Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, says the House Judiciary Committee is arguing behind closed doors an issue that he figures American public opinion will eventually settle.
"That is, what is an impeachable offense?" he said. "There are no bright lines."He said arguments over that topic dominated committee meetings for more than 11 hours Thursday. The panel never specifically addressed in that time the release of videotape of President Clinton testifying to a grand jury, the aspect that drew most media attention.
"The Democrats want to set standards for what an impeachable offense is" before proceeding much further, Cannon said. "The Republicans are saying, `let's develop the evidence and see where it takes us.' "
Cannon said progress was slow because "not only is the Judiciary Committee probably the most partisan committee in the House, it has the smartest people in the House. There's been a lot of fascinating constitutional debate."
He added that Democrats "would like a standard that only activity that threatens our constitutional style of government should be considered an impeachable act."
Cannon said he and other Republicans aren't sure yet exactly how high the bar must be for impeachable offenses, "But that's not it. Americans are probably going to determine what it should be."
He said as public comments come in and polls are taken, he suspects politicians will pay close attention as they try to determine what is right. So he said calls and letters to Congress also may impact the debate.
A national TV network plans to focus next week for a few hours on what residents of Provo think about the matter.
C-SPAN, the cable network that covers congressional proceedings live, plans to cover a town meeting that Cannon has scheduled Monday from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Provo City Council chambers.
"We've been getting such a heavy volume of calls and e-mails about impeachment that we decided to set up a town meeting to let people discuss it," said Jeff Hartley, Cannon's press secretary. "C-SPAN heard about it and wants to cover it. So the nation will be watching Provo."
Cannon said most members of the House committee are treating the current White House issues as truly historic. That may add to the length and complexity of the debate because "no one wants to be involved in a historic process in a low or cheap way."