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A simple censure for Clinton?

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Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, is floating the novel idea of simply censuring President Clinton for his affair with former intern Monica Lewinsky, regardless of whether he is impeached or maybe even instead of it.

But fellow Senate Republicans talked him out of the idea - at least for this year - during a weekly strategy session Tuesday. Still, Bennett told the Senate Wednesday he plans to push it next year."Should the voters of Utah send me back here to serve in the 106th Congress, I will do what I can to give members of Congress a clear opportunity - regardless of impeachment proceedings - to express their opinion on the behavior of the president," he said.

Bennett has said recently that impeachment and removal from office - the only formal proceeding the Constitution provides against a president - is essentially the death penalty of politics.

He said some members of Congress feel it may be overkill for Clinton's actions as known so far, but they might be willing to pass a resolution condemning his actions as unacceptable.

Bennett said in a Senate speech that he asked GOP colleagues for feedback during a closed-door planning meeting Tuesday, and they persuaded him not to proceed for now for two reasons.

"First, there are some who would interpret that motion of censure as an attempt to bring this issue to closure," he said. Of course, independent counsel Kenneth Starr has yet to submit a report on his findings, and impeachment proceedings could follow.

"I do not want to be a party to any suggestion that the investigation of the president's behavior and the consideration of whether or not that behavior constitutes an impeachable offense should come to an end by virtue of a resolution I might offer," he said.

The other reason is Bennett said some believe such a resolution would amount to prejudging any impeachment case that could later come to the Senate for trial.

Bennett said he personally believes a motion of censure would not prejudge such a case because it would make no mention of whether bad behavior amounted to "high crimes or misdemeanors" the Constitution says are grounds for impeachment. But he said he chose to respect others' opinion and withhold the motion for now.

But Bennett also made clear that he feels some sort of censure of the president's actions from Congress is needed eventually.

He complained that Clinton's relationship with intern Lewinsky was not a momentary lapse of judgment, but "it was an affair with sexual activity that began in December of 1995 and continued for 18 months."

Bennett said, "If any member of this body had that kind of a relationship with an intern in his office, he would, I think, very appropriately be subject to censure from the Ethics Committee and by the Senate as a whole."

Bennett also complained that when the relationship became known, "the president went before the public and insisted in the most emphatic possible language that it had not happened" - and such lies should be censured.

A third reason for censure, he said, is the president "stood by while others of his official family smeared the reputation of those who were telling the truth."

Bennett said, "I wish the precedent to be laid down that says that this kind of activity - whether it covers impeachable offenses or not - cannot go uncommented on in an official way."

He said that would prevent similarly bad behavior by other officials from going unpunished.

Bennett said, for example, he would not want a superintendent of a military academy who had an 18-month affair with a cadet and lied about it to say, "Since the commander-in-chief did something like this . . . and no reprimand of any kind came out of Congress, why cannot I do exactly the same thing under these circumstances and not have it affect my career?"