Senate wraps up first day of impeachment debate; vote likely Thursday
February 9, 1999
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, February 9) -- After a day of closed-door impeachment deliberations, the Senate is on track to complete the final phase of the impeachment trial by Thursday afternoon and vote on the perjury and obstruction of justice allegations against President Bill Clinton.
The first day of "somber" debate took place in private Tuesday after a "sunshine" proposal to open the proceedings to the public failed on a 59-41 vote. Changing the impeachment trial's rules would have required a two-thirds margin, or 67 votes.
Sources told CNN that 18 to 20 senators spoke during the first four hours of deliberations. The Senate adjourned shortly after 6:30 p.m. EST and is scheduled to resume debate at 10 a.m. EST Wednesday.
Sources say a final vote on the articles of impeachment is expected Thursday afternoon, though a source said "in public and in private it is still the U.S. Senate" and things "have a way of sliding."
During the deliberations, each senator is alloted 15 minutes to speak. If all members take their full time, the debate would last for 25 hours over two to three days.
Before the doors were closed, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott urged his colleagues to use self-restraint, reminding them that Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address only took three minutes.
A number of the day's speakers took their full alloted 15 minutes. Some senators spoke off prepared texts while others seemed to ad lib their remarks.
A spokesman for Lott said the order in which GOP senators spoke was "not being done by seniority." Republicans are determining their order by a sign-up sheet. Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Washington) spoke first.
The Democrats are roughly following a seniority system, though their senior senators, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, has yet to speak. Instead, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) spoke first for the Democrats.
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin) characterized the mood of the day's proceedings as "somber" and more quiet than it has been during the trial, while Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said the deliberations were very honest and open.
Under Senate rules, lawmakers cannot reveal what happens behind closed doors. Senators will be allowed to enter statements in the official record to explain their votes when the trial ends.
As the day began, the Senate rejected a move to look further into allegations that White House aide Sidney Blumenthal lied in his Senate deposition.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) asked for an investigation of allegations that Blumenthal may have lied in a deposition before the Senate when he said he was not the source of media stories which described Monica Lewinsky as a "stalker." Clinton has admitted an illicit relationship with Lewinsky, an ex-White House intern.
Blumenthal said he was not the source of those stories, but two journalists have given depositions that Blumenthal referred to Lewinsky as a stalker. The White House aide's lawyer denies that Blumenthal lied.
The motion, which needed the consent of all the senators, failed.
Senate Republican leaders say they have not reached any decision about whether to ask the Justice Department to look into the allegations concerning Blumenthal.
Even as the deliberations got under way, a bipartisan group of senators was still at work on drafts of a strong censure resolution condemning Clinton's behavior in trying to hide his extramarital affair with Lewinsky.
Proponents of censure hope to bring it to the Senate floor immediately after the trial. But if Republicans don't agree to permit a vote on censure, Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) said Monday Democrats would force the Senate to return to the issue later this year.
Daschle indicated that about five of the Senate's 45 Democrats oppose censure and it would take 20 Republicans to gain the 60 votes needed to overcome any filibuster.
The White House, obviously, does not want a censure resolution, but presidential aides say they cannot fight it openly because their best friends in the Senate -- those who supported the president during the impeachment trial -- are pushing for it.
Ironically, this aligns the White House with many Republicans who are fighting against censure, arguing that it is unconstitutional, would set a dangerous precedent and is designed only to give Democrats some political cover.
But in closing arguments on Monday, the chief House prosecutor, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) derided the censure alternative. "Do you really cleanse the office as provided in the Constitution or do you use the Air Wick of a censure resolution?" he asked.
White House counsel Charles Ruff, summing up for Clinton, ridiculed the prosecutors' case, saying it was built on "shifting sand castles of speculation." He said prosecutors were "more focused on retribution, more designed to achieve partisan ends, more uncaring about the future we face together."
Hyde warned senators that "if you agree that perjury and obstruction of justice have been committed and yet you vote down the conviction ... you raise the most serious questions of whether the president is, in fact, subject to the law or whether we are beginning a restoration of the divine right of kings."
Yet throughout their closing arguments, House prosecutors seem resigned that they will not convince the Senate to remove Clinton over charges of perjury and obstruction of justice relating to his illicit sexual affair.
Abandoning the legal arguments that have dominated their presentations in the four-week trial, the House managers appealed to the Senate's sense of fair play, arguing that Clinton shows no remorse and should not get away with his offenses.
"We all know the president's behavior has been reprehensible," Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) told the senators. "President Clinton, however, refuses to admit what all of us know is true. To this day, he continues to deny and distort. He continues to dispute the undeniable facts that are before the Senate and before the American people."
Ruff, however, said the prosecutors' vision was "too dark."
"Our vision, I think, is quite different, but it is not naive," the Clinton lawyer said. "We know the pain the president has caused our society and his family and his friends, but we know, too, how much the president has done for this country."
In answer to the House managers' arguments, Ruff attempted to refute the managers' interpretation of facts and used excerpts from Lewinsky's videotape deposition to argue that Clinton did not commit perjury and obstruction of justice.
Clinton has admitted an affair with Lewinsky, but denied breaking the law trying to conceal their relationship.
Returning to the well of the Senate after Ruff finished, Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Florida) answered the White House counsel's factual criticism.
"No amount of arguing by White House counsel can erase one simple fact: If you believe Monica Lewinsky, you cannot believe the president," McCollum said.
CNN's Candy Crowley, Mike Roselli, Dana Bash and Caroline Nolan contributed to this report.
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