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Move to Senate makes impeachment a GOP battle

When Congress comes back to work this week, its first order of business will be the impeachment trial of the president, resuming a divisive process which has already brought months of anguish to both the nation and its leaders.

But as the venue changes from impeachment in the House to trial in the Senate, so, too, does the nature of the conflict. Before the Christmas intermission, the battle was joined on almost purely partisan grounds, as House Republicans, with minimal help from the Democratic minority, voted two articles of impeachment against President Clinton.

Now the fight is within the Republican Party, with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., trying to forge a bipartisan compromise on trial procedure in the face of opposition from the House prosecutors, some conservative senators and the conservative interest groups who form much of the party's political base of support.

It is still unclear how Lott's dilemma, a crucial test of his and possibly his party's political future, will be resolved. In addition to consulting with his colleagues, Lott has been talking with House Judiciary Committee chairman Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., about ways to proceed. There are likely to be many twists and turns in a process that has been tested only once before in U.S. history, and in that case 130 years ago.

"We're all in uncharted territory here," Rep. Charles T. Canady, R-Fla., one of the House impeachment managers said in an interview last week. "None of us has ever done this before."

Lott has indicated he will formally convene the trial as early as Jan. 11. Under the Constitution, Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist will preside, and will swear in the senators as jurors.

The Constitution gives the Senate virtual carte blanche on how it wishes to conduct the trial. Also, any senator may move to end or suspend the trial at any time, and needs only a simple majority, or 51 votes to accomplish it. Rehnquist would break ties.

Both this reality _ and the knowledge that it takes a two-thirds majority to convict a president and remove him from office _ are motivating Lott to seek some sort of compromise that Democrats and his conservative colleagues can stomach.

Lott's plan, apparently supported by most Democratic senators and an uncertain number of Republicans, envisions a procedure in which senators, after initial arguments from both sides, would vote on whether the alleged offenses committed by Clinton during his involvement with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, rose to the level of removal from office.

The trial would proceed only if two-thirds of senators agreed. Otherwise the Senate would move toward consideration of some kind of resolution censuring the president for his alleged misconduct.

By contrast, the House prosecutors, known as "managers," argue that only with a full-scale trial, complete with witnesses, will the Senate be able to make an informed judgment in the case and comply with its obligations under the Constitution.

Here is how the two leading options might be put into effect:

The Lott plan

Lott's office has emphasized that nothing is final about his proposal, first conceived by Sens. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., as a bipartisan method of quickly disposing of impeachment while giving both sides a fair opportunity to present their cases.

Under the plan, the House managers would present their case for conviction and removal from office on Monday, Jan. 11, and the White House would present its defense Jan. 12. On Jan. 13, the Senate would ask questions of the two sides, by passing them to Rehnquist, as the Constitution requires, who will read them. On Jan. 14, the Senate will vote on whether the alleged offenses rise to the level of conviction and removal from office.

With no Democrat now known to support removal, it appears unlikely the measure will receive anything close to the two-thirds majority necessary to resume a full-scale trial. At that point, the likeliest outcome is that the Senate will close the trial and consider a censure resolution.

This procedure responds to an early proposal by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that a "hard count" to determine senators' views be taken early in the proceeding. It would serve as evidence to support the view expressed by many senators that the nation not be treated to an unseemly public discussion of the president's sexual habits when the votes to convict do not exist.

Many sources say, however, that Lott would be unlikely to press forward with his plan unless he could get a majority of the senate's 55 Republicans to support it, along with what would likely be almost all of the 45 Democrats. If the plan is dropped, sources point out that an early straw poll of sorts could be conducted in any number of other ways.

Any senator could immediately move to end the trial, or the White House could move to dismiss the proceeding on grounds the alleged offenses did not rise to the level of conviction. In either case, the Senate would vote on the measures, and if two-thirds of senators did not oppose them, the results could be regarded as de facto evidence that there is not enough support for conviction.

If the Lott option, or something similar, succeeds, the Senate would then likely begin debating censure.

Financial penalties mentioned thus far include fines up to the amount of the Lewinsky investigation, loss of pension and withholding of funds for Clinton's presidential library. Still, enthusiasm for a financial penalty appears lukewarm at best.

The Senate must also decide whether a censure proposal would require Clinton to admit he lied under oath, a demand of many Republicans and one the president has so far resisted. Former Senator and 1996 GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole, among others, has suggested putting the two impeachment articles in a joint censure resolution, passing it in the Senate and House, and having Clinton sign it "at a public ceremony," effectively acknowledging he lied.

Some sources have also argued that the resolution should include the substance of the articles of impeachment; others say it should be toughly worded. There is also disagreement over whether it should require a presidential signature.

Formal, full-scale trial

House managers say they are sympathetic to the public desire to finish with impeachment as rapidly as possible, and maintain that a full-scale proceeding need not consume the country for months. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., last week suggested the trial could be over in two to three weeks, even with testimony from 10 to 15 witnesses.

Some say that's overly optimistic. Under Senate rules, the White House must be given a significant period of time to respond to the charges read by the managers. Faced with the prospect of a full-scale trial it seems unlikely the president's counsel would forgo this preparation period _ probably 30 days _ or that the House managers would forgo the subsequent two weeks allowed by the rules for them to prepare their own response.

And once the trial begins, it is difficult to see how the calling of witnesses could fail to prolong it.

In the absence of the Lott plan, however, the Senate has infinite ways of controlling the proceeding, probably by passing a resolution or resolutions governing procedures.

Other possibilities

Even if the Lott plan leads to an early determination that the trial should not continue, senators may choose to suspend the proceedings, rather than end them, with the assumption that it could resume if the White House fails to cooperate on censure.

But what if the Senate cannot agree on censure details?

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has said censure "isn't worth a tinker's damn," and if enough senators agree with him, Clinton could end up with the Senate inflicting no punishment whatever.

There is also no assurance Clinton will agree to such a confession. If he continues to refuse, and Republican senators continue to insist, the proceedings could reach impasse with the trial still pending.

Finally, if more evidence of Clinton wrongdoing surfaces, his Senate support could erode enough for conviction if the offenses are egregious, but enough in almost any case to complicate efforts to craft a censure resolution.

Any of these possibilities, or a combination of them, could leave the trial dangling: not enough votes to convict, and not enough votes to do anything else.

Ex-klansman Duke raises money in bid to succeed Livingston

ARLINGTON, Va. _ Seeking donations from an audience sympathetic to his view that too many federal policies favor blacks, Jews and other minorities over whites, David Duke arrived in the Washington area Saturday to drum up support for his latest political endeavor.

Duke is the first Republican to declare his candidacy for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Robert Livingston of Louisiana, who announced his intention to resign soon after he was selected to succeed Newt Gingrich as House speaker. Duke brought along a stack of volumes of his new autobiography, My Awakening, and told a crowd of about 100 he would become the first person in Congress "to stand up openly and proudly" to defend the rights of Christian whites.

Bashing diversity as a destructive force, he concluded his hourlong speech by saying, "If we lose European-Americans, we lose America."

As a Ku Klux Klan leader in the 1970s, he made his points in white robes and at demonstrations. More recently, he has taken the more genteel path of business suits and electoral politics. He served one term in the Louisiana House of Representatives before losing a 1990 U.S. Senate race to J. Bennett Johnston. He lost the 1991 Louisiana governor's race to Edwin Edwards. In 1996, he finished fourth in a field of nine in an open primary for the Senate seat now held by Mary Landrieu, a Democrat.