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.
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 the president's 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. "Whatever affections I've held for Bill Clinton are entirely eclipsed by my sense of responsibility."
Torricelli said that if people conclude that the sexual detail about Clinton is being made public mainly to embarrass him, "there is very likely to be some sym-pathy."
In fact, 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.
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.
"There is a lot that points in the direction of the need for such an inquiry," said Rep. Charles Can-ady, R-Fla., another committee member. "There's a picture here of evasion, and that's very troubling."
In an effort to slow the impeachment train on Capitol Hill, White House aides were contacting congressional Democrats, hoping to persuade them to speak out in favor of a presidential punishment short of impeachment, a senior Clin-ton adviser said.
A longtime Clinton confidant, also 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," he said.
To determine whether Clinton committed perjury in his answers to questions about sex with Lewinsky, Republican lawmakers said the Judiciary Committee likely would have to interview other witnesses and fully examine the rest of Starr's evidence, including the more than 3,000 pages of transcripts, tables and documents the House released Monday.
The committee could meet later this week to discuss further document disclosures and determine what to do with the president's videotaped Jan. 17 deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, in which Clinton denied an affair with Lewinsky.
"I would have a very strong inclination in favor of releasing that video," Canady said.
Clinton, in the meantime, sought to tend to world affairs, heading to a meeting Tuesday in New York with the Japanese prime minister a day after getting a standing ovation as he was introduced for a speech to the U.N. General Assembly.
Amid concern that Clinton's presidency, regardless of his culpability, was hopelessly crippled, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., offered a glimmer of hope, saying Clinton's troubles must be kept separate from foreign policy.
"The more difficulty we have the more I try and support the president in foreign policy," Gingrich said. He said he and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., wanted to project to foreign leaders that "you should not mistake our daily media news coverage for any sense of instability."