They've heard the arguments. They've seen the videotaped
depositions of witnesses. Now, after five weeks of official silence,
the 100 senators sitting as jurors and judges in President Clinton's
impeachment trial today begin final deliberations among themselves.
It's a complicated moment for the Senate. There are, of course,
the fundamental ethical and legal determinations of Mr. Clinton's
guilt or innocence.
But these are mingled with other considerations - party loyalty,
national harmony, and the reputation of the elite body itself. How
much weight these issues should carry is for each senator to decide -
and the Senate's collective action is one that will be scrutinized
One Senate veteran, Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia, epitomized
the individual struggles senators are going through as they weigh
both crimes and consequences, principles and practicality.
"I have to live with myself. I have to live with my conscience.
I have to live with the Constitution," said Senator Byrd in a
television interview. Byrd explained he is torn between his belief
that Clinton is guilty of "high crimes and misdemeanors" and his
worry that removing the president might harm the best interests of
The job of Byrd and other senators is not made any easier by the
wide open rules of impeachment trials. Under the rules, each of the
100 senators has complete freedom to rate the evidence and set the
grounds for impeachment.
Moreover, as senators decide the president's future, they face
pressure to make sure whatever they do looks good - for themselves,
for the Senate, and ultimately in the sweep of history. "This really
has been a watershed event for the US Senate," says Sen. Robert
Bennett (R) of Utah.
The question of political appearances is especially relevant to
the first of three critical decisions the Senate will likely make
this week: a vote expected today on whether to open the final
deliberations to the public.
The vote is significant because it could offer senators their only
formal opportunity to explain their views on impeachment both to a
national audience and for the historical record. Under existing
Senate rules, final deliberations are held behind closed doors, with
each lawmaker allotted 15 minutes to speak.
But with most Americans opposed to conviction, and growing
disapproval of the Senate's handling of the trial, a group of
Democratic and Republican senators is seeking to open the