Rep. John J. LaFalce suggested Monday that Congress may want to formally reprimand President Clinton instead of either impeaching him or ignoring his relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.
"Maybe we should consider a congressional reprimand if it would bring this matter to closure," said LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, in a telephone interview from his Buffalo office. Such an action might make sense "assuming there's nothing more that comes out," he added.
LaFalce, one of the most senior Democrats in the House, said he was not actively suggesting or pushing for such a move. "I was just ruminating about how this country gets out of this mess," he said.
He also noted that he is not the first person to suggest a reprimand. LaFalce said former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta floated the idea of a vote by Congress aimed at punishing Clinton for his actions, while allowing the president to remain in office.
A move for a reprimand could come after Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr issues a report to Congress in the matter. So far, LaFalce said, it seems that Clinton's actions involving Ms. Lewinsky fall far short of the constitutional grounds for impeachment, which include treason, bribery or other "high crimes and misdemeanors."
"At the same time, nobody in Congress can say they approve of the president's conduct," LaFalce said. "The question then becomes: how do you voice disapproval?"
A vote on a reprimand would be a historic rarity.
There is no provision in the Constitution spelling out a reprimand or censure procedure against a president -- something that has happened only once before. The Senate censured President Andrew Jackson, a Democrat, in 1834 after he withdrew money from the national bank over the objections of the Whig Party, which controlled the Senate.
LaFalce said he expected that a vote to reprimand Clinton could be unanimous, provided that Democrats and Republican leaders agreed on the reprimand's wording before the vote.
The congressman also said Starr should issue his report to Congress as soon as possible. "Let's get on with the affairs of state rather than private affairs," LaFalce added.