1/22/99 Former Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., wows the media with his closing argument in Clinton's defense. Republicans groan at anti-Clinton televangelist Pat Robertson's admission that the battle to remove Clinton is "over." Buoyed by Clinton's impressive poll numbers following his widely acclaimed State of the Union address, Senate Democrats press Republicans to scrap their plans for witnesses. 2%
1/20/99 Polls taken after the State of the Union address show 1) Clinton's job approval rating climbed to around 70 percent; 2) 60 percent oppose his removal; and 3) more voters trust him to handle the country's problems than trust the GOP to do so. The good news for Republicans: The speech "bounce" will subside. The good news for Clinton: His defense was just beginning its case. 3%
1/19/99 Post-prosecution surveys show public opposition to Clinton's removal holding firm at more than 60 percent, though Republicans claim their internal polls indicate that more people now think Clinton committed perjury and obstruction of justice. The GOP braces for another bravura State of the Union address. 4%
1/18/99 Senators and analysts agree the House prosecutors did a good job, and Democrats essentially admit the GOP has at least 51 votes to call witnesses. But Democrats also say they've still got at least 34 votes to acquit Clinton. Old spin: The GOP will tie up the Senate in a circuslike interrogation of Monica Lewinsky and Betty Currie. New spin: Democrats will tie up the Senate in a circuslike interrogation of Linda Tripp and Ken Starr. 6%
1/15/99 Polls reportedly indicate that while a majority still opposes Clinton's removal, there has been a 10 point shift from opposition to support of that verdict. The Republican spin: This shows that as the Senate calmly displays the facts against Clinton, the public will turn against him. The Democratic spin: Clinton will regain that lost ground when he delivers his State of the Union address. The better news for Clinton is that Senate Democrats are accusing Senate Republicans of betraying their bipartisan neutrality pact by meeting secretly with House prosecutors to specify criteria for calling witnesses. The GOP's rejoinder--that Democrats are deliberately engineering a partisan fight--doesn't help. 7%
1/13/99 Clinton's lawyers file their brief with the Senate. Highlights: 1) The effort to remove Clinton threatens the public's "democratic choice." 2) Clinton's differences with Lewinsky over how many times they fooled around and what kind of sex they had are "squabbles," "utterly immaterial," and "precisely the kind of disagreement that the law does not intend to capture as perjury." Highlight of the prosecutors' case: They will emphasize that Clinton plotted to destroy Lewinsky's credibility until he found out she had the stained dress. Key sign of oncoming partisan strife: Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., says "it's appropriate to take notice" of polls showing that the public opposes Clinton's removal. 2%
1/11/99 On Friday, senators agree to begin the trial and postpone votes on whether to call witnesses, a topic likely to generate disagreement. On Sunday TV shows, they erupt in disagreement over what exactly they agreed to. House prosecutors' wish list of witnesses includes Monica Lewinsky, Betty Currie, Vernon Jordan, and Sidney Blumenthal. The hot question is whether the prosecutors will try to call Kathleen Willey or any of the anonymous Jane Does. 2%
1/8/99 1) Senators line up in the Senate well to sign a solemn oath to render "impartial justice." 2) The Senate's effort to work out rules for the trial collapses along party lines over whether to call witnesses. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., scrambles to avoid a House-like partisan meltdown. 2%
1/7/99 The Senate trial begins with mere formalities. Senate Republicans line up to support the House GOP's plan to call witnesses. This provokes 1) a White House threat to meet fire with fire, which would lead to a long trial, and 2) hostility and lack of cooperation from Senate Democrats. Polls show the public still approves of Clinton's job performance, opposes his conviction, and opposes a full Senate trial by 2-to-1 majorities. 2%
1/5/99 Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott schedules the trial to begin Thursday but says nothing about how it will proceed. Old spin: They'll agree on a plan to abort the trial. Newer spin: They'll abort the trial only if Republicans can agree on the plan. Newest spin: Having failed to agree, they'll start the trial and make it up as they go along. 2%
