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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / U.S.
SENATE

Boxer Says She's Not Hypocritical About Clinton

April 14, 1998|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) defended herself Monday against accusations that she is being a hypocrite with her low-key response to charges of sexual harassment against President Clinton, compared to her outrage when similar charges were made against Republicans Clarence Thomas and Sen. Bob Packwood.

Boxer, running for a second term, said that only the press is concerned about the accusations against Clinton and how supporters like herself are reacting.

"It's all the press has been interested in, frankly, for the last three months," she said.

Boxer's comments came at an informal news conference after a feminist fund-raiser attended by 800 people that is expected to bring $150,000 to her campaign.

Boxer said that she sees no inconsistency between her reaction to the Clinton controversy and her much stronger one to the charges by Anita Hill against Supreme Court nominee Thomas and by numerous female staffers against Packwood (R-Ore.).

Boxer, who has made the fight against sexual harassment a key item in her political agenda, vaulted to national prominence with strong rhetoric during those controversies.

"My position has been from Day 1 that these allegations [against Clinton] are serious and should be looked at," she said. "I supported Paula Jones having her day in court. I said when Kathleen Willey came forward that those allegations should be investigated by the special counsel."

She added, "I was very glad they had this forum. And that's what I've been saying. That's what the real battle has been about for years: making sure charges like this are taken seriously, and that women who make them have a forum."

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Boxer, normally opinionated and accessible on issues, declined to say whether she believes the women's allegations that Clinton made improper sexual advances.

"I think when it comes to the private lives of people, you never know what happened unless you were there," she said.

She said she never expressed an opinion on the harassment charges brought against Army Sgt. Maj. Gene C. McKinney, of which he was acquitted. "Those women had their day in court," Boxer said.

Conservatives have been quick to criticize Boxer and other liberals and feminists for not supporting Jones, Willey, Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky more vocally in their accusations against Clinton.

Both of Boxer's would-be GOP opponents, state Treasurer Matt Fong and millionaire electronics entrepreneur Darrell Issa--who has called Clinton a "slut"--have slammed the president for his alleged behavior and needled Boxer for her reluctance to criticize him.

Fong, in a speech last week titled "Time for Truth," called for Clinton to make a full explanation to the public and then seek forgiveness.

Larry Sabato, a professor of government at the University of Virginia and an expert on congressional politicking, said there is hypocrisy in Boxer's position. But Sabato said he doubts that she will be hurt politically, noting that polls show that the public, like Boxer, supports Clinton despite the controversy.

"Some hypocrisy in government hurts you, some doesn't," Sabato said. "If your hypocrisy is matched by the public's hypocrisy, you're OK."

Boxer said that when she led seven congresswomen in storming the U.S. Senate in 1991 at the height of the controversy over Hill's charges against Thomas, she did so to demand a public hearing.

And in 1995, as a senator, she fought a tenacious and losing battle to have the charges against Packwood debated openly.

In both cases, Boxer said, her actions were motivated by a desire to see the charges explored fairly and publicly, not necessarily because she believed the charges were true. Boxer's version of events is supported by press coverage of the two episodes.

Of Paula Jones, Boxer said her case "was before the court for four years. She's had her platform. This [the decision to throw the case out of court] was a judge's decision. I don't know if the judge's decision was right or wrong. I'm not commenting on it. She [Jones] had her day in court."

Boxer is not the only Democratic woman legislator who is being careful with her words about the president and his alleged treatment of women. But the difficulty for Boxer is more acute.

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For one thing, Boxer and Clinton are related by marriage. Her daughter is married to Hillary Rodham Clinton's brother.

And Clinton has been a major fund-raiser for Boxer--help that could become increasingly significant if Boxer's Republican opponent turns out to be Issa, shown by polls to be leading the GOP pack. Boxer said Monday that she fears that he could outspend her by more than 2 to 1.

At a celebrity-studded gathering in Beverly Hills in late February, Clinton helped Boxer raise more than $500,000 for her campaign. "We love Barbara Boxer and she's now a member of our family," said the fullback-sized president after giving the jockey-sized senator a bear hug.

At the Monday event, Boxer announced that the first lady will host fund-raisers for Boxer in San Francisco and Los Angeles on May 26.

Boxer said she has not spoken to Clinton about the sex charges.

"I've seen the first lady and she said, 'I know we're going to get through this like we've gotten through other things,' " Boxer said. "That is about the extent of it."

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