Sarbanes switches, backs opening of debate

Bipartisan spirit missing, spokesman says

Trial In The Senate

January 27, 1999|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A day after voting to close the Senate debate in President Clinton's trial, Maryland Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes switched and voted to pry open the doors.

A spokesman for the state's senior senator said Sarbanes' switch came after the Senate failed in Monday night's closed-door session to reach bipartisan agreement on how the trial should conclude.

Yesterday, the doors remained closed for debate on the House prosecutors' request to hear witnesses. Democrats, including Sarbanes, oppose witnesses, while Republicans, who hold a 55-45 majority, favor the move. A vote is expected today.

"Senator Sarbanes voted to follow Senate rules and conduct closed-door deliberations [on Monday] because he believed that doing so furnished the Senate with an opportunity of reaching a fair, expeditious and dignified end to the trial," said Jesse Jacobs, a Sarbanes spokesman.

On Monday, five Democrats, including Sarbanes, voted to debate in secret a motion to dismiss the charges. Yesterday, six Democrats voted to keep the debate closed. The two who switched were Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who voted to open the debates Monday, was sick yesterday and did not participate in any of the trial's proceedings.

"The closed session [on Monday] did not result in a bipartisan solution," Jacobs said. "In view of these developments, the senator believes that the debate on the issue of witnesses should be held in the public forum."

Earlier this month, at the outset of the Senate trial, the Senate caucused in a closed session to hash out an agreement on the conduct of the trial. Sarbanes hailed that debate, in which he took part, as an example of the bipartisan spirit that is now missing.

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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