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Senators React

January 21, 1999 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: The perspectives of six of the 100 U.S. senators who must now pass judgment on the case against the president: Three Republicans– Charles Grassley of Iowa, John Chafee of Rhode Island, and Robert Bennett of Utah– and three Democrats– Barbara Boxer of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Joe Biden of Delaware.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Chafee, both sides have now presented their cases. Do you have enough information to make a judgment as to whether the president should be removed from office?

SEN. JOHN CHAFEE, (R) Rhode Island: Well, I think that, as you know, one of the points of contention that does divide the two parties is the question of witnesses. And I’m anxious to see what the House wants for witnesses, and if they can make a legitimate case then, for a very limited group, we would permit those witnesses to go forward; the same for the White House if they’d like some witnesses. When that’s completed, I think it would be good if we could have a little time set aside for rebuttal. There is no question that but the party that goes last is the party you remember. And I think perhaps if we had a little time for rebuttal, it would be helpful.

JIM LEHRER: So, you have not made a judgment yourself?

SEN. JOHN CHAFEE: No, I have not.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Leahy, have you?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) Vermont: Well, I am ready to go to a vote. I think that the — I think the Republican leadership feels that they do not have the votes for a conviction, that’s basically what they feel, but I think there is a responsibility of the country to wrap this up one way or the other — vote to convict the president or vote to acquit the president. I am willing to go into the final senate debate. I’ve heard all the facts. I’ve heard both sides. I’m willing to listen to the debate of the senators and then vote, vote it one way or the other, but get this thing wrapped up.

JIM LEHRER: You mean vote on the articles of impeachment?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Vote on the articles of impeachment and let the country have the congress back and go on with life, but have our debate. We could do that over the weekend and vote it up or vote it down.

JIM LEHRER: On Monday or Tuesday.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Grassley, could you do that?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY, (R) Iowa: I hope Senator Leahy will get this business out his head that the Republican leadership or even 55 Republicans in the caucus are somehow just waiting to get enough votes to get rid of the president because that feeds right into the spin that we’re hearing.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: That’s not what I said. That’s not even chose to what I said, Chuck and you know that’s not what I said.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: I’m telling you that I want to get away from this business that you’re thinking of yourself as a Democrat and I’m thinking of myself as a Republican. We are leaving our Republican and Democrat labels at the door. That’s what we should do, Pat. And by the way, to answer your question, Jim, I’m not prepared to make that decision right now.

JIM LEHRER: You don’t feel you have enough information to make that judgment?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: On a vote, no. I think the time for me to make that judgment will be at the end of the three hours of debate of whether or not we are going to have — need witnesses or not just before we vote on it. For a non-lawyer like me, I think that summation is pretty important for me to make my final judgment.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Boxer, where are you right now just as far as making up your mind?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER, (D) California: I think it’s pretty much time that we vote up or down on these articles. I think the people want us to do it. It’s not a matter of being a Democrat or a Republican. It’s not a matter of how each of us votes. I have great respect for my colleagues who would vote to convict and great respect for those who vote to acquit. But what I hear my Republican friends saying, and they are my friends, is basically they want to stretch this out. Now we have heard this over and over again. I watched the House debate on the floor. I watched the Judiciary Committee. I read the Ken Starr Report. I’ve now heard both sides. I’m willing to ask questions and let’s get on with that, but it is time to bring down the curtain. The people want us to do it. I feel in my heart that we know so much right now. And as Senator Chafee says, he wants witnesses. Why? We know that there’s a huge record. We can look at the record that the Republicans cited. We can look at the record that the White House cited and we can decide individually which record is the one we want to go with to make our decision.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Bennett, are you ready to vote?

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT, (R) Utah: Oh, I’m very close to being ready. And I frankly think all of my colleagues probably are too. I have to keep an open mind, wait until the last word is said but I think I have a pretty good idea of how I’m going to vote.

JIM LEHRER: Do you mind telling us?

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: Yes. I do mind and I won’t.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. All right. But I mean, in other words there’s not another piece of information that you required -

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: No.

JIM LEHRER: — not a particular thing that troubles you that you’re not sure about? You’re pretty much there?