1/4/99 Moderates float a plan, evidently backed by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., to abort the trial unless two-thirds of the senators vote that the charges against Clinton, if proved, would justify his removal. Other Republicans rush to shoot down the plan. Senators tell Clinton not to give his State of the Union speech while on trial, arguing that it would be unseemly. The spins: 1) These are the same senators who told Clinton not to give his State of the Union speech last year. 2) This is the same president who ignored them. 2%
12/30/98 Should the Senate censure Clinton instead of trying to convict him? Should the House present witnesses to bolster the case for conviction? Republicans begin arguing these questions--with each other. Clinton benefits from the GOP infighting and from the House prosecution team's increasing aggressiveness. 3%
12/28/98 Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., adds to the momentum for censure by arguing that impeachment would unacceptably undermine the stability of the presidency as an institution. The simple spin: Since everyone agrees Clinton won't be convicted, the trial will be aborted, and he'll be censured instead. The subtle spin: Since everyone agrees Clinton won't be convicted, he'll reject the terms of censure (e.g., a confession of perjury) and force a trial instead. 3%
12/23/98 All reports indicate 1) there aren't enough Senate votes to impeach Clinton; and 2) a censure deal is in the works. The new hot question is whether delegates from the House Judiciary Committee will bring up Clinton's "other women" in a Senate trial. 3%
12/22/98 Several House Republicans who voted for impeachment urge the Senate to seek a censure deal instead. Senators essentially write off any chance of conviction. Speculation turns to details of the deal. 3%
12/21/98 The House passes two articles of impeachment, but 1) Clinton refuses to resign; 2) Democrats stand by him; 3) his support rises in polls (while the GOP's popularity tumbles); and 4) Republican senators signal that he'll face censure but not conviction and removal. 4%
12/18/98 Livingston's adultery confession hurts House Republicans politically but seems to harden their resolve to impeach Clinton. Old White House objective: encouraging Republican defections. New White House objective: limiting Democratic defections. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott says the Senate won't cut a deal to shorten Clinton's trial. 5%
12/17/98 Clinton aides give up on the House and turn their attention to the Senate. Iraq bombing delays the impeachment vote until Friday but exacerbates Republican mistrust of Clinton. The White House spin: We didn't start the bombing to delay the impeachment vote. The Democratic congressional spin: Because of the bombing, we should delay the impeachment vote. 5%
12/16/98 Moderate Republicans continue to come out for impeachment. Old scenario: Clinton works out a censure deal with the House. New scenario: The House impeaches Clinton, and he works out a censure deal with the Senate. 4%
The Clintometer Uncertainty Principle
Shortly after the November elections, Slate's Clintometer, which measured the probability that President Clinton would be removed from office, declined to zero and was retired. Since then, the chance that the House will impeach Clinton has steadily increased, though the chance that the Senate will convict him remains near zero. So we're reviving the Clintometer.
The revived Clintometer comes with a warning: In politics, just as in subatomic physics, you can't measure things without interfering with them. Since Flytrap began, pundits' estimates of the likelihood of Clinton's removal have been consistently wrong. (To read the "Clintometer Classic," click here.) When they said he was finished, he thrived. When they said he was home free, he tanked. The reason for this inverse relationship is that the conventional wisdom goes to the players' heads. When the pundits say Clinton is doomed, his enemies (Kenneth Starr and the GOP) get cocky and overplay their hand. This leads to Clinton's recovery, which leads the pundits to say he's home free, which leads him to get cocky and overplay his hand, which leads the pundits to say he's doomed, and the cycle begins all over again.
This explains in part why impeachment has rocketed to likelihood since the media declared impeachment dead and Slate shut down the Clintometer. Clinton, thinking he was home free, stiffed Congress in his answers to the 81 questions, refused to admit he had lied, and failed to say he would accept censure. Now moderate House members are angry, the pundits think impeachment is at least an even bet, and the Clintometer is rising. True to form, Republicans are getting cocky and overplaying their hand, while Clinton, freshly chastened, is embracing censure and trying again to strike a pose of contrition.
So follow the Clintometer with this caveat in mind. It's a good indicator of where things stand now. But it may be a better indicator of where things won't stand in the weeks to come.