The unanimously passed Senate Impeachment Resolution is obviously
popular on the Hill, but is it likely to lead to justice?
Consistent with their perennial discomfort as the majority party,
Senate Republicans have unilaterally surrendered their majority leverage
by conceding the trial procedure negotiations. The resolution initially
limits the scope of the issues to the Starr Report and interposes
several obstacles to the Republicans’ quest to adduce live witnesses.
Following each side’s 24-hour presentation and the senators’ questions,
the White House will be allowed to file a motion to dismiss the case on
the grounds that the prosecution has failed to prove that Clinton
engaged in the alleged conduct and that such conduct is impeachable. A
simple majority in favor of the motion will end the case in its tracks
prior to the introduction of any witnesses.
If the House managers’ case survives the motion to dismiss,
Republicans will face the additional roadblocks of voting on motions to
subpoena live witnesses and to present any evidence not in the record.
If those motions carry, the witnesses will have to be deposed and
subject to a further vote before they can be called to testify. Rep.
McCollum correctly fears that the managers’ prospects for calling
witnesses will be significantly reduced after the Senate has heard a
week’s worth of arguments concerning the evidence.
When are Republicans going to learn that bipartisanship can only be
achieved if Democrats get their way? Thus a unanimous vote, almost by
definition, means Republicans have been snookered. Historically, when
Republicans make major concessions like this they neither win in
substance nor with the public. Whether the contested issue is tax policy
or the rule of law they lose when abandoning their principles. And even
to consider not calling witnesses in a trial is an abandonment of
principles — and maddening!
If there is spirit of cooperation now, it will certainly evaporate
once the motion to dismiss fails. Sen. Slade Gorton’s reaction to the
resolution is ominous: “I hope we’ve got a hundred happy campers now.
We’re probably not going to after we start the trial perhaps, but we do
now.” So what have Republicans gained with this illusion of bipartisan
harmony if its life span is only a week? The Democrats, on the other
hand, will have gained immeasurably because they will be able
successfully to malign the Republicans when they move for live testimony
and/or an expansion of the record following a failed motion to dismiss.
Sen. Sarbanes telegraphs the inevitable outcome: “At that point we could
Divide again, indeed. Then we are going to witness the Democrats
reverting to their most petty and childishly partisan behavior. In
pulling out all the stops to save Clinton they will coordinate with the
White House in an all out public relations assault on the Republicans.
Can’t you just hear their feigned outrage now?
It is hardly cynical to suggest that many leading Democrats do not
want a full and fair hearing in this matter. USA Today reported Friday
that no less than Minority Leader Daschle often strategizes with Bill
Clinton in late night phone calls about the substance and procedure of
the Senate trial. So much for his oath of impartiality!
Republicans should heed Phil Gramm’s axiom that when you are going to
catch hell no matter what you do, you might as well do the right thing
and follow the Constitution. Besides, pollster John Zogby disputes the
notion that a rancorous Senate trial could jeopardize the Republicans’
Senate majority, finding that there is little evidence of a political
Only one potentially redeeming scenario remains. If the White House,
as promised, mounts a vigorous defense (including: vicious hearsay
attacks on the character and credibility of witnesses and disputing
indisputable facts with offensive assertions such as that Clinton did
not lie or that he wasn’t rehearsing Bettie Currie’s testimony but
merely refreshing his recollection), sleeping marginal Republicans may
awaken with renewed resolve. Honorable Democrats like Byrd and Moynihan
may then finally rise up to put an end to what Byrd aptly called
Clinton’s “egregious display of shameless arrogance, the like of which I
don’t think I have seen.”
So maybe, despite the ill-conceived compromise, we still have a
chance for justice after all.