Area's Senators Reflect the Whole
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 13, 1999; Page A30
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) broke with his party yesterday, voting with a solid bloc of Democrats and nine other Republicans not to convict President Clinton of lying to a federal grand jury when questioned about his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky.
Warner stuck with the GOP, however, on a second article of impeachment, which accused Clinton of obstructing justice in the Lewinsky affair. He joined 49 other Republicans to declare the president guilty of that charge, while the region's three Senate Democrats, Charles S. Robb (Va.), Barbara A. Mikulski (Md.) and Paul S. Sarbanes (Md.) voted to acquit Clinton on both impeachment charges.
The measures fell short of the two-thirds Senate vote needed to remove the president from office.
As lawmakers ended the historic five-week trial and 13-month investigation, Robb's vote drew fire from former Virginia governor George Allen, a potential Republican challenger in 2000. Allen criticized Robb for siding "in lockstep" with Democrats to defend "disgraceful, shameful, lying, deceitful behavior" by the president.
Robb defended his acquittal votes during an impromptu news conference on the Capitol lawn. While saying that he believes Clinton lied on television about his relationship with Lewinsky, Robb said there was "reasonable doubt" about whether the president perjured himself before a grand jury.
"We simply cannot remove a president from office with an article of impeachment that so clearly violates the constitutional standard," Robb said, ignoring a lone heckler.
Warner defended his vote to oust Clinton even as he pledged his support to a "weakened president."
Clinton "violated the oath of office, the very pillar that supports the rule of law," Warner said. "He really encouraged members of his staff to do things which were wrong, and he put [his interests] ahead of the nation's interests."
Virginia political analysts said Warner's split decision on the impeachment question would likely satisfy GOP conservatives without alienating the majority of voters in the state who opposed Clinton's removal.
The same analysts said Robb's votes fell in line with the polls.
Yesterday, Robb called Clinton's initial televised denials of a sexual relationship with Lewinsky "calculated, politically motivated. ... I believe the president lied."
But House managers, he said, failed to prove that Clinton perjured himself before a grand jury. He also said the House obstruction of justice charge unconstitutionally "bundled" seven allegations of wrongdoing into one article.
Asked if he was dismayed at Clinton's private sexual life becoming the focus of political scandal, Robb said, "No one condones what was reported or admitted, but it simply was not a proper subject for an impeachment proceeding."
In his 1994 campaign, Robb denied allegations of a sexual affair with former Miss Virginia Tai Collins. But, like Clinton, he ultimately acknowledged behavior that wasn't "appropriate" for a married man.
On Thursday, Allen avoided that subject and refused to say how he would have voted on Clinton's guilt. But he endorsed the House vote to impeach the president, saying, "I understood why they did it and very much agree with it."
In Maryland, Sarbanes and Mikulski faced much less political risk in voting against impeaching a president who has twice carried the state.
"President Clinton has engaged in disgraceful and reprehensible conduct, which has severely sullied and demeaned his tenure as president," said Sarbanes, who as yet faces no announced challenger in his bid next year for a fifth term. "But the diminishing of Bill Clinton must not lead us to diminish the presidency for his successors."
Mikulski said after the vote that House managers "never proved beyond a reasonable doubt either perjury or obstruction of justice. ... I believe history will record that President Clinton had a very distinguished career in terms of his agenda. He helped create a robust economy and led our nation to a budget surplus."
But despite acquittal, she said, Clinton also will go down in history "as the first elected president to be impeached."
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