Dole Offers Censure Plan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 16, 1998; Page A25
Former Senate majority leader and Republican presidential candidate Robert J. Dole urged the Senate yesterday to forgo a trial of President Clinton and wrap up impeachment proceedings by Jan. 2 with a toughly worded condemnation that Clinton would have to sign.
Some Democratic senators reacted favorably to the idea, and some Republicans said Dole's plan could form the basis for a plea bargain later in the process. But senators also worried whether the proposal would improperly short-circuit constitutional procedures for a Senate trial of impeachment articles that appear likely to be approved by the House later this week.
As of now, if the House votes to impeach, Senate leaders plan to begin proceedings leading to a trial when Congress reconvenes Jan. 6.
Among a half-dozen senators contacted yesterday after Dole's proposal was aired in an opinion column in the New York Times, Democrats appeared more intrigued than Republicans by Dole's proposal, largely because they like his idea of going straight to a penalty that falls short of conviction and removal from office. But as a longtime Senate GOP leader and the party's standard-bearer against Clinton in 1996, Dole also maintains influence among Republicans.
"It's typical of Bob Dole. It very carefully covers all the bases for what I assume would be a very tough censure resolution," said Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah). But "it would only stand if everyone decided to set an impeachment vote aside, and, at the moment, I think that is premature."
"If it's clear [a trial] would lead to an outcome that we would not be comfortable with, then it could be very useful," Bennett added.
Bennett said the Dole scenario might materialize if it became evident -- as it appears now -- that the Senate would fall short of the two-thirds majority needed to oust a president -- and that Clinton would face no sanction from Congress as a whole.
While never using the words "censure" or "plea-bargain," Dole outlined a process that could achieve just those results without what many lawmakers have described as the lengthy and painful ordeal of a trial.
As Dole described the process, it would play out in the Senate regardless of whether the House votes to impeach Clinton.
Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) would "at the earliest possible time" introduce a joint resolution -- meaning one that requires presidential signature -- that would contain the "essence or 'guts' " of the impeachment resolutions before the House, according to Dole.
Clinton would have to agree publicly to support the resolution and to sign it at a public ceremony. Congressional Democratic leaders would have to actively work for its passage. Clinton would have to agree voluntarily to any penalties imposed by Congress; Dole did not propose any specific penalties.
Once these conditions are met, the Senate would then suspend or amend the rules governing a trial and consider the resolution, with strict time limits and no amendments, followed by House action under similar constraints. The goal would be to get the resolution passed and signed by Jan. 2.
Dole said he had consulted with no one about his plan, which he described as a "blending of responsibility and justice." An aide said yesterday that Dole would not elaborate on his proposal but that he had received many phone calls, "much more positive than negative."
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), in a telephone interview from Israel, where he was traveling with Clinton, said Dole's proposal "sounds to me like a sophisticated form of censure and my sense is it would not be acceptable in the Senate." Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said he thought the process is already "moving ahead on a reasonably expedited timetable."
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said Dole's proposal was "a version of what's been bouncing around the Senate, what a lot of us have been talking about." Sen. Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.) said it would "register the seriousness of the situation without lasting constitutional damage." Kerry said it would only have a chance if Republican leaders embrace it. Lott had no comment pending action on impeachment in the House.
© Copyright The Washington Post Company