Clinton Probe: The Next Test

Impeachment split the Judiciary Committee down party lines. Will the House be divided against itself, too?

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WASHINGTON: It's up to the House now. After the Judiciary Committee voted Monday night to recommend an impeachment inquiry -- splitting 21-16, strictly along party lines -- President Clinton's fate will be sealed by a full floor vote due later this week. Not in terms of the probe itself; Republicans have more than enough votes to make that happen. Rather, it's a question of moral legitimacy: Will 50 or 60 Dems cross the aisle in a show of bipartisanship, as they did for the release of the Starr report? Or will it be no more than a handful, signaling open warfare between the parties and burying comparisons with 1974 once and for all?

Special Report If Democrats choose war, they already have a battle plan. John Conyers laid out the new strategy more than once Monday: "This is not Watergate," said the Judiciary ranking member. "This is an extramarital affair." The minority party has a new target, too: David Schippers, the chief GOP investigator who is starting to give Ken Starr a run for his money. Despite being touted as a lifelong Democrat and the ultimate bipartisan choice, Schippers arbitrarily dropped, subdivided and renamed Starr's impeachment charges, accused the President of "conspiracy" and made comments so skewed they were struck from the record. If there is a Peter Rodino-style poster boy for bipartisanship, he hasn't shown his face around here yet.