IMPEACHED House party-line vote charges Clinton on perjury, obstruction

Two articles defeated

censure fails

Historic vote, 228-206, opens way for trial in the senate

December 19, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman and David Folkenflik | Jonathan Weisman and David Folkenflik,Sun National Staff

WASHINGTON - William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, was impeached today for perjury and obstruction of justice, setting in motion a constitutional crisis the nation has not seen this century.

Virtually along party lines, 228-206, the House voted at 1:24 p.m. to charge President Clinton with lying under oath when called to testify before independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's federal grand jury.

Only five Democrats voted to impeach, offset by five Republicans who voted against impeachment.

The Republicans barely managed to push through a second impeachment article, charging that Clinton obstructed justice to hide his affair with Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern. The vote was 221-212, with 12 Republicans voting against the third article of impeachment.

As the voting began, Democrats streamed out of the House chamber in protest, only to return hurriedly minutes later to cast their votes in dissent.

When the first impeachment article reached the critical 218 votes needed for passage, a muffled, perhaps rueful cheer rose from the House floor, with scattered clapping in the otherwise silent public galleries.

On a parliamentary maneuver, the House also beat back a Democratic effort to introduce a resolution censuring Clinton instead of impeaching him. The vote to declare the censure resolution irrelevant to the proceedings passed 230 to 204, with four Democrats joining the GOP majority, and two Republicans joining the Democrats.

Shortly after, the House narrowly defeated the second article of impeachment, 229-205, which accused Clinton of perjury in the Paula Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit. Twenty-seven Republicans joined the Democrats and the House's single independent to defeat it.

The House also decisively defeated the fourth and final article of impeachment, charging that Clinton abused the power of his office by lying to Congress.

House Republicans stained Clinton with only the second presidential impeachment in the nation's history and all but guaranteed a spectacle not seen since 1868 and the presidency Andrew Johnson: a trial on the floor of the Senate to decide whether he will be removed from office.

The vote appeared to ensure that what House Democratic Whip David Bonior called "this whole sorry episode" would stretch well into next year - with ever more weighty implications, for the nation's battered body politic and the balance of power between the presidency and the Congress.

And if the process were not strange enough, Rep. Robert L. Livingston of Louisiana stood up on the House floor to throw down the gantlet to President Clinton, challenging him to resign from office, and backing that challenge by resigning himself, not only from the speakership that he was to assume next year but also from the House of Representatives.

Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott has made it clear he believes the Senate must move forward with an impeachment trial, prosecuted by House Republicans and presided over daily by Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist.

And the 12 Judiciary Committee Republicans already chosen to pursue the case said they will prosecute it vigorously.

But before that trial is convened, perhaps next month, Clinton will come under withering pressure to leave office voluntarily.

House Republicans before today's vote repeatedly exhorted colleagues to vote for impeachment if they believed Clinton should stand trial, even if they do not believe he should be removed from office.

"All you have to believe is that there is clear and convincing evidence that one of the articles is true, and send it to the Senate for trial," proclaimed Judiciary Committee Republican Bill McCollum of Florida.

But as Democrats predicted, GOP leaders have already begun calling for Clinton to step down, and using Livingston's example as a hammer to drive their point home.

"There is not greater American, at least today, then Bob Livingston," said a tearful Tom DeLay, the House's third ranking Republican, "because he understood what this debate was about. It was about honor and decency and integrity and the truth."

Two Democrats, Reps. William O. Lipinski of Illinois and Louise Slaughter of New York, have publicly said the president should at least consider resignation.

But nearly all House Democrats emerged from an early morning meeting with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton steeled to resist.

"He must not resign. He cannot resign," declared House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt.

Declared Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich, one of the president's early Democratic critics: "Wake up, America. Realize what's happening here. This is about the basic right of the people to choose their government."

The House's impeachment of a president for the first time in 130 years was all but a foregone conclusion. Democrats spent yesterday intermittently pleading for national forgiveness and hurling invective across the aisle at Republicans - but largely declining to engage the other party in debate over the law.

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