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Kerry says impeachment talk was just merrymaking

WASHINGTON -- It was all a joke, Senator John F. Kerry maintains.

The senator's former campaign staff had gathered for a holiday party Wednesday night at Finn macCool's, a Capitol Hill watering hole, and Kerry, with a drink in hand, quipped that if the Democrats retake Congress they could make a case for impeaching President Bush.

The Republican National Committee isn't laughing. ''With his impeachment advocacy last night, John Kerry once again showed how out of touch he is with the American people," said RNC spokesman Brian Jones yesterday in a press release. ''For one of the leaders of the Democratic Party to begin a push for presidential impeachment, in seriousness or jest, on the eve of the Iraq elections is both foolish and shortsighted."

A spokeswoman for Kerry, April Boyd, quickly condemned what she called the RNC's ''humbug" response to Kerry's joke, explaining in an e-mail to the Globe, ''Impeachment jokes in Washington are as old as Donald Rumsfeld."

Then again, even Boyd suggested that the remark might not have been fully in jest.

Wrote Boyd: ''He did make the serious point, which he's made forcefully before: 'How are the same Republicans who tried to impeach a president over whether he misled a nation about an affair going to pretend it does not matter if the administration intentionally misled the country into war?' Good luck finding a Democrat in America who disagrees."

PETER S. CANELLOS

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