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House Votes To Impeach Clinton

December 19, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The House of Representatives impeached President Clinton on Saturday for obstructing justice and lying under oath about his sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky, voting largely along party lines to send his case to the Senate. It was only the second presidential impeachment in American history.

The House approved two of the four articles of impeachment lodged against Clinton, formally recommending that he be tried in the Senate for committing perjury before a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. Lawmakers rejected two other articles accusing the president of perjury in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit and abuse of his presidential powers.

Clinton would only be removed from office if two-thirds of senators voted to convict him.

The first House vote to impeach Clinton was announced at 1:24 p.m. EST, leaving the 42nd president to face the gravest moment of his political career. Clinton was secluded with a minister at the time, but planned a public appearance later in the day. His wife visited the Capitol to rally Democrats in the hours just before the fateful vote.

The House went forward with the impeachment votes just hours after the abrupt resignation of its incoming speaker, Rep. Bob Livingston, and as U.S military action continued against Iraq.

Lawmakers gave final impassioned appeals before voting on only the first impeachment votes since those against Andrew Johnson 130 years ago

``When the chief law enforcement officer trivializes, ignores, shreds, minimizes the sanctity of the oath, then justice is wounded, and you’re wounded, and your children are wounded,″ Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde said, laying out the case against Clinton.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt countered that Clinton’s offenses warranted less draconian action.

``We need to start healing, we need to start binding up our wounds we need to end this downward spiral that will end with the death of our representative democracy,″ Gephardt said, pleading in vain for the lesser punishment of censure.

In a dramatic series of back-to-back votes, the House passed judgment on Clinton. It voted:

_228-206 to approve the first article of impeachment, alleging that Clinton perjured himself before a grand jury. Five members of each party defected on that vote.

_229-205 to reject a second article, accusing Clinton of committing perjury in the Jones suit. More than two dozen Republicans defected to join Democrats.

_221-212 to approve a third article, accusing Clinton of obstruction of justice in the Lewinsky matter. The article passed only after a handful of Democrats crossed party lines.

_285-148 to reject a fourth article, alleging Clinton abused the powers of his office by giving false written answers to questions posed by Congress during the impeachment inquiry.

Democrats staged a brief walkout of the chamber after Republicans blocked their effort to force a vote on censure as an alternative to impeachment. They returned to vote on the articles of impeachment.

``I have never seen the death wish so manifest in the political system of our country in my life,″ Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., lamented after the vote.

When the first impeachment roll call occurred, the House floor was crowded with lawmakers, although there was little in their reaction to suggest the significance of the moment.

``Article One is adopted,″ intoned Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., named to preside over the House on the historic occasion.

Absent some sort of deal, a Senate trial of uncertain duration will follow next year. It would be the first such proceeding since Andrew Johnson escaped being removed from office by a single vote during a Senate trial in 1868.

A quarter century ago, Richard Nixon resigned before facing a certain impeachment vote in the House.

Before adjourning, the House named 13 Republican lawmakers, including Hyde, to act as managers, or prosecutors, during a Senate trial that would be presided over by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

The other managers were Reps: James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, Bill McCollum of Florida, George Gekas of Pennsylvania, Charles Canady of Florida, Steve Buyer of Indiana, Ed Bryant of Tennessee, Steve Chabot of Ohio, Bob Barr of Georgia, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Chris Cannon of Utah, James Rogan of California and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The House fell silent after Livingston called on Clinton to resign and then told lawmakers he himself would resign from Congress next year because of revelations this week that he had extramarital affairs.

``I must set the example that I hope President Clinton will follow,″ the Louisiana Republican said.

Democrats, buoyed by a last-minute visit to Capitol Hill by Mrs. Clinton, made one last move to force a vote on censure as an alternative to impeachment. Their effort was defeated 230-204.

Beforehand, they argued that neither Livingston nor Clinton should succumb to the ``politics of cynicism and smear.″

House Minority Whip David Bonior charged that ``angry partisans″ were seeking to undo the elections with a presidential impeachment opposed by two-thirds of Americans.

″ We must not let them accomplish through impeachment what they could not do at the ballot box,″ he said.

Bonior’s Republican counterpart took aim at the defenses that Clinton and his supporters have offered for months.

``The president’s defenders have said that the president is morally reprehensible, that he is reckless, that he has violated the trust of the American people, lessened their esteem for the office of the president and dishonored the office which they have entrusted in him but that doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment,″ said House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas.

``What the defenders want to do is lower the standards by which we hold this president and lower the standards for our society,″ he said.

Like the Congress, Americans were sharply divided about the impeachment.

In Harvard Square in Boston, 78-year-old Anna Newman worried that the government was being ``subverted from within. ``I’m bitterly against it,″ she said.

Matt Gurtler, 30, of Edina, Minn., watched the votes unfold in a restaurant at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. ``I’m all for it. It needs to happen,″ said Gurtler, who described himself as very conservative.

In an early-morning visit to the Capitol, Mrs. Clinton rallied Democrats and told them that the impeachment process against her husband ``should be done right and that up to now it has not been,″ according to Gephardt.

Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Calif., one of the last Republicans to announce in favor of impeachment, whispered his arguments, nearly in tears. ``Bob Livingston has led by example,″ Campbell said.

Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., passionately rejected suggestions that she and other Republicans were voting to impeach Clinton because of party pressure. ``This isn’t about falling into line. It’s about honor,″ she said.

On the House floor, Livingston made an impassioned speech, saying he hoped the bitterness that had divided Congress over impeachment would recede.

``I very much regret the enmity and the hostility that has been bred in the halls of Congress for the last months and year,″ he said. ``I want so very much to pacify, cool our raging tempers.

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