Key dates in final chapter of a political drama

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The Independent Online
IF TIMING is all in politics, so it is in a political scandal. The clock on President Bill Clinton's fate began ticking in earnest four years ago in 1994, the year Judge Kenneth Starr was picked to pursue investigations into the Whitewater land deal, itself dating back to Mr Clinton's years as Governor of Arkansas. Now that we are reaching the final act, what are the key moments to look out for?

The Starr report is now all but complete. It will be submitted to the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives before the end of this month; some say before the end of this week.

Assessment of the report by the committee will begin at once. But there is a problem. If impeachment proceedings are engaged, now widely considered to be a probability, there is a cut-off date of 9 October when this Congress is dissolved to allow members to fight up-coming elections. No endgame in impeachment can realistically be expected before the new year, therefore.

3 November is the day of the mid-term elections. At stake are all the seats in the House, one-third of the seats in the Senate and many state governorships, including California. The outlook for the Democrats, because of the scandal, is bleak. Hopes of a net 11-seat gain in the House, needed to regain the majority from Republicans, have been dashed. Worse, the Republicans could secure 60 of the 100 seats in the Senate. They have not enjoyed such a margin in the Senate since 1909.

Early in the new year will see the new Congress take its place. Can President Clinton regain his political balance by then? In all likelihood not, and impeachment proceedings may be engaged in earnest.

Finally, one more important date: 20 January 1999. This will mark the exact mid-point in the second term of President Clinton. If it is the fate of the Vice-President, Al Gore, to replace Mr Clinton in the White House, he will hope it will not happen before this day. If Mr Gore serves less than half the Clinton second term, he would be allowed, under the American constitution, to hold the presidency, the voters being willing, for two more full terms. That is 2001-2004 and 2005-2008. If Mr Gore takes over before 20 January and therefore serves more than half the Clinton term, he would be entitled only to one more full term in his own right, 2001-2004.