Sen. Charles Schumer, after joking that he was “glad to be off jury duty” in the impeachment proceedings in Washington, called for an end to the trial but said President Clinton should be censured even if he is acquitted.
Appearing Monday at a breakfast forum sponsored by The Jewish Week, Schumer recommended the “stern and severe” joint censure resolution crafted by House Democrats that would have to be adopted by the House and Senate — and signed by the president.
“I think the president admitting he did wrong is important,” the New York Democrat told an audience of some 300 at Park Avenue Synagogue on the Upper East Side. “I wouldn’t want history 10 years from now to say there was a vendetta to get the president and he was totally exonerated. I do believe there’s something of a vendetta to get the president, but I don’t think he should be exonerated.”
Schumer, 48, enthusiastically tackled a wide range of domestic and foreign policy questions from Jewish Week reporters Stewart Ain and Adam Dickter and columnist Francine Klagsbrun. The panel was moderated by editor and publisher Gary Rosenblatt.
Asked how he explained the Clinton sex scandal to his 9-year-old daughter, Schumer, who during his campaign received substantial support from the president and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, acknowledged the task was sensitive.
He recalled Allison asking: “Dad, they just said on TV the president was aroused. What does that mean?”
“It means he was very happy,” Schumer deflected.
More seriously, the newly elected senator said he told his two daughters that “the president did some wrong things. Everyone has their faults and we have to look and measure those faults against the good things that any person does.”
He added that the debate in Washington is whether those things are so bad that the president should be removed, and he clearly believes that not to be the case.
But Schumer, the only legislator to vote on the case three times — as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, in the full House and eventually the Senate — said a censure of the president would have widespread bipartisan support.
Regarding the rumors of Hillary Clinton running for a Senate seat in New York, Schumer said she would make “a great candidate and a great senator,” adding that it was premature to support her candidacy. One problem the first lady might encounter with the Jewish community is her statements last year advocating the creation of a Palestinian state.
“If [she] were for a Palestinian state, it would definitely hurt her” among Jewish voters, said Schumer. He said he would try to persuade her “to come to my view, which is that the parties ought to decide that issue, and America ought not interfere.”
Schumer said in speaking to Mrs. Clinton “a couple of times” about a Senate bid, the first lady asserted that she won’t even think about the possibility until after the impeachment trial. But she has also not halted growing speculation, leading Schumer to think that a bid is “not off the table.”
As for the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, Schumer said he was concerned about State Department comments claiming the Palestinians are more in compliance with the Oslo peace accords than the Israelis.
“I thought that was wrong and I registered my protest. In fact, I think that Israel has lived up to the Oslo Accords to the letter of the law,” he said.
“I think we are less able to say the Palestinians have lived up to it, [in part] because its harder to measure. Have they really come down on Hamas and Hezbollah as strongly as they could have? I’m dubious. I don’t think so.”
Schumer said despite constant concern by Jews about the administration changing Israel policy, he did not believe that has yet occurred. He noted White House plans to “come down hard” on both sides and that support for the peace process is imperative.
On Iraq, Schumer said he would support further military strikes to contain President Saddam Hussein. “The best of bad choices,” he called them, because sanctions do not work.
The senator said U.S. bombings in December aimed at limiting Saddam’s ability to produce nuclear weapons should have gone on longer. The limited bombings “won’t bring [Saddam] down, in the short run,” Schumer said, but noted that America does not have the resolve required for the large-scale war required to eliminate Saddam.
Calling Iran the leading terrorist nation in the world, Schumer said he questioned U.S. policy to ease sanctions as a show of support for the moderate elements in the country. He said he would be “dubious” about the benefits of such support, and noted that Americans tend to be too optimistic about the motives of some foreign leaders.
Asked to comment on the new revelations about the crimes of Jonathan Pollard, whose life sentence for spying for Israel is being reviewed by Clinton even as the American intelligence community solidifies against any pardon, Schumer said he intends to talk to CIA director George Tenet before reconsidering his longstanding position to support a sentence reduction.
Schumer questioned the validity of new evidence being leaked by intelligence agencies against Pollard. But he conceded that the overwhelming opposition to Pollard’s release among Washington security and defense officials “makes it almost impossible for the president” to commute the sentence.
On domestic issues, Schumer said he supports religious institutions applying to create charter schools under New York State’s new law. But he said they should “absolutely not” be allowed to provide religious instruction.
“The difficulty you face with religious organizations … is to make sure these are institutions that are used to educate, not to proselytize in any way,” he said. “Too many of the groups these days who seem to be pushing for charter schools — I name the Christian Coalition as one — seem to be more interested not in educating kids but in proselytizing them, and that’s the real danger here.”
In a bit of bipartisan praise, Schumer complimented the man he traded attacks with throughout the fall campaign, former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato. He said the Republican has been “terrific” in helping with the transition. Schumer said he has called D’Amato often “to pick his brain.”
“It’s easy to be a gracious winner,” said Schumer, “but far more difficult when you have lost the race.”
- Stewart Ain
- Editor's Desk
- Adam Dickter
- Charles Schumer
- Hillary Rodham Clinton
- Saddam Hussein
- Eric J. Greenberg
- Francine Klagsbrun
- first lady
- House Judiciary Committee
- New York
- Jonathan Pollard
- Hillary Clinton
- Staff Writer