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: I’m pretty much there. And as I say, I think every other senator is, but I am keeping my mind open in case something comes up. And I have learned something in the last two weeks. I learned something from the House managers that I didn’t know about the law, the facts. I learned some things from the White House counsel that I didn’t know. So I have to keep my mind open to that. But I’d be lying to you if I said oh, I still have no opinion. Of course I have an opinion. I’ve been following this thing for over a year just like everybody else.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, where are you?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, (D) Delaware: I think both the House managers and the president made very compelling cases for their clients or for their positions. I don’t know what else could be added. I’ve examined closely what the House managers said about what witnesses, who they would want. and what they would show. And thus far I’m willing to listen to the procedure, the three-hours’ debate and why they would need that. But I don’t see how that would materially change, the witnesses they’ve suggested, would materially change the outcome. And so we have six thousand pages — let me give you an example. Monica Lewinsky, she has testified under oath over 20 times. She’s in a position where, if she is granted immunity, if she changes her position on the Senate floor, she loses her immunity. What makes anybody possibly think that anything Monica Lewinsky could say on the floor would be different than the 20 times she’s testified under oath already, all of which we have? Now if my colleagues want Monica Lewinsky, and there’s 51 votes, that’s their call. But I think the case has been made in a very articulate way by the House. They’ve said something very basic. They said look, he committed perjury and he committed obstruction of justice; they are impeachable offenses that warrant being thrown out of office. And they laid out their case. The administration came back and piece by piece by piece rebutted whether he committed perjury, whether he obstructed justice and whether that meant a high crime. The case is laying right there. Maybe I practiced law too long but it seems to me that unless the Lord Almighty is going to come down with a revelation, I don’t nor where it’s going to come from. I’m ready to go.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Chafee, is there a particular area that you’re unsure of, a particular piece of information that you would like to have before you actually cast a vote?

SEN. JOHN CHAFEE: Well, no. What my point was that it seems to me in fairness to the House presenters, if they can make a solid case to have a very limited number of witnesses, I indicated I would support that; likewise for the White House. Whether it’s going to be Monica Lewinsky or not, I haven’t heard that, necessarily that it will be her, but I think we, in fairness to the House, who has gone to all this effort, that we ought to listen to them. And, as I say, I think it’s perfectly possible to have a very limited number of witnesses tightly constricted to a certain area, and not going down any new paths. And I think it’s possible do this and still wind up this thing very rapidly. Senator Barbara Boxer indicated that we were anxious to drag it out. Certainly this senate is not anxious to drag it out. And I don’t think any of the Republicans are.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Leahy, do you think that what the witness issue is all about, is the Republicans wanting to drag it out?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Well, I don’t know if they want to drag it out. I think that most of the Republican senators I’ve talked to do not want to drag it out. But I think that what happened, that is, the effect of it is going to be, if you have say four or five House witnesses, four or five White House witnesses, you get up to eight or ten witnesses, you have to take depositions, do discovery and everything else, it could be weeks before we even get them on the floor. And then you go through all the questioning and a hundred senators will have various questions. And then you ask yourself, is there anything not already in the 60,000 pages of material we already have? The House didn’t think they needed the witnesses to vote the articles of impeachment in the first place. I don’t think we need them now.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Grassley, where do you come down on the specific question of the need for witnesses? Do you have an open mind on that or have you made a judgment?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Open mind. And here’s what I need to hear from the House managers: What new material do they need to get from witnesses that isn’t in the printed record? I would also like to have the defense though, who brought up the argument that we ought to prove beyond a reasonable doubt standard that the president’s guilty in order to be charged guilty, and if there was a lesser standard, would they then be willing to say that the president was guilty at that lesser standard if we adopted their justification?

SENATOR: That’s a good question.

JIM LEHRER: I’m sorry. Who —

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: The point is the defense said their first day and second day that the standard should be beyond a reasonable doubt that the president’s guilty. There are two lesser standards. And we should have them say to us, if we were going to use a lesser standard, would they be willing to say that the president is guilty?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Jim?

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: You know, on the question — see, what I said about the House being so thorough – the House said, look, you must find him guilty of perjury and then they cited the criminal code. And they cited the criminal code with regard to obstruction of justice. Now if we are going to be told by the House that the measure that they proved is that he committed perjury, and because he committed criminal perjury and criminal obstruction of justice that he warrants being thrown out of office, then we should apply the exact same standard we have to apply if we were jurors in a criminal case. And so we must find beyond a reasonable doubt he committed perjury. That’s the point they made. And the last point — six senators and I’m talking too long — let me say one more thing. The point is that they stated the witnesses they needed. They said they needed Betty Currie; they said they needed Vernon Jordan; and they said they needed Monica Lewinsky and they said why they needed them. I’m willing to hear them say it over again but they weren’t very compelling when they said it the first time, in my humble opinion. So, I don’t think they are needed.

