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House Managers: The Senate's New Ways and Means

Clinton on Trial

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  • By Kevin Merida
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, January 28, 1999; Page C1

    They fancy themselves representatives of the proletariat. Sometimes they drop by the Senate's public dining room, where tourists are munching Reuben sandwiches. They want you to know this: We are not senators.

    One day Chris Cannon (R-Utah), one of the House impeachment managers, emerged from the dining room with an armful of candy that threatened to tumble to the marble floor – like he had just been trick-or-treating in the king's castle and had forgotten his bag. Then Cannon headed back into the trial to continue his prosecution of President Clinton.

    You think that Distinguished Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat of New York, donner of pocket square, would even consider bringing a load of Snickers bars and M&M's into a presidential impeachment trial?

    Unh-unh. Because here's a dirty little Senate secret: There's an official candy desk that's always assigned to a freshman to keep stocked. That's where the senators get their candy.

    Differences exist between the House and Senate, all right, and House prosecutors have been eager to call attention to that fact. It has become part of their legal strategy. They posture and whine and throw their hands up at what they consider to be a sanctimonious environment on the other side of the Capitol. Yesterday, they claimed a victory – winning the right to depose witnesses – even as they continued to protest that the Senate is thwarting their work. A "pitiful three" witnesses, as their leader Henry Hyde put it, but witnesses nonetheless.

    "That was a great victory," said Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.). "That was a positive sign that we have been validated."

    Validation is a treasure the lowly covet. And it has been drilled into minds over and over, throughout history, that the House is the tenement of Congress and the Senate is Mount Olympus. They talk about this unfairness more in the House than in the Senate.

    "It's a stereotype," said McCollum, another of the impeachment managers. "Senators are a little more aloof. They have an air about them of their importance. In history, the Senate was sort of a House of Lords and the House was the lower house. That thought has carried over and it is nothing new."

    Not new, but newly freshened for the president's trial. The House managers poke fun as the senators gnash their teeth and consider their image and meet into oblivion to make so little progress.

    Hyde, the Illinois Republican who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and lead prosecutor, is also the lead wordsmith:

    "I know, oh, do I know what an annoyance we are in the bosom of this great body, but we are a constitutional annoyance. And I remind you of that fact."

    Hyde, imploring the senators to vote up or down the articles of impeachment: "However you vote, we'll all collect our papers, bow from the waist, thank you for your courtesy, and go gently into the night."

    Sometimes the other managers chime in. George Gekas, Pennsylvania Republican: "Do we have to check with them to know what kind of paper to take notes on?" McCollum describes this banter as "sort of a jousting about in a friendly way."

    But to some senators, particularly Democrats, the "jousting about" has become downright annoying.

    "I think it's tiresome," said Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. "It's kind of wearing thin with me, to be honest."

    "They seem to bring with them a little bit of a chip on their shoulder that they don't need to bring," said West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller. "Especially considering that half this body is made up of former House members."

    Trent Lott, Ron Wyden, James Inhofe, Jon Kyl, Rick Santorum,Olympia Snowe, Connie Mack, John Breaux. And so on.

    "Maybe some of them are sensitive about that image," McCollum said, but he enjoys talking to them during breaks in the trial.

    Sensitive?

    Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) has begun referring to the managers as the "13 new senators" because of how they have wormed their way into the decision-making process of this trial.

    Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), newly arrived from the House side, served on Judiciary, tried to put his sentiments delicately. "I think the House managers are basically out to, let me put this right. As was said by Dale Bumpers, they want to win this case too much. That's what I think."

    Democratic senators believe their Republicans cohorts have been boxed in. They don't want to be perceived as "pulling the rug from under their House colleagues," as Breaux (D-La.) put it, and yet they can't seem to find a way out of a trial they know will result in acquittal. The appearance then is that the House managers have the upper hand. Scraping, clawing, sometimes bowing, mind you, but nonetheless prolonging a trial that most senators want to end.

    The irony is that Senate Republicans are cheering them on. They don't find the House prosecutors impudent. They find them reasonable underdogs.

    "There's been nothing that they've said that's been offensive to me," said Iowa's Charles Grass ley.

    "I think the House managers have done an outstanding job," said Christopher Bond of Missouri.

    And so the Senate looks more and more like the House – not the serious, sober-minded body that would elevate the trial to a high plane. But like two teams at a picnic squaring off for tug-of-war. Republicans on their side, Democrats on theirs.

    And no winners, said Wyden, an Oregon Democrat.

    "I'm sure the country looks at all of this and says, 'What planet does Washington, D.C., reside on?' "

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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