By Keri P. Mattox and Amy Jeter
WASHINGTON – Maryland’s senators voted Friday to acquit President Clinton of all articles of impeachment, saying they disapproved of his behavior but did not believe he should be removed from office.
Both House and Senate members of the state’s delegation said Friday that they now hope to put the impeachment behind them and move forward on policy issues.
But at least one legislator said it would be difficult to return to business as usual after months of bruising, partisan impeachment rhetoric.
“We can’t just move on,” said Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore. “People that were fighting yesterday will be working together tomorrow and that is the challenge that faces Congress now.”
Part of that challenge will include working with a president whose actions “severely sullied and demeaned his tenure as president,” in the words of Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore.
Sarbanes called Clinton’s behavior “disgraceful and reprehensible,” but said the House “managers” who presented the articles of impeachment failed to prove their case against the president.
“The House logic seems to be that any perjury, any obstruction of justice, warrants removal,” Sarbanes said in a prepared statement. “As serious as those charges are, not all such conduct in all instances may rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Baltimore, agreed with Sarbanes that the House managers did not prove “beyond a reasonable doubt that President William Jefferson Clinton committed either perjury, nor did he commit obstruction of justice.
“However I do believe that the president’s behavior was immoral, reckless, shameful and even indefensible,” she said.
Both Mikulski and Sarbanes said they would consider censure of the president, with Mikulski signing on to a censure resolution introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
But the Senate tabled that proposal Friday afternoon, effectively killing the possibility of censure.
“Though we did not get to vote formally on that [censure resolution] today…. I do hope we will have the opportunity to do that,” Mikulski said.
Other Maryland congressmen conceded that the acquittal was expected, but voiced mixed reactions to the verdict.
“I am relieved that this national calamity is over,” said Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo. “The Senate’s vote vindicates the position of House Democrats.”
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the verdict, which he said will “set back women’s rights.”
Those that commented on the way the impeachment process was conducted split along party lines.
Cardin and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, denounced what they called Republican partisanship, maintaining that the articles should never have reached the Senate.
“The Republicans knew that the articles would not be supported by the requisite two-thirds of the United States Senate,” Hoyer said in a prepared statement.
“Their effort was designed throughout for political advantage rather than in an effort to protect the government or our democracy,” he said.
Cardin said Congress should have worked out censure language early on to avoid proceedings altogether.
But Bartlett and Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, defended the House’s conduct. They said the president was to blame for the lengthy process and that the House should be commended for its commitment to the Constitution.
“I am proud that we placed rule of law and our constitutional duty above public opinion polls,” Bartlett said.
As the trial wound down, legislators welcomed the chance to focus on policy, even as they acknowledged the difficulties of getting back to work.
Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium, said “this verdict … does not impact my work for the 2nd congressional district” and that he would now turn to issues like Social Security and education.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, said it is now “time for reconciliation.”
“It’s time to make sure that we place our eyes back on the prize,” he said.
Gilchrest challenged Cardin’s fear that the impeachment trial would have lingering effects on Congress.
“We’re all responsible adults charged with important issues,” he said. “If we choose to we can get the job done.”
Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, was out of town and her office said she did not have any comment on Friday’s vote. — Capital News Service reporters A.C. Benson, Amanda Costikyan Jones, Beth Perretta and Kristin Vaughan contributed to this report.