Area Senators Hold Varied Views
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 7, 1999; Page A09
Two of the four U.S. senators who represent the Washington region weighed in yesterday with their views on impeaching President Clinton, with Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) saying he wants a trial and a vote up-or-down on whether to remove him from office and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) calling for censure as the most fitting punishment.
With a Senate trial set to get underway today, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) said that he and 15 other senior lawmakers tapped by GOP and Democratic leaders are trying to forge a compromise on how to proceed in judging Clinton for his actions surrounding his sexual involvement with Monica S. Lewinsky.
Because of his close involvement in trial preparations, Sarbanes declined to express his views on the matter. Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) also maintained his silence, saying that as a Senate juror he held a "solemn responsibility" to remain impartial.
In their variety of responses, the Virginia and Maryland lawmakers presented a snapshot of the chaotic uncertainty that has swept the Senate since the House voted to impeach the president. But with the GOP holding the majority of members, Warner sent the strongest signal of what the country will face in coming days as the trial proceedings begin.
Warner, a moderate conservative who has sometimes strayed from his party's line, took a tough stance yesterday by calling for further Senate probing into alleged presidential misconduct. But he agreed with Democrats that only a few witnesses should be called.
"As a part of its responsibility, the Senate would be well advised not to foreclose the option to look at additional evidence which goes to articles of impeachment and to hear, say, two or three witnesses," Warner said.
He argued that the Senate should have the flexibility to expand the investigation if the evidence warrants it. But he stressed that he isn't interested in looking at sexual encounters.
"I'm more concerned with violations of federal criminal standards" beyond those outlined by the House articles of impeachment, he said.
Warner, reminded that he declared 1994 Virginia GOP Senate nominee Oliver L. North unfit for office because he lied in his Iran-contra testimony to Congress, declined to compare that situation to allegations that Clinton lied to a grand jury.
"The North case . . . is not a part of this," Warner said. He declined to answer specific questions about the president's case, saying that would prejudge the outcome of an impeachment trial.
The four-term Republican, 71, also dismissed an option that seemed to have strong support just weeks ago, joining a swelling GOP chorus against a presidential censure.
"Speaking solely for myself, to me, censure is political cover," said Warner, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We would set a precedent . . . that future Congresses which had differences with presidents could then use as a club to use against that president."
Warner's comments indicated that Clinton and his supporters could face a rigid showdown in the Senate, culminating in a vote for removal or acquittal.
But Mikulski echoed the still-widespread view on Capitol Hill that with 45 Democrats and 55 Republicans, the GOP will not be able to get the required two-thirds vote needed to remove the president from office.
Mikulski, 62, who was recently elected to a third term, said that without the votes to impeach Clinton in the case, censure would be a more appropriate punishment.
"I would support censure after we evaluate the evidence, should the Senate not reach the two-thirds vote to impeach," she said.
However, she added, any censure resolution should not include requirements that Clinton pay a fine or admit criminal wrongdoing. A censure vote alone should be sufficient for members "who would like to express disapproval of the president's behavior."
Tensions between advocacy and impartiality dominated the Senate on a day ordinarily reserved for the ceremonial swearing-in of new members.
Struggling to avoid a replay of last month's angry, partisan impeachment debate in the House, both sides took pains to observe the traditional pleasantries.
A reception for Mikulski's swearing-in drew an eclectic group of guests, including Vice President Gore (D) and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). Sarbanes, Maryland's senior senator who has emerged as a key player in the impeachment process, also attended.
Sarbanes, 65, serving his fourth term, is one of a few current lawmakers who sat on the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate investigation. He drafted the first article of impeachment against Richard Nixon.
Senate members, he said, are working diligently to come up with a bipartisan, "prompt and fair process" for the impeachment trial. But he added: "What will enfold after [senators take the impeachment trial oath] remains to be seen."
Sarbanes advised constituents and the media to be patient. "Have you ever baked a cake?" he asked. "Do you keep looking in the oven every 30 seconds? And if you do, what happens to the cake?"
Robb, who spent part of his day greeting new senators with his wife, Lynda Johnson Robb, took a similar tack, maintaining a strict code of silence on impeachment-related issues.
"I made a decision at the outset I was not going to have any comment on the proceedings," said the two-term incumbent, 59. "It's a solemn responsibility, and I'm going to approach it that way."
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