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Senators condemn closed-door impeachment deliberations

February 9, 1999
Web posted at: 5:53 p.m. EDT (1753 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, February 9) -- As the Senate began its closed-door deliberations in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, senators who wanted to open up the proceedings condemned Tuesday's vote rejecting a rule change to do that. They called the move to allow senators to put their final statements into the record after the trial "a great leap sideways."

"I think that the motion that passed that would enable any senator who wants to to make public his or her statement in final deliberations ... represents a great leap sideways, not a step forward," said Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota). "It is a very poor substitute for being in open session."

Wellstone
Sen. Paul Wellstone  

It would have taken a two-thirds majority -- 67 votes -- to suspend Senate rules requiring that the impeachment debate be private. On Tuesday, "sunshine" proponents fell eight votes short, as the Senate voted 59-41 in favor of opening the deliberations.

After they failed to get the super-majority, the senators who opposed the closed-door session forced a second vote on whether to begin deliberations.

Under a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian, a failure to get a majority on that question would have meant cancellation of the final deliberations and immediate votes on Clinton's conviction or acquittal.

But the Senate voted 53-47 to go into private deliberations. It also approved the move to allow any senator who wants to to publish their statement in the Congressional Record after the trial ends.

Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) voted with the Democrats on the motion to stop deliberations in hopes of causing a stalemate and forcing further discussion on the move to open debate.

"My thought as that second vote was taken was to present a stalemate," Specter said. "Let's not close the doors and let's require some further deliberations and some further analysis. I think that if the body deliberated just a little bit ... we would have come to the conclusion that we really ought to have an open session."

Harkin
Sen. Tom Harkin  

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the first senator to speak out against the closed deliberations, agreed with Specter, saying if they had gotten 51 votes against the motion to start deliberations, a stalemate might have produced different results.

"I believe that faced with the prospect of either having absolutely no final deliberations or having it in open session, we might have picked up those other eight votes that we needed," Harkin said.

The Senate's 45 Democrats were joined by 14 Republicans on the vote to open the deliberations. They argued that their constituents had a right to know how their senators reached their decisions on whether or not to convict Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

"This is the oddest procedure around, where it's on television in the corridors, but it can't be on television in the main chamber," Specter lamented Tuesday, as he talked to reporters.


Investigating the President

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Tuesday, February 9, 1999

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