William Jefferson Clinton was impeached yesterday oncharges of perjury and obstruction of justice, setting in motion a landmarkSenate trial that will determine whether the 42nd president of the UnitedStates will be the first in history to be removed from office.
In an extraordinary day for the president and the Congress, the nationwitnessed the resignation of House Speaker-to-be Robert Livingston in the wakeof his own sexual revelations, the fourth wave of U.S.-led airstrikes overIraq and the second presidential impeachment in history.
Not since Andrew Johnson's impeachment 130 years ago has a president facedsuch political peril.
Virtually along party lines, the House voted 228-206 to impeach Clintonfor perjury before a grand jury investigating his relationship with formerWhite House intern Monica Lewinsky.
By an even narrower margin, 221-212, the House approved a second articleof 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, afact that Democrats pointed to in arguing that the impeachment was purely anexercise in Republican partisanship.
Afterward, the president was unbowed, declaring that he would not resignand that he would "continue to do the work of the American people," who, pollsshow, opposed impeachment by a wide margin.
"We must stop the politics of personal destruction," Clinton imploredafter the vote, flanked outside the White House by House Democrats, with thefirst lady by his side.
But Republican leaders were just as firm in their assertion that thepresident's actions deserved the harshest political retribution allowed in theConstitution -- and not the lesser punishment of censure that the presidentand 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 notabout the character of a president. It is about the character of a nation."
What started three years ago as a tawdry presidential dalliance with aWhite House intern has ballooned into a crisis that is threatening to sweep upthe Congress and the White House in waves of political acrimony andrecriminations of sexual wrongdoing.
"This has been the most painful day I've ever served in the House ofRepresentatives, not just because the president of the United States wasimpeached by only one political party, but because a good man has resignedbecause of indiscretions in his private life," said Rep. Martin T. Meehan, aMassachusetts Democrat. "We have to find a way to heal this country."
But in the wake of a historic political conflagration, Republicansexpressed pride in having held the president to "the rule of law" that appliesto all Americans. And they embraced the prospect of a trial in the Senate todetermine whether the president should be removed from office.
"Democracy lives and lives on a higher plane than ever before," declaredRep. George W. Gekas of Pennsylvania, one of 12 Republicans on the JudiciaryCommittee who have been chosen to prosecute the case in the Senate. "That'sthe key message today."
Another Republican "manager" for the Senate trial, Rep. F. JamesSensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, declared: "We are prepared to take this caseto the Senate and will conduct a vigorous trial. The verdict, I think, will beassured."
Approval of the first article of impeachment came at 1: 24 p.m. The Housevoted to charge Clinton with lying under oath Aug. 17 when he was called totestify before independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's federal grand jury.
As the voting began, Democrats streamed out of the House chamber inprotest, only to return hurriedly minutes later to cast their votes indissent.
Only five Democrats voted to impeach: Gene Taylor of Mississippi, CharlesW. Stenholm and Ralph M. Hall of Texas, Virgil H. Goode Jr. of Virginia andPaul McHale of Pennsylvania. The Democratic defectors were offset by fiveRepublicans who voted against impeachment: Constance A. Morella of MontgomeryCounty, Christopher Shays of Connecticut, Amo Houghton and Peter T. King ofNew York, and Mark E. Souder of Indiana.
Once the article reached the critical 218 votes needed for passage, amuffled, perhaps rueful, cheer rose from the House floor, with scatteredclapping in the otherwise silent public galleries.
On the other side of the world, at that moment, the skies over Baghdadflared with anti-aircraft fire as the fourth wave of U.S. air attacks on Iraqbegan.
The Republicans barely managed to approve another impeachment article,which charges that Clinton obstructed justice to hide his affair withLewinsky. The vote was 221-212, with 12 Republicans voting against it.
On a parliamentary maneuver, the House also beat back a Democratic effortto introduce a resolution censuring Clinton instead of impeaching him. Thevote to declare the censure resolution to be irrelevant to the proceedingspassed 230-204, with four Democrats joining the Republican majority, and twoRepublicans joining the Democrats.
The House narrowly defeated, 229-205, an article of impeachment thataccused Clinton of perjury in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconductlawsuit. Twenty-seven Republicans joined the Democrats and the House's singleindependent to defeat it.
The House also decisively defeated the fourth and final article ofimpeachment, charging that Clinton abused the power of his office by lying toCongress. That vote was 285-148.
