Clinton Gets His Censure, Senator by Senator
Inside the Senate chamber, the invective flows without letup.
For 2 1/2 days, at the pace of four an hour, senator after senator has walked solemnly to a portable lectern in the chamber’s well and hurled at President Clinton some of the harshest condemnations to be directed at a commander in chief in modern history.
“Shameful.” “Reprehensible.” “Immoral.” “Boorish.” “Reckless.” “Sordid.”
And those were just the Democrats.
The denunciations are being delivered by Democrats and Republicans with equal ardor during the impeachment trial’s final stages.
And their statements make clear that even when the votes are taken today and Clinton is acquitted on both articles of impeachment, as expected, he will forever be tarnished by the scathing condemnations of all 100 senators that have taken place out of public view.
By the end of Thursday’s session, all but a handful of Republicans who have announced their decisions said they intend to vote to remove Clinton from office, while Democrats all said that they will oppose his removal. The deliberations are expected to end today about 8:30 a.m. PST, followed by roll-call votes on each of the two articles of impeachment.
Outside the chamber, a move led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to formally censure the president may be moribund.
But as the closing statements demonstrate, the senators are very much condemning, denouncing and, yes, censuring Clinton for his actions in trying to conceal his affair with Monica S. Lewinsky.
“The functional equivalent of censure is happening right there--behind closed doors,” Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) said during Thursday’s lunch break, pointing toward the Senate chamber.
And with virtually no doubt that Clinton will survive the GOP-led effort to remove him from office, and with formal censure now improbable, senators of both parties and all political persuasions were patiently taking turns at invoking new adjectives and superlatives to describe their disgust with the president’s conduct.
With most Republicans accusing Clinton of having committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” and demanding his ouster, it is Democrats who are issuing the severest condemnations of his private behavior, which they nevertheless do not think merits his firing.
And no one has been harsher than Feinstein, who formally declared Thursday that she would vote against both articles of impeachment, as did Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
“But let me be perfectly clear,” Feinstein said in her statement, “I do not condone the behavior of President Clinton. I do not defend it. And I do not accept it. The conduct at the heart of the charges is deplorable. The president acted immorally. He acted recklessly. He acted disgracefully. . . . In doing so, he has brought shame and dishonor upon the office of the president and, especially, upon himself.”
Senate rules prohibit members from revealing what is being said behind closed doors. But most senators have issued statements either before or after making their floor remarks. And many have actually called press conferences to do so.
But at least one senator, Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.), passed up his allotted 15 minutes of floor time Thursday and simply put his statement into the record.
“I wanted to expedite the process,” Kohl said in an interview. He then went on to roundly condemn Clinton’s actions.
“The president has demeaned the office. The president has exhibited bad character. He has spoken untruths. He did all kinds of things a president should not do,” he said.
In his statement, Kohl was even more outspoken: “Simply put, his conduct was disgraceful and, possibly, illegal.” But he said the prosecution simply “has not proved its allegations by clear and convincing evidence.”
Interestingly, in the absence of established rules of evidence for an impeachment trial, senators used varying legal standards in reaching their decisions. Feinstein, for instance, said prosecutors had not proved their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Kohl, joined by Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), also noted pointedly that, despite Clinton’s acquittal, he “can be criminally prosecuted, especially once he leaves office.”
Like most Democrats, Sen. Richard H. Bryan (D-Nev.) strongly urged that Clinton be formally censured by the Senate as the appropriate end to the impeachment imbroglio.
His statement also captured a profound ambivalence among Democrats.
“The president’s conduct is boorish, indefensible, even reprehensible. It does not threaten the republic. It does not impact our national security,” Bryant said.
Yet, he added, “the record of these proceedings must also reflect that the acquittal of the president can in no way be construed as an exoneration of his conduct.”
One of the rare Democrats to resist a censure resolution has been Tom Harkin of Iowa.
“I believe the appropriate form [of censure] is for each senator to express his or her opinion on this matter,” Harkin said. “I see no need to join 99 others. . . . So here is my censure of the president:
“I want to state emphatically that I do not condone the behavior of President Clinton that has been so thoroughly exposed and seared into the American consciousness ad nauseam. . . . It is the sordid affair of all sordid affairs.
“The president has brought dishonor to himself and he has brought tremendous pain and embarrassment to his family, friends and colleagues. And, rather than ennobling the presidency, this particular behavior has made it the butt of jokes and ridicule. . . . He has said he is sorry and asked for forgiveness. I do so now and say it is time to put this sad chapter behind us and move on to the important work of the nation.”
* PARTY STRESS: Many longtime Republican voters say they’ll abandon the party over impeachment. A15
* POISED FOR DEFENSE: Rep. James E. Rogan, criticized for his impeachment role, vows to fight to keep his seat. A15
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Even as they announce they will vote to acquit President Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, these are the words that senators in his own party are using to describe his behavior: