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KWAME HOLMAN: With the evidence presented and the closing arguments completed, the senate today prepared for final deliberations in the impeachment trial.
SEN. TRENT LOTT, Majority Leader: I would note that if each senator uses his or her entire debate time, the proceedings would take 25 hours, not including breaks and recesses. And, therefore, I remind all senators that Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address in less than three minutes, and Kennedy’s first inaugural was slightly over seven minutes. But certainly, every senator will have his or her opportunity to speak for up to 15 minutes if that is their desire.
KWAME HOLMAN: But before that happened, senators were asked to decide whether they would suspend their rules and let visitors to the gallery and a national television audience watch them deliberate.
SEN.TRENT LOTT: I move to suspend the rules on behalf of Senators Hutchinson, Harkin, and others in order to conduct open deliberations.
WILLIAM REHNQUIST: The yeas and nays are automatic. The clerk will call the roll.
CLERK: Mr. Abrahams.
KWAME HOLMAN: The motion to open the senate’s deliberations to public view was supported by all 45 Democrats and 14 Republicans, but suspending the rules requires two-thirds of the senate or 67 votes, and the motion was defeated.
WILLIAM REHNQUIST: On this vote, the yeas are 59, the nays are 41. Two-thirds of those senators voting, a quorum being present, not having voted in the affirmative, it is not agreed to.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, one of the main sponsors of the open deliberations effort, didn’t concede immediately.
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, (R) Texas: Mr. Chief Justice, Rule 20 says that while the senate is in session, the doors shall remain open unless the senate directs that the doors be closed. My inquiry is this: If the senate, by a majority, voted not to direct the doors to be closed, would it be an order to proceed to deliberations with the doors open?
KWAME HOLMAN: Chief Justice William Rehnquist said it would not. He ruled the precedent established during the 1868 impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson argued that the doors be closed.
WILLIAM REHNQUIST: Senator Howard reported the rules for the committee and clearly understated his intention. And Chief Justice Chase in the Andrew Johnson trial stated in response to an inquiry, “there can be no deliberation unless the doors are closed. There can be no debate under the rules unless the doors be closed.” And I understand, from the parliamentarian, it’s been the consistent practice of the senate for the last 130 years in impeachment trials to require deliberations, and debate by the senate to be held in closed session. And, though there may be ambiguity between rules, my ruling is based partly on deference to the senate’s long-standing practice. In the opinion of the chair there can be no deliberation on any question before the senate in open session unless the senate suspends its rules or consent is granted.
SPOKESPERSON: Mr. Chief justice -
SEN. TRENT LOTT: That record having been made, I now move the doors for final deliberations be closed.
KWAME HOLMAN: But those who supported keeping the doors open, and there were 59 of them, still could have defeated the upcoming motion to close the doors with a simple majority. That, more than likely, would have forced senators to reconsider the issue. That’s what Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin said he was hoping for.
SEN. TOM HARKIN, (D) Iowa: If we could have gotten 51 votes – Senator Specter is right — we would have had a little bit of a stalemate, and I believe it would have been resolved differently. I checked with the parliamentarian. At that point, someone could have sent another motion to the desk to suspend the rules. I believe, and I’m only speaking for myself, I believe that faced with the prospect of either having absolutely no final deliberation or having it in open session, we might have picked up those other eight votes that we needed if we’d have just had a little bit more time, as Senator Specter said, to be able to have this kind of a stalemate for just a little while and talk about it.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, on the second vote, Harkin’s side actually lost support. Faced with the possibility of no deliberations at all, 12 of the 14 Republicans supporting open debate, nevertheless, voted to close the doors. Maine Republican Olympia Snowe explained why she switched her vote.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE, (R) Maine: I did not support it in the procedural motions because I do think it was important to maintain the judicial character and the judicial temperament of these proceedings. But I do think in the final deliberations that we will have reached our conclusions, and, therefore, I think they should be open so that everybody deserves to hear our final positions.
KWAME HOLMAN: In an effort to compromise, Majority Leader Trent Lott suggested senators be allowed to put statements they make during deliberations into the Congressional Record.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: Senator Daschle, and I think this is the fair way to make that record, and we would urge that it be adopted.
KWAME HOLMAN: But that proposal prompted some confusion.
SENATOR: What you’re saying is any senator who so wishes can do so. Might that not apply to all of the closed sessions we’ve had?
SENATOR: I would assume that in your concurrence that that could go into the congressional record, it would require all the participants of the colloquy.
SENATOR: I think under the rules, we’re limited to one intervention of a specific time period. Does the majority leader contemplate approaching that differently?
SENATOR: Could a senator give his or her statement in public and then give the same statement in closed session and still not violate the ethics rules?
WILLIAM REHNQUIST: The parliamentarian tells me this is all out of order. (Laughter)
SEN. TRENT LOTT: Mr. Chief Justice, if I may, I will — in a moment I will make a motion to close the doors for the deliberations. However, I believe we have to dispose of this pending motion.
WILLIAM REHNQUIST: The question is on the motion, however, amorphous it may be.
KWAME HOLMAN: The senate eventually agreed members who wished could have their statements published, and after a day of open parliamentary give and take, the senate shut its doors and began the trial deliberations, which are expected to continue through tomorrow.