republicans to speak openly about Clinton's alleged sexual misconduct, said he wanted to see Starr's report soon, and he blamed White House stalling for the delay.

"I do believe after looking at all that's going on that this president could very well be a sexual predator. And he has committed some heinous acts," DeLay, R-Texas, said on "Fox News Sunday."

Today, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said Judge Susan Webber Wright's decision to dismiss the Jones case has no bearing on possible impeachment hearings by Congress, stressing that the grand jury investigation still needs to run its course.

"I think two weeks ago everything depended on what Judge Starr sends up, and I think today everything depends on what Judge Starr sends up," Gingrich said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "There's been this grotesque effort to turn that dismissal into, `Let's eliminate four years of investigation that covers many, many, many topics."'

But pollsters continued to find most Americans both wanting the Starr investigation over and willing to give Clinton some slack.