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As Impeachment Vote Nears, Senators Break from Parties

By Guy Gugliotta and
Eric Pianin
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Secret deliberations in President Clinton's impeachment trial wound toward a finish Thursday, as a fourth Republican announced plans to reject both articles, pushing conviction supporters within a single vote of failing to win even a simple majority against the president when the Senate casts its votes Friday.

While describing Clinton's conduct as "deplorable and indefensible," Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) said she became convinced that "the president's wrongdoing can and should be effectively addressed by the criminal justice system" rather than removal from office. Senators of both parties predicted another moderate Republican from Maine, Susan M. Collins, might also vote against the charge that Clinton obstructed justice, but her office did not confirm her intentions.

Meeting in secret from 10 a.m. until shortly after 7 p.m., with a break only for lunch, the Senate heard about 30 members of both parties outline their views on the second presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history.

By the end of the day, senators said, there were only three or four senators left to speak, including Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), and Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) viewed as the leading exponent of Senate traditions and procedures. Lott said he hoped the Senate would vote by 11 a.m. or noon EST Friday.

Even as the deliberations proceeded, a steady stream of senators called news conferences, issued statements or submitted speeches explaining their positions. Virtually all the statements, even from Democrats, condemned Clinton's behavior in the scandal with language like "disgraceful" and "reprehensible," though the two parties parted company on the proper punishment; Democrats said the president should remain in office, while most Republicans affirmed conviction as a just result for disgraceful conduct.

It has been certain for weeks that the Senate will not muster the two-thirds majority needed to oust Clinton from office, and in the past few days enthusiasm for the first impeachment article alleging perjury in Clinton's Aug. 17 grand jury testimony has waned to the point where it will almost certainly not win 50 votes.

Snowe's announcement meant that four Republicans are now on record opposing the second article, alleging obstruction of justice in Clinton's efforts to conceal his sexual involvement with Monica S. Lewinsky. The others Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.), and John H. Chafee (R-R.I.) announced their opposition Wednesday.

If Democrats, as is widely expected, close ranks to oppose both articles, only a maximum of 51 senators, all Republicans, could be counted on to vote for the obstruction article. Still giving little clue to their intentions were two early GOP waverers, Collins and Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala).

The only question in the Democrat camp was Byrd, who has not said categorically that he will vote against both articles.

Democrats have said that, after the Senate returns to regular legislative session, they will make a parliamentary move aimed at forcing a vote on their resolution to censure Clinton.