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Senate Republicans

February 12, 1999 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Some words now from eight of the 100 senators who cast their votes today. First, four Republicans: Robert Bennett and Orrin Hatch, both of Utah, who voted to convict on both counts; John Chafee of Rhode Island, who voted not guilty on both articles; and John Warner of Virginia, who voted not guilty on the perjury charge, guilty on obstruction of justice. I talked to them shortly after the trial adjourned.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Hatch, was this a just and fair verdict reached in a just and fair manner?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, it was a verdict reached by the senate, and that’s all it takes. And I have to say that it was just and fair, as far as I could see. But, you know, there is a wide divide between the two parties.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Chafee, fair and just?

SEN. JOHN CHAFEE: I think so. I think that the senate really acquitted itself in excellent fashion throughout this. I think it was fair, and the decision was made, and I accept the decision.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Warner?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: I’m proud of the senate. We followed the Constitution. We followed our oaths, due process and fairness, and we had good leaders in Lott and Daschle.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Bennett?

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: The fact that the vote was 50-50 does not in any way demonstrate how senators agonized over this decision. I think the people who were on the extreme end, saying there’s absolutely no merit or the president was slam-dunk guilty, are probably no more than ten on each side, and the other 80 worked to try to come to a decision, and it was a very, very close call for all of us. I’m satisfied that the process worked.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Hatch, do you have trouble understanding how your colleague, Senator Chafee, could have voted the way he did?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: No. I think every senator had a right to vote his or her own conscience and, of course, to do impartial justice, so I’m not going to judge any senator, and knowing Senator Chafee, he’s a person who basically looks at these things very carefully, and I’m certainly not going to second-guess him. He’s entitled to vote the way he wants to.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Chafee, how do you feel about Senator Hatch, Senator Bennett and others who voted to convict on both counts?

SEN. JOHN CHAFEE: Well, I know that each of them took this case and was — first, with the solemn oath we all took, everybody recognized that — certainly the three senators you mentioned did– and they spent a lot of time on this. We all sat through this. There was tremendous attendance throughout all of the presentations, and they came to a conclusion, and I don’t fault them one bit for their conclusions. This wasn’t the easiest call in the world, Jim. This was difficult.

JIM LEHRER: Did you feel a special pressure on you, Senator Chafee, because you were a Republican?

SEN. JOHN CHAFEE: No, I did not. Never once did any member of the leadership speak to me and say, I wish you’d vote such and such a way. I would have — they know I would have deeply resented that, and no member of the leadership even broached it.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Warner, how should President Clinton interpret this vote?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, I said once this verdict is in, and it’s now done, the nation has to turn to healing itself. This is a weakened president, and he cannot give that full measure of strength– certainly not right away — to this nation that it needs. So it’s your job, my job, my colleagues and every citizen to join together to heal this nation, put this behind us. And this, Jim, is where I differ with some of my colleagues right in this room. Censure would only prolong this debate. It’s behind us. We need to heal ourselves, get on. The people of this nation must restore the strength that the president cannot right now. I think we’ll work as a bipartisan congress with this president and achieve a great deal in the next six months.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Bennett, you said that — you said President Clinton was the most notorious liar to ever serve in that office. Can you now turn the page and work with him on Social Security or any one of a number of other issues?

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: Well, what I said was no harsher than some of the things that were said by many members of his own party, some on the record and some in our closed session. So I think all of us have the challenge now of going forward. But there’s an old statement about, if I may, Jim, those of you in the media, your idea of a good story is you and him fight about it, and I’ll write about it.

JIM LEHRER: Mm-hmm.

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: And I don’t want anybody in the media to try to pick an artificial fight. I get along fine with those members of the administration with whom I have to deal on a daily basis, and I will continue to. The president has never called me personally for a vote. I don’t expect he ever will. And those who do call and talk to me, I’m always open to and they’re open to me.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Hatch, you heard what Senator Warner said, that this was a weakened president. Some would suggest he’s a wounded president and would question whether or not he’s able to function as President of the United States. What’s your judgment on that?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, you know, our constitutional system works, and the man has been acquitted. He is the President of the United States. Regardless of differences, I think we have to support him when he’s right, and we have to do everything we can to support this institution of the presidency. I think he’s been weakened. I don’t think there’s any question about that. You should have heard what the Democrats had to say about him. Not one person in the whole United States Senate stood up for him in the sense of his actions. Every one of them condemned his actions, and some of them much more harshly than Senator Bennett here today.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: And the other day. So, you know, I think we’re going to make this country continue to work, there’s no question about it, and we’re going to work with whoever is president. And I for one will do everything in my power to help this president end his last two years on a high note.

JIM LEHRER: On a personal level, Senator Hatch, I mean you have a leadership position, and you’re chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and that’s a high job in the United States Senate. Just in the normal course of human events, you’re going to have a lot of occasions to deal with President Clinton. Are you not going to feel the least bit uneasy on a personal level? You voted to remove the man from office, and now you’re going to have to work with him.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, he knows I’ve been very fair to him throughout this process. The fact that I think that he did lie under oath and commit obstruction of justice, I think about 100 senators — well, maybe three of them didn’t, but 97 of the senators think the same, they just — many of them just felt on those two counts that they didn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense. But sure I can work with him. We’ve worked well together before, although we’ve had wide disagreements. In fact, I went straight from the impeachment vote through some of the media to my office, where I met with the top leaders of the Justice Department working for him. So I’m going to continue to do what’s right for this country, and that means working with whoever is president.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Chafee, what’s your view of the…

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Can I just say one word here, Jim?

