Senate votes today on fate of president

Sun Reporter

After weeks of taking evidence, hearing arguments anddeliberating privately, the Senate is prepared today to acquit President Clinton in a vote that is likely to deny the House prosecutors even a simplemajority for conviction.

A third day of closed-door deliberations yesterday brought no surprisesthat would upset the widespread view that the Senate will fall far short ofthe two-thirds majority needed to convict Clinton and remove him from officefor his actions in the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine yesterday joined three other Republicansenators who had earlier announced that they would vote to acquit Clinton ofperjury as well as obstruction of justice.

Several senators said last night that a fifth Republican -- Sen. Susan M.Collins, also of Maine -- had told them that she, too, would reject bothcharges. Collins' office, however, did not release a statement saying how shewill vote.

If Collins does vote to acquit on both charges, and if all 45 Democrats doso as well, the House Republican prosecutors would lack even the symbolicconsolation of a simple majority vote of 51 in favor of either article ofimpeachment.

In her statement, Snowe explained that she found the president's behavior"deplorable and indefensible" and urged that Clinton be prosecuted by thecriminal justice system after he leaves office.

But she said she could not vote to oust him.

"My struggle throughout this process was to reconcile the president's lowlyconduct with the Constitution's high standards," Snowe said.

"I was determined that the only way I could approach this case was to askmyself, if I were the deciding vote, could I remove this president under thesecircumstances?

"The answer, I have concluded, is no."

In the closed chamber, as the 55 Republicans and 45 Democrats took turnsannouncing their positions in 15-minute speeches, there was no sign that anyof the Democrats would vote to convict.

In fact, Sen. Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, the one Democrat who brokeranks with his party midway through the trial to vote against a motion todismiss the charges, told his Senate colleagues yesterday that he would voteto acquit the president on both articles of impeachment.

Besides the handful of Republicans who intend to vote against botharticles, at least two more Republicans have said they will vote to acquitClinton on the perjury charge and to convict on obstruction of justice.

But one Republican senator who had been wavering on the perjury charge,Sen. Robert F. Bennett of Utah, came down yesterday firmly in favor ofconviction on both charges.

Bennett said he has long been convinced that Clinton is a "bully" who"readily uses the power of his office for his personal ends regardless of whois hurt" and is thus guilty of obstruction of justice.

But Bennett said he had decided to vote to convict Clinton on the perjurycharge only after considering press accounts of the president's career-longpractice of "habitual mendacity."

"If this were a standard trial, as a juror I would not know any of that,"Bennett acknowledged.

Even so, he said, he had concluded that "a president who has demonstrated acapacity to lie about anything great or small, whether or not under oath, doesthreaten our liberties."

Another moderate Republican, Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, also announcedthat after struggling with the question of whether to acquit Clinton, he haddecided that he must vote for conviction on both articles.

"I refuse to say that high political polls and soaring Wall Street indexesgive license to those in high places who act in low and illegal ways," Smithsaid.

While most of the senators -- Democrat and Republican alike -- havecondemned Clinton's behavior, they have differed on whether the specificcharges have been proved and on whether, even if proved, they justified theextreme sanction of removal from office.

"Although I deplore the circumstances that have brought us to the point, Ido not believe they present a clear and present danger to the functioning ofour government," said Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who was amongthose Clinton had personally misled about his affair with Lewinsky.

She called Clinton's behavior "immoral, deplorable and indefensible" butsaid it did not justify removing a president "who has been a good president ofthe people of the United States."

Feinstein, who has been working closely with Bennett on a drive to censureClinton, appealed to her colleagues yesterday to allow their proposal to cometo a vote.

But she needs 67 votes to overcome a procedural hurdle, and Republicanleaders said there was no chance that enough Republicans would support acensure drive for Feinstein to succeed.

As a fallback, censure advocates are circulating a letter instead, tryingto get as many signatures as possible before adding it to the Senate record.

At the White House, Clinton is preparing to deliver a statement today afterthe vote that aides said he hopes will begin to put the impeachment crisisbehind him.

Aides said they expect Clinton to make a televised address to the nation,but a final decision had not been made.

His remarks are intended to strike a note of contrition, aides said, aswell as deliver an appeal to the Republican-led Congress to join him ingetting on with legislative business, such as reforming Social Security.

"Bill Clinton needs to make the speech of his life," said Sen. James M. Jeffords, a Vermont Republican who has already announced that he will vote toacquit the president.

"He needs to apologize to the children and the women of this country.

"He needs to apologize to Congress, and he needs to urge that we all getback to work."

But with the healing effort not yet under way, fresh wounds were openedyesterday over a report that Clinton had vowed revenge on House Republicansover his impeachment and would work intensely to restore Democrats to controlof the House in the 2000 election.

"It is deeply troubling that the president views closure of thisconstitutional process as an opportunity for revenge," said Senate MajorityLeader Trent Lott.

Clinton's spokesman, Joe Lockhart, denied that there was any White Houseplan to target specific Republican House members.

But Lockhart acknowledged that the president was certainly eager to helpthe Democrats regain control of the House.

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