JIM LEHRER: Let me go to each one of you, beginning with you, Senator Boxer, do you plan — tomorrow the process of questions from you all begins. You have to submit them through your leaders and then the chief justice will read them. Are you going to submit any questions?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes, I’ve worked on about 12 questions but I’ve told Leader Daschle on our side if they are repetitive and that other senators have asked those, I’m very happy to team up with my friend Patrick or Joe or, frankly John Chafee or Chuck Grassley, it doesn’t matter, and ask those questions, you know, together because I think we want to move this forward. And I think Senator Grassley’s point that he is concerned about, you know, the burden of proof. Obviously he can choose whatever burden of proof he wants. That’s our right. But he can ask that question very directly to both sides. He doesn’t need to have witnesses to answer that question.

JIM LEHRER: Are you going to ask that question, Senator Grassley?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Yes. That’s one of the questions that I’ve submitted just this afternoon, I submitted that.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Bennett, are you going to submit any questions?

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: I don’t know. I have been working on some but I understand that there are more than 80 already in the hopper, so what I will do in the morning is read through those. I have my staff going through the first draft right now — and see if the areas that I’m concerned about are covered. And if they are, I will simply sign my name as one of the senators who wants that question asked.

JIM LEHRER: But I take it from what you said earlier that there is no question that is so overpowering to you that could it decide which way you vote. Am I right? Don’t I read you correctly?

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: I’m not that locked in.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. All right.

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: But, as I say, I’d be lying to you if I said I haven’t a cogent view of this case and won’t have until the last word is said. I’ve been looking at this for over a year and I have some pretty strong opinions.

JIM LEHRER: Sen. Chafee, are you going to ask any questions?

SEN. JOHN CHAFEE: Yes, I’ve got three that we put in, but I’m sure, as others have pointed out, they will be blended in. And we’re meant to go over tomorrow and look at those, and there is a mass of questions totally come in – as somebody mentioned, there are 80, and there will be more by the time the deadline arrives there. And they’re going to winnow them down and get them so I’ll just sign onto one that looks like mine.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Leahy, what are you going to do on questions?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I made notes of some potential questions as we’ve gone along. But, frankly, when I think of 100 of us coming up with questions, if it was a case where at this point we could say, look, let’s both sides just waive the questions and let’s go to the senate debate and have the real debate on whether there should be conviction or not, I would be perfectly willing to do that and waive the questions I asked if we could agree that everybody would.

JIM LEHRER: That isn’t going to happen, though, is it?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Probably not, but, you know, people should give some thought to it. I mean, the idea is how long we want this to go on — if we know what the end result is going to be — how much longer do we want it to go on?

JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, are you going to ask any questions?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: No. I can’t think of any question the answer to which could fundamentally what has been shown in the exchange between the House and the managers. I can’t think of one. I can’t think of one that would so materially alter the outcome.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Grassley, let’s go back to where we began for a moment and go around on this. Is it possible — and would you agree — let’s put it that way, or support or acquiesce or whatever verb fits the thing, that once the questions have been asked and answered, then to take a vote on a final — on articles of impeachment without doing a motion to dismiss, without doing a vote on witnesses, et cetera, is that conceivable that that could happen along the lines of what Senator Leahy said a moment ago?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: If the House does not give a good showing during the three hours of debate that we have of why they need witnesses — and I’m not sure the list is as phi night as my colleagues say it is but assuming it is even that finite – I think we need to have that debate and summation, they’ve got to make a good showing, or there will not be witnesses.

JIM LEHRER: This thing could conceivably be over by the beginning of next week. Is that what you’re suggesting?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: I’m not suggesting that it ought to be done by then.

JIM LEHRER: No, no, yeah.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: But it could be under those circumstances, but that might be a rare set of circumstances as well.

JIM LEHRER: You agree, Senator Bennett, it would take a rare set of circumstances for that to happen?

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: Well, no. I think it’s entirely possible after we have the questions, that the House could say, well, you know, in answering the questions, we’ve, in effect rebutted some of the things that the White House had to say. I think we did make a mistake in our procedure that we didn’t give the prosecution a rebuttal. That’s normal in a trial. So we just have the defense statement out there without rebuttal. But all right, I can see the House saying, well, we’ve handled this in questions and we have only one witness or two witnesses, and here’s our case. And I can see the senate saying, well, that’s it.

JIM LEHRER: That’s it.

