House Passes Two of Four Articles of Impeachment on Party-Line Votes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 19, 1998; 2:35 p.m. EST
The House of Representatives impeached the President of the United States today for only the second time in American history, charging William Jefferson Clinton with "high crimes and misdemeanors" for lying under oath and obstructing justice in an attempt to cover up an Oval Office affair with a young intern.
The House split 228-206, almost entirely along party lines, to approve the first Article of Impeachment accusing Clinton of perjury at 1:24 p.m. EST. It acted just hours after the man who was to be its next speaker, Bob Livingston (R-La.), stunned his colleagues by announcing that he would resign following disclosures of his own infidelity.
Then, in quick succession, the House rejected 229 to 205 a second article charging perjury in the Paula Jones civil lawsuit; passed Article III, which alleges obstruction of justice, by 221 to 212; and rejected the final article, which accused Clinton of abuse of office, 285 to 148.
The historic developments left the nation's capital reeling as the 42nd president faced the prospect of a Senate trial to save his job while the man in line to become the third highest ranking official in the United States found his career abruptly cut short before he could formally assume his new post.
Clinton will not follow Livingston's example, according to aides, and planned an address from the White House later today with House Democratic leaders at his side. Just last week, Clinton said resignation hasn't "even crossed my mind."
"He must not and cannot resign," House minority leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said even before the vote. "We all hope the process is fair in the United States Senate. It has not been in the House."
The first impeachment article approved by the House alleged that Clinton "undermined the integrity of his office" by lying under oath to a federal grand jury about his extramarital affair with Monica S. Lewinsky. That article was approved on a 228 to 206 vote, with just five Republicans including Constance A. Morella of Maryland crossing party lines to vote no and just five Democrats including Virginia's Virgil H. Goode, Jr. voting yes.
The approval of Articles I and III sends the matter to the Senate for trial and makes Clinton the only Chief Executive other than Andrew Johnson ever to be impeached.
Under the Constitution, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist will serve as presiding officer at the trial and all 100 Senators will sit as silent jurors. Conviction and removal from office requires a two-thirds vote, meaning 67 senators would have to declare Clinton unfit for the presidency.
Like Johnson, who escaped the ultimate political punishment by a single vote in 1868, Clinton may yet hang on to power. With Republicans controlling the Senate 55 to 45, few in either party anticipate that enough Democrats will cross party lines to convict him. Yet a trial heralds the prospect of weeks if not months more of the unseemly political crisis that has already polarized and paralyzed Washington for nearly a year.
Clinton and his allies still hope to avert that through some sort of plea-bargain-style deal that would have Congress censure him for his admitted misconduct while allowing him to serve out his term, which ends on Jan. 20, 2001.
A censure alternative was blocked in the House today by Republican leaders. Democrats tried to force a vote on the House floor but were rejected on a partisan proceedural motion, 230 to 204. To protest, Democrats staged a brief walkout.
During the second and final day of debate on the floor today, Republicans said impeachment, not censure, was the appropriate remedy for Clinton's actions. "If our country looks the other way, our country will lose its way," said Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.). Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) derided censure as "impeachment lite."
The outcome on impeachment was foreshadowed days ago when it became clear there were not enough moderate Republicans willing to bolt from their caucus. But few were ready for Livingston's surprise announcement as the day began.
Livingston acknowledged Thursday night, on the eve of the impeachment debate, that he had "on occasion strayed from my marriage," but he distinguished his behavior from Clinton's by noting that he never engaged in an affair with a subordinate on his staff or testified about his "indiscretions" under oath.
A hush fell over the chamber when he stood up on the floor this morning for his first public comments since his admission, which was forced by inquiries by Hustler Magazine.
Livingston made the case for impeachment, noting that three judges have been impeached for perjury. "We're not ruled by kings or emperors and there is no divine right of presidents."
Then, noting the President's complaint that a Senate trial would distract the nation for months, Livingston said Clinton has "the power" to avoid that and called on him to "resign your post."
That triggered an angry wave of catcalls on the Democratic side of the chamber, where members began calling out, "No! No!" A few bagan banging on the table and shouted, "You resign! You resign!"
Then, to their surprise, he did just that. "I'm willing to heed my own words," he said, sending an electric ripple through the room. Livingston said he will not stand for election as speaker when the next House is sworn in come January and after another six months will resign his seat altogether.
The decision cast a pall over the House, with both Republicans and Democrats speaking emotionally afterwards. Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) had tears in his eyes. But Democrats said Livingston was wrong and should change his mind, lest he give in to what one called "sexual McCarthyism."
Gephardt praised Livingston as "worthy and good and honorable man" and called his move "a terrible capitulation to the negative forces" that are tearing at the body politic. "I pray with all my heart that he will reconsider this decision," Gephardt said, generating a standing ovation by both sides of the aisle.
Livingston, sitting on the side of the chamber, said nothing but nodded acknowledgement of the applause.
© Copyright 1998 1998 The Washington Post Company