Packwood quits Senate instead of fighting expulsion
n the hushed Senate chamber, a tearful Bob Packwood bowed to extraordinary pressure Thursday and announced his resignation after 27 years in office. His poignant farewell headed off a vote to expel him for sexual and official misconduct.
"It is the honorable thing to do," the Oregon Republican said, quitting only after leaders of the Ethics Committee denounced his behavior in language as harsh as it was blunt. Later, relieved, Packwood told The Associated Press that "an immense weight has been lifted" from him.
Panel chairman Mitch McConnell, a fellow Republican, summarized the evidence against Packwood this way: "There was a habitual pattern of aggressive, blatantly sexual advances, mostly directed at members of his own staff or others whose livelihoods were connected in some way to his power and authority as a senator."
The committee, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, had spent 33 months on the investigation. It concluded he should be expelled after studying allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances to 17 women, tried to obtain a job for his then-estranged wife from people with legislative interests, and altered his diaries to obstruct the investigation.
Packwood had called his staff into a meeting at midafternoon, closing the office for about 15 minutes. Several staff members emerged crying.
"There have been many successes in these 27 years, some failures, some frustrations," Packwood said minutes later, taking to the Senate floor as about half his colleagues and his staff looked on. "Friendships beyond count."
Many senators sat dolefully in their seats as he spoke. Aides lined the wall at the back of the chamber.
Later, on CNN's "Larry King Live," Majority Leader Bob Dole said Packwood may stay in the Senate one or two months with a reduced role in the Finance Committee he now leads. Some Senate Democrats have made clear they would not accept any lengthy stay by Packwood or any meaningful legislative role.
"He might be chairman of the committee but not have primary responsibility for the
legislation," Dole said, referring to the finance panel's agenda of rewriting tax law and revising Medicare. He said Packwood might stay "30 days, 60 days, whatever it takes" to wind down his Senate duties.
One Senate Republican aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said late Thursday night that Packwood and Dole had not yet discussed an effective date for the resignation to take effect. In the meantime, according to the aide, Packwood will continue to cast votes.
Packwood began the day making the rounds of TV interview shows, pleading for the chance to confront his accusers in a public hearing.
McConnell answered, several hours later: "The committee has heard enough; the Senate has heard enough; the public has heard enough. The evidentiary record, weighing in, as I said, at 40 pounds and 10,145 pages, is here for everyone to see. Now is the time for justice to be done."
McConnell said the alteration of diaries as Packwood anticipated a committee subpoena was "clearly illegal" and could bring Packwood a prison sentence if he were convicted of such a crime. The committee's resolution referred the diary alterations to the Justice Department.
The sexual advances, McConnell said, "were not merely stolen kisses, as Sen. Packwood has claimed. This was a habitual pattern of aggressive, blatantly sexual advances, mostly directed at members of his own staff or others whose livelihoods were connected in some way to his power and authority."
McConnell dismissed Packwood's complaint of unfairness, saying, "The victimizer is now claiming the mantle of the victim."
Packwood did not mention the allegations in his Senate farewell, recounting better times in his long career.
"I leave this institution not with malice but with love," he said, his voice periodically breaking. "Good luck. Godspeed."
Dole, close to tears himself, praised his longtime colleague and declared: "I believe Senator Packwood has made the right decision. It's not easy. It hasn't been easy."
Other male colleagues also praised Packwood for his Senate accomplishments. And one female senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, said he shouldn't be remembered for the accusations that brought his departure.
She quoted her father as telling her: "Don't let a man be known for the last thing he does. Let him be known for the best thing he does."
Several senators, including McConnell, suggested earlier that the expulsion recommendation showed senators had learned from the wrenching days of the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings.
Recalling criticism that senators didn't "get it" when a former aide accused Thomas of unwanted sexual advances, McConnell said, "There can be no doubt today that the Ethics Committee got it."
Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., vice chairman of the committee, said the action recommended by the panel was like "the atomic bomb" to answer such criticism. "We can do no more than to expel a member. Those days are over."
Packwood's resignation would elevate Sen. William Roth of Delaware to chairman of the tax-writing Finance Committee at a vital time for Republican efforts to implement their balanced-budget plan.