WASHINGTON - In a stunning announcement, Rep. Robert L. Livingston told a hushed House of Representatives today that had gathered to impeach President Clinton that he will not accept the speakership and will quit Congress next year because of his disclosure of adulterous affairs.
Livingston dropped his news on the House just a few hours before it voted to impeach Clinton for misdeeds stemming from an improper sexual relationship of his own. The Louisiana Republican said he was resigning to set an example, and he called on Clinton to follow suit and resign as well.
"I was prepared to lead our narrow majority as speaker, and I believe I had it in me to do a fine job," Livingston said. "But I cannot do that job or be the kind of leader that I would like to be under current circumstances."
His announcement drew gasps in the House chamber.
On Thursday night, Livingston, 55, had revealed to fellow Republicans that he had "on occasion strayed from my marriage," apparently after learning that those affairs would soon be disclosed by the news media. Many Republicans, who had chosen Livingston last month to be speaker, praised his candor and reaffirmed their support for him.
But since then, some conservatives whose votes Livingston would need to be elected speaker by the full House in January had raised doubts about his fitness for the post.
The White House said today that the president hoped Livingston would reconsider his decision to quit and that Clinton himself would not resign.
Livingston opened his House speech by urging Clinton to resign. In response, Democrats chanted, "No! No! No!" and then: "You resign! You resign! You resign!"
But the House quickly came to a hush when Livingston dropped his bombshell. He told lawmakers, "I have hurt you deeply" and said he would not be the next speaker and would leave Congress next year.
In a speech that followed Livingston's, House Majority Leader Dick Armey paid tribute to the Louisianan, saying: "You set before us today an example that breaks our heart, that principle comes before person."
Hastert, the House Republicans' chief deputy whip, is a close ally of Majority Whip Tom DeLay, the third-ranking House Republican, who has exercised enormous influence over the House since Newt Gingrich resigned as speaker last month.
Cox is the fourth-ranking House Republican. It was not clear whether an interim speaker would be designated until all NTC Republicans could meet and name a permanent speaker.
In their speeches yesterday, Democrats chastised the Republicans for demanding Clinton's resignation and urged Livingston not to resign, either. Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York declared that politicians - Republicans or Democrats - should not "surrender to a developing sexual McCarthyism."
Back in February, Livingston had considered resigning from Congress after three years as chairman of the Appropriations Committee and numerous clashes with lawmakers over congressional spending bills.
But Livingston decided to stay on. And after the Republicans' dismal results in the November elections, Livingston formally challenged Gingrich for the speakership. Gingrich then announced his own resignation.
Pub Date: 12/19/98