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Clinton tells House to vote conscience

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President Clinton said Wednesday that members of the House should cast "a vote of principle and conscience" on whether to approve a broad, Republican-written impeachment inquiry against him. He denied he was trying to pressure lawmakers.

"It's up to others to decide what happens to me, and ultimately it's going to be up to the American people to make a clear statement there," the president told reporters in the Oval Office. "More important than anything else to me is they do the people's work and then let the people decide where we go from here."A day before the House is set to approve the impeachment inquiry, Democrats were searching for an alternative that would satisfy party liberals, conservatives and members with tough re-election races.

The entire House Democratic membership was meeting Wednesday for a second consecutive day. Democrats are facing Republicans who, so far, are sticking with their proposal for an open-ended inquiry not necessarily limited to Clinton's conduct in the Monica Lewinsky affair.

The House will vote Thursday.

The White House denied that Clinton was engaged in an intensive lobbying campaign. Press secretary Joe Lockhart said the president had called a half-dozen lawmakers in the past few days and that half of those were return calls to members who had called him. Clinton also denied trying to pressure lawmakers, saying, "I think everybody should cast a vote of principle and conscience."

Republicans would like to pile up a bipartisan margin similar to the 363-63 vote Sept. 11 to release independent counsel Kenneth Starr's referral of potentially impeachable offenses.

Underscoring the potential sweep of the Republican impeachment resolution, House GOP investigators from the Government Reform and Oversight Committee on Tuesday released an interim report that was highly critical of Democratic fund raising during Clinton's 1996 campaign.

While there are no current plans in the House Judiciary Committee to range beyond Clinton's actions in the Lewinsky matter, the panel's chairman, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., has said consideration would be given to any potentially impeachable matter.

Majority Leader Dick Armey told reporters Tuesday that Democrats were "confused" if they think Republicans will change their proposal and schedule for launching the inquiry.

"I just think it's time to move forward," he said.

Republicans are arguing that if Clinton committed perjury, obstructed justice or tampered with witnesses, as Starr contended, he should be impeached. While carefully not defending Clinton's behavior, Democrats say the Lewinsky matter is about an affair that the president sought to conceal, not abuse of power on official matters.

For Democrats, the challenge is to find a more limited inquiry that would go nowhere but provide enough political cover for party members to support an inquiry - and then vote against the GOP plan.

This way, Democrats could tell constituents they were condemning Clinton's conduct but were unwilling to saddle the public, which polls indicate is tiring of the Lew-insky matter, with another lengthy investigation.