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: And, yes, I think there’s a possibility it could be wrapped up next week. I don’t think it’s going to interfere with the people’s business as people describe that. If it weren’t for the trial, we wouldn’t be in session anyway. I’d be in London. I’ve had to cancel an overseas trip for this. I don’t say that’s not the people’s business, but instead I was at a meeting this morning on the Banking Committee and we’re actually doing legislative work earlier than we normally would do because of the trial.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Chafee, change subjects. The last speaker today was of course Senator Bumpers. Do you think that had an impact? Did it have any impact on you?

SEN. JOHN CHAFEE: Oh, definitely. Yes. I think he gave a very powerful speech. We’ve all heard lots of speeches and we’ve heard a lot of Dale Bumpers’ speeches, I must say, over the years but he was excellent. He just did a super job, I thought. And whether it changed minds, who knows. It all goes into the mix. I’d just like one quick word about the witnesses.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

SEN. JOHN CHAFEE: You have got to remember every single witness has been to be voted on by the entire senate, a hundred senators. So it’s not going to be one of these things, Allee, Allee in free, bring them all on. It is going to be very limited and restricted. And I think that we can make this thing, hone it down so there are not going to be three or four, but hopefully one or two for the House and maybe one or two for the White House.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Jim?

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: One thing I would mention, Senator Bumpers did a very good job. We all know he is a very good orator — but there was obfuscation from the standpoint of his starting out about this being about sex. This is not about sex, it’s not about lying about sex. It’s about whether or not he committed perjury and whether or not the president obstructed justice. And we should concentrate on that. And we can’t allow people to detract that this has got anything to do — other than the charges that are before the President and the Senate.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Jim, may I respond to that?

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Senator Boxer.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Thank you. You know, Dale Bumpers said it the way he believes it. Chuck Grassley doesn’t think it’s about sex. Dale Bumpers think this is all about sex. And that’s what he said. And I think you have to ponder it — perjury about what? Obstruction about what? This is part of the mix, as Senator Chafee said. But for Dale Bumpers to say what Chuck Grassley said wouldn’t make any sense. So I think what Senator Bumpers did, it’s his opinion that this whole thing really isn’t about the perjury and obstruction. He thinks it’s about sex. He doesn’t think it rises to the level of evicting a president from office. And further than that, and this is my last point before Patrick – he’s going to kill me here -

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: That’s all right. No, go ahead.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: — is that I think what Dale is saying is that this whole thing is not about Bill Clinton, it’s about the Constitution. And I think that was the most powerful point he made.

JIM LEHRER: Senator -

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: In your original question, you had asked is there any possibility of wrapping this up next week?

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I think there is a very slim possibility if we really came together as we did earlier, Republicans and Democrats. But I can tell you this, if we did wrap it up, whichever way we voted on it, next week there would be a huge sigh of relief from the whole country that we wrapped it up then and didn’t drag it on for several more weeks.

JIM LEHRER: Senator.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Jim, if the House wasn’t in this, this would be wrapped up. The only reason this is going on at all — we should make independent judgments about whether we think we need witnesses and not being so deferential to the House. They made their case. Who the heck are they? They are House members. They’ve done their job. It’s our job. If any senator thinks he needs a witness to clarify his or her thinking, then ask for it. But the House — all these guys want this to end. They want — the Republicans want this to end quicker than we want it to end. It’s House. It’s their deference to the House that’s causing this. So this will be over tomorrow if the House – we’d make our independent judgment.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Grassley, I want to come back to the point you made earlier in response to Senator Leahy. Is the bipartisanship that has brought you to where you are now about to fall apart?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Not yet. And I don’t think it has to. I think that the bottom line of it is that there’s too much feeling, and maybe it was expressed by Senator Bumpers, that people who hate the president are out to get him. And it’s one year ago today that the Monica Lewinsky news broke. And I’ve sat in Republican caucuses every week, sometimes two and three times a week, and there has never been a discussion that either in small groups or in the entire caucus, that ever left the — that ever had anything to do with “let’s get the president.” Hardly the impeachment process, the Monica Lewinsky stuff just hasn’t been talked about in the high consuls of the Republican Party. So I want Senator Bumpers and other people to get over this business that we’re in this process because maybe somebody hates the president. We’re in this process because the Constitution requires us to try impeachment.

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: If I could comment on that.

JIM LEHRER: A couple of seconds.

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: People who talk about this being political, all of the political advisors tell me the Republicans would be far better off to leave Bill Clinton in office instead of sending Al Gore into the 2000 election as an incumbent president. And they say why don’t you do the smart political thing for the Republican Party — end this and leave him where he is.

JIM LEHRER: Well, we are going to have to end this where it is right now. Thank you all six very much for being with us tonight.