President Clinton's political survival - whether he faces impeachment or gets off with a reprimand - could depend on the outcome of this November's election, lawmakers and veteran politicians from both parties say.
"The election is going to tell us a lot more of what happens here with the impeachment process than the impeachment process itself," former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta said Sunday.The election, said former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, is "the poll that probably counts. The referendum in November will probably be on Clinton's conduct or the Clinton presidency."
Dole and Panetta have been mentioned as respected political veterans who might be mediators if the White House and Congress decide to seek a deal on a censure or reprimand of Clinton. An agreement could avoid lengthy congressional impeachment proceedings against Clinton over his attempt to cover up his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
But Dole, Panetta and an elder statesman of the Republican Party, former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, agreed on NBC's "Meet the Press" that there won't be any dealmaking before the election and probably before next year.
"It's a nonstarter now," Dole said. "Look down the road three or four months, who knows, but now it's a nonstarter."
Panetta said that if Republicans gain seats in November, particularly in the Senate which would sit in ultimate judgment of the president, Clinton is in trouble.
"But if the Democrats hold their own, then I think there is a much better chance that this issue will be settled sooner rather than later."