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Yes, sir, Senator Warner.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Our paramount responsibility is our national security and the world leadership that we have taken with other nations. This cannot flounder for a minute. And in the past 30 days, I have worked almost on a daily basis with the president’s security team, secretary of state, defense, security adviser and the like. I assure you that that team can work, we are working with them, and the security of this country is strong. Let no nation, let no group of individuals think that this experience, although it has weakened us somewhat, in any way should open up this nation to any type of problem. We’re there and we’re prepared.

JIM LEHRER: But, Senator Warner, what about the average American out there who has listened to all the statements that you all have made– and Senator Hatch is right; the Democrats have said just as tough things about the president as you Republicans have– and then say, “okay, now, we’re supposed to put all of that aside and see you all working with the president just like nothing ever happened?”

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Jim, there is no other alternative but to do just that. I think that he will recognize the need for the added strength that the congress can provide, the restoration of the rule of law by the judiciary branch and, indeed, the collective advice and help of citizens all across this country. That’s why we should put this thing behind us and not dwell on this censure.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

SEN. JOHN CHAFEE: Jim?

JIM LEHRER: Yes, Senator Chafee.

SEN. JOHN CHAFEE: You’ve got to realize that, to get anything done around this place, you got three big actors: You’ve got the House, you’ve got the senate and you’ve got the administration. The administration is a very, very powerful player. The president, amongst his other tools, has the veto. So even though he might be weakened to some degree, the administration is still– and that means the president– are still very, very powerful players. If we want to get something done in Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, health care, whatever it is, education, it’s going to require that we work with the president, and everybody realizes that.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Senator Bennett, Senator Chafee just mentioned the House of Representatives, which brings to mind the House managers. How should they react to this? Should they turn the corner — turn the page, as well? Do you expect them to? What should they do?

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: Well, the House managers have to be disappointed that they didn’t get more votes, and some of them, and I understand Mr. Schippers from the house judiciary committee, keep saying, “well, if only we had had a full trial the way you have in a courtroom, we’d have convinced everybody.” The Founding Fathers, I think, very wisely said the trial should be held by the senate. And the Founding Fathers recognized that senators would not check at the door their understanding of the president and his background. We frankly didn’t need all of the trappings of a full trial in order to come to a fair decision. As they begin to understand that, I think they’ll realize that they’ve been treated with great respect in the senate. I know of very few senators that don’t feel high respect for the job they did. I think they acquitted themselves extremely well in the way they presented their case, and I would hope, once the initial disappointment has sunk in and then worn off, they’ll look back at this and say, “you know, this was one of our better hours.”

JIM LEHRER: Senator Hatch, do you think… Do you agree with Senator Bennett that a full- scale trial wouldn’t have changed the end result?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: I don’t think it would have. I predicted months ago that there would not be one democrat who would vote for conviction. I felt very confident of that throughout the whole process. And it’s very difficult for them to vote against their president, and — but you should have heard them throughout this process. They were pretty tough. But let me just say this to you.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: The House managers, they did a terrific job. So did the president’s attorneys. But the House managers presented a very compelling case. And they ought to walk away as prosecutors who have lost and consider this justice done, even though they disagreed with what happened in the senate.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Warner, there’s another element to this, and that is the possibility that the independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, might bring criminal charges against the president following his acquittal today by the senate. What do you think of that as an idea?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, I started off on this program by saying it’s time for the nation to heal. That’s why I didn’t support censure. I think to keep a criminal trial hanging over his head will not help him, and I really believe that that should not be used as, in any way, a weapon, to enable him to recover to the extent he can, do his job and work with us. Jim, this nation must heal itself, put this behind us and get on with our business and resume being the leader of the world, not only in military matters, but in economic matters.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Chafee, what’s your view of the Starr indictment possibility?

SEN. JOHN CHAFEE: I just think that if somebody wants to bring something up two years after the… From now, when the president’s left office, I can see that. But in the meantime, I just think let’s set all this aside. We’ve had enough of this, and so I would not — I’m not quite sure the mechanism that would be used two years from now and what the statute of limitations is, but enough’s enough so far.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Bennett, enough’s enough?

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: Well, I’m unburdened with a legal education, so I can’t comment on the legal ramifications of what is being talked about. I’m not sure, frankly, that some of the things that are being attributed to the office of independent counsel actually came from the office of independent counsel.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. But do you think he should do it? Do you think he should?

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: No. I think it would be a waste of time.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Hatch, what do you think? You are burdened with a legal education, Senator Hatch.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Yeah, I am burdened with it. It’s a big burden to carry around here sometimes, especially on the Judiciary Committee.

JIM LEHRER: Right.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: But he’s not going to do that. He’s not going to do that. I think that’s just wishful thinking on the part of some in the media who want to keep this thing going and maybe some of the partisans who might want to keep this going. But he’s not going to do that, and I doubt seriously once the president leaves office that they’ll do that either.

JIM LEHRER: So you really feel — you really feel this thing is over, Senator Hatch?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Yes, I do. I think it’s over, and I personally believe we ought to all gain from this. The president should certainly gain from this. He has two years to redeem himself and to try and make the rest of his presidency a good presidency. And I think that all of us here on Capitol Hill, when he does what’s right, we’re going to stick right with him and see what we can do, because, after all, it’s the country that we’re trying to help. It’s not any individual. And if he can do what’s right, we’re going to be there with him.

JIM LEHRER: All right, gentlemen, all four, thank you very much.

SENATORS: Thank you.