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Some in GOP Skip Clinton Speech

January 20, 1999 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Several Republicans decided to boycott President Clinton’s State of the Union address Tuesday, saying it was inappropriate for Clinton to appear before Congress during his impeachment trial.

``The president is demonstrating his lack of respect for the Congress,″ Reps. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., and Bob Schaffer, R-Colo., wrote in a letter to their GOP colleagues explaining why they wouldn’t attend the speech.

``We will not play a role in facilitating his disrespect,″ they said.

Also conspicuously absent when the justices of the Supreme Court entered the House chamber was Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is presiding over the Senate trial deciding whether to remove Clinton from office. Rehnquist’s aids reportedly had questioned whether it was appropriate for him to attend the speech.

Schaffer, in an interview before the speech, said he was staying away out of respect for the presidency, which he said Clinton had ``defiled″ by his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Permitting the speech to go forward, he said, was ``conveying a sense of normalcy to the country and to the world that I think is inaccurate.″

Most Republicans, however, decided to follow the lead of new House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who wrote in a letter Friday that despite the ``discomfort,″ Congress had a duty to hear the views of the president.

``Out of respect for the office of the presidency, and for the state of our union, we will listen to the president’s remarks soberly and with the dignity that befits the United States Congress,″ Hastert said.

There were also no reports of Democrats who planned to skip the speech.

Freshman Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., said he hadn’t seen the Hastert letter when he decided not to attend the speech.

``I think it’s incredibly inappropriate for the House to actually offer the invitation,″ he said. ``Didn’t we just impeach the guy?″

Tancredo said he thought about having to stand up and applaud when the president enters the chamber, and ``I just couldn’t do it.″

Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles, R-Okla., said Senate GOP attendance would match that in normal years. ``I figure we will have reluctant attendance,″ he said.

Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H. originally planned to stay away in protest, but changed his mind, said his spokeswoman Karen Hickey. ``He still doesn’t think it’s appropriate. But he thought it would be best if he attended lest it be perceived as an affront to the presidency,″ she said.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said he was going to ``do my very best to hear what he has to say and try to forget he’s involved in this other thing.″

Among those not attending was Rep. Bob Barr., R-Ga., one of the 13 House prosecutors in the Senate impeachment trial. Barr, in a statement, said he would watch on television but believed it was ``inappropriate and awkward for the president to make this speech directly to those sitting in judgment of him and those presenting the case against him in the Senate.″

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who has led the case seeking Clinton’s removal from office, also decided not to attend. His spokesman, Sam Stratman, said Hyde usually stays away because he’s not comfortable in large crowds.

He quoted Hyde as saying he would ``leap to my feet in applause in the comfort of my living room.″

Another senior Republican, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, decided to skip the speech, but his spokesman said it had nothing to do with the impeachment trial.

Boehner was in Hawaii with his wife celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.