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Analysis: Senate should deliberate in public

By Craig Staats/AllPolitics

January 25, 1999
Web posted at: 1:49 p.m. EDT (1349 GMT)

WASHINGTON (January 25) -- People can and do disagree on what should happen to President Bill Clinton.

But there ought to be no disagreement about opening up the Senate's impeachment deliberations to public view.

One way to salvage something from this whole sordid year is to suspend the Senate's 19th-century rules and make sure that the American public gets to see the final phase of the Clinton-Lewinsky sex-and-perjury saga.

Two Democratic senators, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, deserve credit for pressing the issue, but it will take a two-thirds vote and there is opposition.

Some senators believe that the only reason the Senate has moved forward without the slashing, partisan warfare that characterized the House debate is that senators were able to meet in collegial secrecy on January 8 and figure out how to proceed.

But for all the self-congratulatory talk that followed that closed-door meeting, there was less to it than met the eye. All senators did was put off a decision on calling witnesses, which in some ways led to the weekend turmoil over the House prosecutors' court-ordered interview with Monica Lewinsky.

Now the Senate is at a critical point in only the second presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. The senators have critical decisions to make. Should they dismiss the charges against Clinton and end the trial now? Should they call for closed-door deposition of witnesses and extend the proceedings?

All over the United States, "sunshine" laws require elected officials to deliberate in public, whether they are debating sewer taxes, sports team subsidies or police budgets.

There should be no exception for the possible removal of an elected president, no matter how much more comfortable senators might be doing it away from the eyes of the public and news reporters.

It's a question of trust. After all that has happened in the past year, Americans have every right not to trust anyone involved in this mess. The Senate should open the proceedings, and give Americans a reason to believe in at least one Washington institution.


Investigating the President

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Monday, January 25, 1999

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