White House Glimpses the Exit

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WASHINGTON: For a moment there, the impeachment escape hatch was open. As House managers and White House lawyers took turns swatting softballs and elaborating on old arguments for the benefit of inquisitive senators, Senate rules don Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) announced, through his office, that he would introduce a motion to dismiss the charges on Monday. Not because Clinton was innocent, mind you, but because the prosecution didn't have the votes. "It's a relief for the White House because it means the 45 Democrats are holding firm," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "But champagne corks aren't popping yet."

Special Report Sure enough, Phil Gramm was out in front of the mikes at the first recess, saying he was speaking for the GOP leadership: This trial will "go the distance." Byrd and the Democrats may have had enough -- and maybe a few Republicans have too -- but Branegan says Byrd's motion to dismiss is, well, probably too dismissive to fly. "Republicans don't have an exit strategy yet," he says. "Most of the Republicans are still planning on witnesses, and until we hear from [Majority Leader] Trent Lott about how to end this, it's not likely to be ended." One thing that's very likely to end when debate on the twin motions -- dismissal and witnesses -- heats up Monday: the Senate's recent flirtation with bipartisanship.