Senate votes today on fate of president; Lawmakers' remarks point to defeat of impeachment articles; Clinton address expected; Snowe of Maine joins 3 other Republicans intending to acquit


WASHINGTON -- After weeks of taking evidence, hearing arguments and deliberating privately, the Senate is prepared today to acquit President Clinton in a vote that is likely to deny the House prosecutors even a simple majority for conviction.

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

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine yesterday joined three other Republican senators who had earlier announced that they would vote to acquit Clinton of perjury 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 both charges. Collins' office, however, did not release a statement saying how she will vote.

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

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

Low conduct, high standards

But she said she could not vote to oust him.

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

"I was determined that the only way I could approach this case was to ask myself, if I were the deciding vote, could I remove this president under these circumstances?

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

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

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

Besides the handful of Republicans who intend to vote against both articles, at least two more Republicans have said they will vote to acquit Clinton 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 of conviction 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 who is hurt" and is thus guilty of obstruction of justice.

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

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

Capacity to lie

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

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

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

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

No 'clear and present danger'

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

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

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

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

As a fallback, censure advocates are circulating a letter instead, trying to 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 after the vote that aides said he hopes will begin to put the impeachment crisis behind 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, as well as deliver an appeal to the Republican-led Congress to join him in getting on with legislative business, such as reforming Social Security.

'Needs to apologize'

"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 to acquit 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 get back to work."

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

"It is deeply troubling that the president views closure of this constitutional process as an opportunity for revenge," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

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

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

The trial ends

The Senate "court of impeachment" is scheduled to reach its end today.

At noon or shortly after, in open session, senators will vote on two articles of impeachment against President Clinton, voting on them one at a time. Each senator is required to vote "guilty" or "not guilty."

It would require a two-thirds vote (67 senators if all 100 vote) to convict the president on either article. It thus would make no difference constitutionally if guilty votes are cast by a simple majority.

The trial will end shortly after the votes on the articles. No provision has been made for any action on proposals to censure the president.

Pub Date: 2/12/99

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