WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 1999 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate continues its closed-door deliberations, as it heads to an end-of-the-week conclusion to the impeachment trial of President Clinton. The Senate voted Tuesday to bar the public and television cameras from its deliberations. A total of 18 senators spoke, with most reportedly taking their full 15-minute allotment to state their positions. If the remaining 82 senators use all their time, deliberations will cover more than 20 hours and will consume all of today and continue through Thursday.
The Senate has set a deadline of Friday for the votes that will close the second impeachment trial of a president in the country's history. Clinton is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, allegations stemming from a cover-up of a sexual relationship with a former White House intern, and a conviction on either charge would lead to his immediate removal from office.
That, however, is unlikely. It takes a two-thirds majority -- a total of 67 if all 100 senators participate -- to convict and few if any of the 45 Democrats are likely to vote the president guilty.
Senators who related the mood during the first speakers in the deliberation process painted a ''somber'' Senate chamber as senators walked one by one to the microphone to speak. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said: ''There was passion. There was thoughtful presentations. There was analytical material. There was a range of approaches.''
According to Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, ''A few times you could feel the pressure rising.''
Some of the most eagerly awaited comments will come from Sen. Robert Byrd, a seven-term Democrat from West Virginia who is one of the most respected members of the Senate. On Sunday, Byrd said ''no doubt about it in my mind'' that Clinton's actions ''rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.'' Byrd said he is still wrestling about whether those actions warrant removal, however.
The key vote on Tuesday was on whether to open the deliberations to the public. Since it required a suspension of Senate rules to do so, a super majority of 67 senators was needed to vote for the change. The final tally was 59-41, eight votes short of opening the proceedings. Negotiations continue on a possible censure of Clinton, but several Republicans are saying they will try to block any such measure on constitutional grounds and others saying they would support it ''if it were strong enough and substantially bipartisan.''
In impeachment sidelights, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., asked for an investigation into reports that White House adviser Sidney Blumenthal lied during his trial testimony but his proposal was blocked; Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott sent a letter to independent counsel Kenneth Starr about rumors of secret recordings of Clinton's phone calls. The White House denied any such tapes exist. White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said: ''It's urban impeachment myth. We're in full X-Files land here.''