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CBS Poll: Congress Gets Gonged

The public's view of what should happen next with the impeachment trial of President Clinton has changed little, despite the showing of portions of videotaped depositions, according to the latest CBS News poll.

Two out of three Americans want their Senators to vote against convicting President Clinton and removing him from office. And while assessments of Monica Lewinsky and the president are little changed from last week, the public's views of the Senate's handling of the trial and Congress overall continue to decline.

EVALUATING THE TRIAL

A total of 56 percent now disapprove of the Senate's handling of the trial, and only 32 percent approve.

By 71 percent to 19 percent, people don't think the senators are working together in a nonpartisan way, and most blame the Republicans for that.

Most people reject the argument that showing portions of the videotaped depositions was necessary. A total of 68 percent believe using portions of the depositions of Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan, and Sidney Blumenthal was not necessary.

Two-thirds also think the Senate allowed the tapes to be shown publicly to embarrass the President, not to give House managers and White House attorneys the chance to properly present their cases.

Only 14 percent say they learned anything new from the tapes, and as of the time interviews were conducted on Sunday, almost four in 10 said they hadn't seen ANY of the videotapes, not even in news reports about the trial.

THE VERDICT

While two out of three Americans want their senators to vote against convicting the president and removing him from office, that doesn't mean that most Americans believe he is innocent of the charges in the articles of impeachment. In fact, 55 percent say they think Mr. Clinton is guilty of the charges, but that he should not be removed from office because of them.

But there is majority support for censuring the president. If the Senate votes on that option, 55 percent say they would want their senators to vote in favor of censure. A total of 37 percent would want their senators to vote against censure. Two-thirds of those who favor conviction and removal would support censure, as would 51 percent of those opposing conviction and removal.

RATING THE CONGRESS

The negative assessment of the Senate's handling of the trial may be affecting Congress' overall approval rating.

In this poll, 36 percent approve of the way Congress is handling its job - the first time in more than a year that congressional approval has dropped below 40 percent. A total of 55 percent disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.

SENATE TRIAL HANDLING

The Republican Party continues to be viewed more unfavorably than favorably, and nearly half of those who have an unfavorable opinion give the party's handling of impeachment as the reason. And while most still don't express opinions of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott or House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde, those who do ae more likely to express negative views than positive ones.

REACTION TO LEWINSKY

On Saturday, those who either watched the Senate trial or who just saw news broadcasts about it had the chance to hear and see Lewinsky for the first time. There is no indication that this exposure changed many minds about her. In fact, unfavorable opinions of her continue to outnumber favorable ones by more than four to one. Only 12 percent have a favorable opinion of Lewinsky, while 50 percent are unfavorable. Last week, 9 percent were favorable, while 55 percent were not.

Lewinsky doesn't get much sympathy from many Americans, either. A total of 36 percent say they have at least some sympathy for her, and 42 percent have none at all.

Men are more sympathetic toward Lewinsky than women: 42 percent of men say they have a lot or some, compared with 30 percent of women.

THE FUTURE OF CLINTON'S PRESIDENCY

Seven in 10 Americans think Mr. Clinton - despite all this - can still be an effective president. His approval rating remains strong at 66 percent, while Congress' approval rating has dropped. And by 56 percent to 33 percent, the public thinks President Clinton, not Congress, ought to have more influence over the direction of the country for the last two years of his term.

When the trial is over, 16 percent think Congress and the president should give first priority to handling Social Security, and 8 percent want them to focus on the after-effects of the impeachment trial itself.

Other priorities include foreign policy, health care, and education.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 631 adults interviewed by telephone February 7, 1999. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four percentage points for results based on the entire sample.

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