WASHINGTON—William Jefferson Clinton was impeached yesterday on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, setting in motion a landmark Senate trial that will determine whether the 42nd president of the United States will be the first in history to be removed from office.
In an extraordinary day for the president and the Congress, the nation witnessed the resignation of House Speaker-to-be Robert Livingston in the wake of his own sexual revelations, the fourth wave of U.S.-led airstrikes over Iraq and the second presidential impeachment in history.
Not since Andrew Johnson's impeachment 130 years ago has a president faced such political peril.
Virtually along party lines, the House voted 228-206 to impeach Clinton for perjury before a grand jury investigating his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
By an even narrower margin, 221-212, the House approved a second article of impeachment, charging Clinton with obstruction of justice.
Two other articles of impeachment were defeated.
On no article did the Republicans gain more than five Democratic votes, a fact that Democrats pointed to in arguing that the impeachment was purely an exercise in Republican partisanship.
Afterward, the president was unbowed, declaring that he would not resign and that he would "continue to do the work of the American people," who, polls show, opposed impeachment by a wide margin.
"We must stop the politics of personal destruction," Clinton implored after the vote, flanked outside the White House by House Democrats, with the first lady by his side.
But Republican leaders were just as firm in their assertion that the president's actions deserved the harshest political retribution allowed in the Constitution -- and not the lesser punishment of censure that the president and his allies had urged.
"Today, we are defending the rule of law and letting freedom work," proclaimed House Republican leader Dick Armey of Texas. "This vote is not about the character of a president. It is about the character of a nation."
What started three years ago as a tawdry presidential dalliance with a White House intern has ballooned into a crisis that is threatening to sweep up the Congress and the White House in waves of political acrimony and recriminations of sexual wrongdoing.
"This has been the most painful day I've ever served in the House of Representatives, not just because the president of the United States was impeached by only one political party, but because a good man has resigned because of indiscretions in his private life," said Rep. Martin T. Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat. "We have to find a way to heal this country."
But in the wake of a historic political conflagration, Republicans expressed pride in having held the president to "the rule of law" that applies to all Americans. And they embraced the prospect of a trial in the Senate to determine whether the president should be removed from office.
"Democracy lives and lives on a higher plane than ever before," declared Rep. George W. Gekas of Pennsylvania, one of 12 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee who have been chosen to prosecute the case in the Senate. "That's the key message today."
Another Republican "manager" for the Senate trial, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, declared: "We are prepared to take this case to the Senate and will conduct a vigorous trial. The verdict, I think, will be assured."
Approval of the first article of impeachment came at 1: 24 p.m. The House voted to charge Clinton with lying under oath Aug. 17 when he was called to testify before independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's federal grand jury.
As the voting began, Democrats streamed out of the House chamber in protest, only to return hurriedly minutes later to cast their votes in dissent.
Only five Democrats voted to impeach: Gene Taylor of Mississippi, Charles W. Stenholm and Ralph M. Hall of Texas, Virgil H. Goode Jr. of Virginia and Paul McHale of Pennsylvania. The Democratic defectors were offset by five Republicans who voted against impeachment: Constance A. Morella of Montgomery County, Christopher Shays of Connecticut, Amo Houghton and Peter T. King of New York, and Mark E. Souder of Indiana.