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SENATE SINKS DEEPER AND DEEPER

For all its efforts to appear otherwise, the Senate is looking just as partisan, petty and ridiculous as the House in its handling of President Clinton's impeachment trial.

In the latest political storm before the calm, upper chamber Republicans steamrolled Democrats in party-line votes that will drag out the process for at least two more weeks.

While lots of unanswered procedural questions remain, the bigger question is: Why?

Votes entirely or almost along party lines -- including one on a Democratic proposal to take up the articles of impeachment themselves -- have made the ultimate outcome all but certain to everyone.

That means that the stormy wrangling will be followed by days of dull, lawyerly depositions starting Monday with Monica Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal repeating what they've said umpteen times.

House managers' only hope is that the mere star power of Lewinsky might somehow engage Americans who've been turned off by the whole thing. That is a slender thread on which to hang any hopes.

In the meantime, the Senate facade of high-minded, august deliberation has cracked beneath the weight of the impending 2000 elections and pressure from House managers.

Now GOP senators who don't want the world to watch them deliberate may have no qualms about having the world watch Lewinsky on tape. Across the aisle, Democratic opposition may have less to do with the public's right to see Monica in the Senate than with fears it may eventually see her in campaign commercials.

So much for bipartisanship.

As for the so-called "finding of fact," much depends on how it's worded. Efforts to, in effect, find Clinton guilty would be an end run around the Constitution and its requirement for a two-thirds vote on such weighty matters.

On the other hand, he should receive a broadly worded public censure for his indefensible behavior. No one should ever forget that it was his recklessness that caused the country to endure the torture of the past year.

Resolving the issue of censure is the only real task the Senate has left. Everything else is just political posturing for dual audiences: a general public that wants this over with, and a more fearsome conservative core.

The Senate didn't need to put the country through two more weeks of this trial before facing up to both.

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