Lawmakers see impeachment proceedings against President Clinton as likely but are willing to hear a direct appeal to Congress by the president, an option the White House is actively considering.
Clinton appeared to prefer sticking to his job as president Tuesday and letting the impeachment politics play out in Washington. Meeting in New York with Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, Clinton told reporters, "I don't have any contribution to make" to the discussion of the broadcast videotape of his grand jury testimony."Believe it or not, I haven't read the (Starr) report or my lawyers' replies. I think it's important that I focus on what I'm doing for the American people," Clinton said.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Tuesday Clinton should come to Capitol Hill and answer questions but questioned whether it would change anything.
"Any time the president comes forward and comes clean in a formal setting it would probably be a positive development," Lott said. The problem, he said, is what happens after that.
"The whole thing is demeaning for the country," Lott said, blaming Clinton for allowing the controversy to drag on so long. "It's just sad. I don't know of any other way to describe it."
Struggling to digest a historic but wrenching avalanche of testimony, the people who now hold Clinton's future in their hands say the president may have gained some sympathy with the airing of his grand jury testimony Monday in the Monica Lewinsky affair.
But while no one says the nationally televised spectacle severely damaged Clinton, neither do lawmakers suggest his troubles will go away. One Democratic senator says he is absorbing details under the assumption he will sit as juror in an impeachment trial.
"As a member of the Senate, I'm a potential juror in this case," said Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., for years one of Clinton's staunchest defenders on Capitol Hill. "Whatever affections I've held for Bill Clinton are entirely eclipsed by my sense of responsibility."
Clinton's standing rose slightly in one public opinion poll taken after the videotape of his testimony was released, and fewer people thought he should be impeached.
A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll taken Monday showed the president's approval rate rising to 66 percent, compared with 60 percent Sunday, and his disapproval rating down to 31 percent from 34 percent.
Those favoring impeachment and removal from office fell from 35 percent to 32 percent. But there was no significant difference in those who thought he should resign - 39 percent on Monday, compared with 40 percent Sunday.
White House communications director Ann Lewis said on CBS' "This Morning" Tuesday that the barrage of questions from prosecutors on Clinton's sexual conduct "confirmed for us that (sex) really has become the focus on this independent counsel's report. It does not come close to constituting the grounds for removal of a president from office."
Lewis said the congressional approach to the impeachment issue was deeply partisan so far. "I hope we can get back to more bipartisan procedures."
House leaders from both parties and the senior Republicans and Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee planned to meet Wednesday. The hope on both sides was to recapture a bipartisan spirit in the continuing impeachment review.
But Republicans said Clinton continued to be evasive.
"I think most people who saw the tape would say the president dodged questions essential to determining if he committed perjury," said Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the House Judiciary Committee that will decide what course to take.
"There is a lot that points in the direction of the need for such an inquiry," said Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla., another committee member. "There's a picture here of evasion, and that's very troubling."
A longtime Clinton confidant, speaking on condition of anonymity, said several outside advisers were considering the idea of the president appearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
However, the Clinton camp says an appearance by the president could occur only as part of a deal to punish the president, end independent counsel Kenneth Starr's inquiry and derail impeachment proceedings. The adviser conceded those conditions were not likely to be accepted by Republicans.
Canady said he would favor allowing the president to testify voluntarily before the panel should an impeachment inquiry commence.
"It's important that the president does get a chance to present his case," Canady said. But he said, "If the president lied under oath before the grand jury, that is an impeachable offense."