But in approving two of the four articles, House Republicans stainedClinton with only the second presidential impeachment in the nation's history.
The vote appeared to ensure that what House Democratic Whip David E.Bonior of Michigan called "this whole sorry episode" would stretch well intonext year -- with ever-weightier implications for the nation and the balanceof power between the presidency and the Congress.
Republican leaders said it was the price to be paid for defending "therule of law," for expunging the example of lawlessness they say has been setby the nation's chief executive, and to eradicate what House Republican leaderArmey called "a cancer spreading through the nation."
"The evidence is overwhelming; the question is elementary," said Rep.James E. Rogan of California, one of the House-appointed Republicanimpeachment prosecutors.
"The president was obliged under his sacred oath faithfully to execute ournation's laws. Yet he repeatedly perjured himself and obstructed justice, notfor any noble purpose, but to crush a humble, lone woman's right to beafforded access to the courts.
"When they are old enough to appreciate today's solemnity," he said, "Iwant my young daughters to know that when the last roll was called, theirfather served in a House faithful to the guiding principle that no person isabove the law, and he served with colleagues who counted it a privilege torisk political fortune in defense of the Constitution."
If the proceedings were not strange enough, Livingston stood up on theHouse floor to throw down the gauntlet to Clinton, challenging him to resignfrom office, and backing that challenge by resigning himself, not only fromthe speakership that he was to assume next year but also from the House ofRepresentatives.
"To the president, I would say: 'Sir, you have done great damage to thisnation over this past year. You have the power to terminate that damage andheal the wounds that you have created. You, sir, may resign your post,' "Livingston declared from the House floor before the vote.
The White House will try to enlist former Senate Democratic leader GeorgeJ. Mitchell to lead Clinton's Senate defense team and has even begun reachingout to the president's 1996 election rival, Bob Dole, to help defuse thecrisis in the coming months.
But the president may no longer control his own destiny. House JudiciaryCommittee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, accompanied by the other 11 Houseimpeachment managers, ceremoniously delivered the two articles of impeachmentto the Senate at 3 p.m.
And Senate Republican leader Trent Lott immediately set in motion thesteps to convene a Senate impeachment trial, prosecuted by House Republicansand presided over daily by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.
"Senators will be prepared to fulfill their constitutional obligations,"Lott said in a written statement. "Each senator will take an oath to 'doimpartial justice according to the Constitution and laws; so help me God.' "
Already Senate Democrats are appealing to moderate Republicans and theWhite House to find some way to head off a lengthy trial, possibly with anagreement to censure Clinton and fine him.
"Over the past year, our country has suffered through difficult anddivisive times," said Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota."The Senate should now seek to bind those wounds, and we can do that byproceeding in a manner that is fair, dignified and completely nonpartisan."
Rep. Charles T. Canady of Florida, a Republican Judiciary Committee memberwho will help present the impeachment case to the Senate, did not foresee along process.
"I believe it's important for a trial to be handled as expeditiously aspossible. This is a relatively simple case," he said. "I would expect thetrial would not take an extraordinarily long time -- more days or weeks thanmonths."
Before a trial is convened or a deal is cut, Clinton will come underwithering pressure to leave office voluntarily.
House Republicans before today's vote repeatedly exhorted colleagues tovote for impeachment if they believed Clinton should stand trial, even if theydo not believe he should be removed from office.
"All you have to believe is that there is clear and convincingevidence that one of the articles is true, and send it to the Senate fortrial," proclaimed Judiciary Committee Republican Bill McCollum of Florida.
But as Democrats predicted, Republican leaders have begun calling forClinton to step down and using Livingston's example to drive their point home.
"There is no greater American, at least today, than Bob Livingston," saida tearful Tom DeLay, the House's third-ranking Republican, "because heunderstood what this debate was about. It was about honor and decency andintegrity and the truth."
After the vote, the House Republicans who will prosecute the impeachmentcharges once again exhorted Clinton to resign.
Two Democrats, Reps. William O. Lipinski of Illinois and Louise M.Slaughter of New York, have publicly said the president should at leastconsider resignation.
But nearly all House Democrats emerged from an early morning meeting withHillary Rodham Clinton steeled to resist.
"He must not resign. He cannot resign," declared House Democratic leaderRichard A. Gephardt of Missouri.
Declared Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich, one of the president'searly Democratic critics: "Wake up, America. Realize what's happening here.This is about the basic right of the people to choose their government."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun