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Clinton plans to give State of the Union speech as scheduled

Several key Democrats join Republicans in urging delay

January 11, 1999
Web posted at: 2:03 p.m. EST (1903 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 11) -- President Bill Clinton plans to deliver his State of the Union speech to Congress and the nation as scheduled on January 19, a White House spokesman said Sunday, though opening arguments in the Senate's impeachment trial of the president are likely to still be under way.

Presidential Seal

Some Democrats have joined Republicans in urging Clinton to delay the address. But Clinton has "no intention of being diverted from addressing the issues that are important to the country," said White House spokesman Jim Kennedy.

"The president looks forward to delivering the State of the Union address on January 19," said Kennedy.

If the Senate follows its tentative schedule, the president's legal team would begin to make their case against Clinton's removal from office earlier that same day.

The president was impeached by the House last month on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury, stemming from his actions to conceal his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. The senators must decide whether to convict.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), a key Clinton supporter, said the timing would make a personally delivered speech by the president awkward. "I think, when we're in the middle of this kind of fact-finding ... it's almost schizophrenic then to turn around and go that evening into a State of the Union," she told NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.

Appearing with Feinstein, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) also worried the event would be reduced to partisan cheers and jeers. "I think if the president went before the House of Representatives and the Senate, you would end up with the partisan cheering sections, one side and another, overdoing it on both sides," he said.

But Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle says the president should keep his date with Congress. "The business of the country still must go on, even if the trial is underway," Daschle said.

"It will be uncomfortable clearly, but I don't see any other real option ... Let's get on with the business. This is important, but so is running the country," Daschle said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Proceeding with the speech as scheduled would follow the tried-and-true White House strategy throughout the Lewinsky scandal of projecting an image of the president staying above the political fray and concentrating instead on the people's business.

As he did last year, the president has a series of events scheduled to highlight a different proposal from the State of the Union speech each day for the rest of the week.

Clinton advisers said the president might have delayed his speech had there been a sign the Senate trial would be brief. But under a compromise agreement reached in the Senate last week, opening statements by the House prosecutors and the White House would take place over the next two weeks before the senators even make the critical decision concerning witness testimony. The trial could last months if witnesses are called.

Also, delivering the State of the Union address in a distracted atmosphere is becoming the norm for this president. Last year, the president gave his speech just days after the Lewinsky scandal broke. The previous year many television networks went to a split screen as the nation awaited the verdict in O.J. Simpson's civil trial during Clinton's speech.

Another alternative some Republicans have floated is for Clinton to submit the speech in writing. The Constitution only requires the president present Congress with a status report on the nation "from time to time." Since the administration of Woodrow Wilson they have given them as formal addresses, but initially they were submitted in writing.

CNN's Chris Black contributed to this report.

Investigating the President

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Monday January 11, 1999

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