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Monday, December 21, 1998 Published at 15:17 GMT

Senate divided over impeachment

Bill Clinton leaves church holding a bible

Calls for censure are growing, two days after the House of Representatives made Bill Clinton only the second president in American history to be impeached.

But the Senate remains divided along party lines on how to handle Mr Clinton's case.

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In an opinion piece in the New York Times, former US presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter urged the US Senate on Monday to censure him, saying impeachment is permanent and has brought "profound disgrace" to President Bill Clinton.

Mr Ford and Mr Carter said a Senate resolution of censure should require that Clinton acknowledge he did not tell the truth under oath, but also stipulate that such an admission could not be used against him in any future criminal prosecution.

A censure would allow Clinton to keep the job he has held for six years and would be a first step, according to the former chief executives, toward healing a "grievous and deepening" national wound.

"Before the senators make history, we hope they will first turn to history for help in devising what would be, in effect, a unique punishment for a unique set of offences," they wrote.

Mr Clinton was impeached on Saturday for perjury before a grand jury and obstruction of justice. The vote split down party lines.

Which way is forward?

Sen Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, says the Senate must restore civility to the political process.

"The determination had been made in the House that they were going to have impeachment, come hell or high water. I think we can restore political sanity in the Senate."

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The question is: How?

Powerful Republicans and Democrats have already begun to stake out now-familiar party positions.

Orrin Hatch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, hinted on Sunday that a censure deal would be the best option.

He called for a "head count" to determine whether there was any chance of a Senate conviction. If not, he said, " there has to be some consideration ... to resolve this matter ... in the best interests of the country."

Sen Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat went one step further. He called for negotiations on a censure deal to begin before the new session convenes on 6 January.

But Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who will be head of the Rules Committee which would preside over any trial, and Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said the Senate was obligated to proceed.

Sen McConnell told NBC's Meet the Press that with the co-operation of the president's lawyers, the trial could be quick and not "demean the Senate".

Clinton resilient

Meanwhile Mr Clinton's ratings have risen again. Several polls taken this weekend show his job approval rating nearing a whopping 75%.

An NBC News poll showed 72% approved of Mr Clinton's handling of the presidency, a rise of four points from Tuesday.

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The New York Times and CBS News showed that 64% of Americans support a censure deal. Sixty-eight per cent believe the Senate should not remove Mr Clinton from office.

Perjury and obstruction

Mr Clinton is facing charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

A Senate trial would be presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The 100-member Senate would serve as the jury, with a two-thirds majority needed to convict the president and remove him from office.

To secure such a majority, Senate Republicans would have to attract at least 12 Democrats.

However, the BBC diplomatic correspondent says the most likely outcome is a vote largely along party lines and an even more damaged president, who somehow hangs on.

In the only other presidential trial, in 1868, President Andrew Johnson was acquitted in the Senate by one vote.

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