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Nation looks to Senate to rectify House's folly Censure: Consensus on outcome seeks wise and bipartisan guidance on how to get there.


ON ALL SIDES, appeals grow for the Senate to censure President Clinton rather than remove him from office. More than lTC a century has elapsed since the Senate's only presidential impeachment trial, and few people in or out of that body know how it will go.

Senators of both parties are leaning on the expertise of Sen. Robert Byrd, the 81-year-old former majority leader from West Virginia who is respected with a bipartisan collegiality.

The growing national consensus is that the accusations against President Clinton are not what the Constitution means by "other high crimes or misdemeanors." Yet many demand that President Clinton confess to specific crimes as part of any censure deal. In so doing, they really are asking that Mr. Clinton hand Mr. Starr evidence for use in prosecuting him after his term in office. Small wonder Mr. Clinton does not volunteer.

Four moderate Republican members of the House -- after voting to impeach the president and not to allow censure -- wrote Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott that they "do not want our votes interpreted to mean that we view removal from office as the only reasonable conclusion." However hypocritical, they speak for more.

Former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, in their article published on the page opposite Tuesday, acknowledged that Mr. Starr would need to be party to any deal. It's time that others concede the same.

In a grumpy insistence of senatorial sovereignty, Mr. Byrd has said there will be no "deal" with another branch of government. The best course is for the Senate, with Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist presiding, to hear out the charges from the House. A simple majority can then judge these charges to be insufficient grounds for removing the president With that done, the Senate can go about censuring the president. Such a censure would not require President Clinton's consent, but to command respect, it should have bipartisan support.

The calls for punishment omit the obvious punishment Mr. Clinton receives daily. Beyond that, only the courts have jurisdiction. Congress is given no role. Although Mr. Starr's credibility is low, the question of prosecution is in his hands. The Senate should now do its own job, even if others have botched theirs.

Pub Date: 12/24/98

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