THE SENATE should rise above party and dismiss the House impeachment of President Clinton tomorrow, in the interest of the nation.
It took former Sen. Dale Bumpers to put the issues in perspective. "If you vote to convict, in my opinion, you're going to be creating more havoc than he could ever possibly create," he said, winding up the president's defense Thursday. Senators should heed his conclusion.
In weighing an impeachment, senators are not mere jurors, who decide guilt on the evidence presented. Their judgment is political in the highest sense: Do constitutional high crimes and misdemeanors against the state require overturning a presidential election? Mr. Bumpers reinstated senators' roles after Rep. Henry J. Hyde and the House managers tried to diminish them.
The rest of the trial would be required only if the senators believe that the charges, if true, merit the president's removal. Then the House should have to prove its case to almost-criminal-law standards -- a stretch for perjury and highly unlikely for obstruction.
The good of the country argues against going there. As Mr. Bumpers reminded his former colleagues, the rule of law includes presidential elections.
Senators should do what is right, not what is popular. But House managers have been urging Senate Republicans to do what is wrong, inviting voter retribution in the next election.
Republican senators can make this debacle worse, or cut their losses and get on to more promising business.
If the Senate does prolong the trial, it should ensure fairness. That means publicly hearing all witnesses either side wants and not censoring evidence. The losing side should never be able to say it wasn't allowed to present its case.
Nobody wants such a proceeding because President Clinton's behavior -- as despicable as it was -- is not worth it.
The word senator, from Roman origins, implies wisdom gained from experience in the highest deliberations of the land. It is time for the members of the U.S. Senate to act senatorially where all others have failed.
Pub Date: 1/24/99