Potty Murray: Bipartisans in the ladies' room

The Senate impeachment trial is already over. The president will not be removed from office, of course, but witnesses—Lewinsky, Jordan, and Blumenthal, at least—will testify, and a majority of the Senate will eventually vote to convict on the articles of impeachment. This will be a party-line vote with insufficient margin to throw Clinton out, but significant enough to show that most senators believe the president is a perjurer and obstructor of justice. The so-called "end game" details of exactly how and when this inevitable scenario will play out is what senators currently are busy trying to broker.

With the Republicans' 10-vote advantage in the Senate, the math was easy to calculate even before Chief Justice Rehnquist brought Clinton's impeachment court to order last month. Senior Washington Sen. Slade Gorton was the first to propose an official exit strategy. Gorton is a relatively moderate Republican, in matters other than the environment, so it wasn't all that surprising that he and Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut) offered a quick up-or-down vote on the first day of the Senate trial. The proposal was shiftily killed by the Republican leadership. Last week, Gorton and Lieberman came back with another unsuccessful peace-with-honor compromise, as did prominent Sens. Robert Byrd (DWest Virginia) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

It comes as some surprise then that Washington's junior senator, mom in tennis shoes, and staunch defender of the president Patty Murray breached protocol to approach Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott with her own bipartisan plea for mercy. The plan to flush away the impeachment mess from the Senate, moreover, was hatched in the Senate's members-only ladies' room.

Murray spokesman Rex Carney explains that there is no official proposal with his boss's name on it, but that Murray did indeed approach Lott to say that she's spoken to Republican colleagues who privately longed for a speedy conclusion to the trial. Publicly, all 55 Republican senators toed the party line last week, voting to effectively extend the trial by allowing witnesses.

"I think this should be viewed as progress," Carney said of his boss's initiative. "There's getting to be a sort of bipartisan women's caucus."

Of nine women senators, three are Republicans. When asked if they had met with Murray in the ladies room, none would confirm that they had, and none would admit to be planning to defect from the Majority Leader. But a spokesperson for Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) explained that the women senators have "a more casual relationship—more in the spirit of friendship than policy." A spokesperson for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) added that the nine women meet informally at each other's homes every month. Olympia Snowe's (R-Maine) spokesperson said the senator was too busy to answer such a stupid question.

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