Rep. Michael P. Forbes switched allegiance to the Democrats today, the first such defection since the GOP took control of Congress five years ago. He drew praise from President Clinton for having the "courage to change."

Forbes, who represents the eastern tip of Long Island, told reporters the Republican Party "has become an angry, narrow-minded, intolerant and uncaring majority, incapable of governing."

With his move, Republicans will hold 222 seats, with 211 Democrats and an independent who usually votes with the Democrats. A seat is vacant because of the death Thursday of Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Calif.).

Clinton said Forbes is "joining a party that welcomes independent thinking and the courage to change."

[House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo), who had consulted with Forbes over the past month, said the move demonstrated how far the GOP had moved to the right in recent years, Washington Post staff writer Juliet Eilperin reported.

["Obviously, the importance of it is he feels a moderate in the Republican Party in the House has no place," Gephardt said.

[Though Forbes voted for impeachment in December, Gephardt noted that Forbes met with Clinton roughly two weeks ago to discuss changing parties.

[Republicans were quick to criticize Forbes for his move. "What's this guy all about, other than sour grapes that he's not in a position of power he thinks he deserves?" asked Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.).]

CAPTION: Rep. Michael P. Forbes (N.Y.) called the GOP "intolerant and uncaring."