Washington, 20 December 1998 (RFE/RL) - The presidency of Bill Clinton moved a step closer to the edge of an abyss Saturday when the U.S. House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against him.
The fate of Clinton's presidency is now in the hands of the 100-member U.S. Senate, where procedure now calls for the president to stand trial on the two articles that were approved.
In a speech from the White House lawn hours after the voting, Clinton declared again that he would not resign.
"I want the American people to know I am still committed to working with people in good faith and good will of both parties to do what's best for our country, to bring our nation together, to lift our people up, to move us all together. It's what I tried to do for six years, it's what I intend to do for two more - until the last hour of the last day of my term."
Clinton said he regretted that the House refused to consider an alternative to impeachment that was "reasonable, bipartisan and proportionate" to his misbehavior. He said that he has "accepted responsibility for what I did wrong in my personal life."
The president then called on the Senate to find a constitutional and fair way to punish him. The U.S. Constitution calls for a Senate trial when the House has impeached a president. However, Senate rules also permit any senator to make a motion during the proceedings to adjourn the impeachment trial permanently.
The Senate trial would probably begin in the first week of January, when the new congress is sworn in. Senate leaders have made it clear they intend to proceed with the trial. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist would preside over the trial. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde will most likely serve as prosecutor. Clinton may choose his own defense counsel, and reports say he has asked former U.S. Senator George Mitchell to serve in that capacity. Clinton does not have to be present at the trial.
Saturday's voting climaxed two days of emotional debate on the floor of the House. Clinton's fellow Democrats in the House maintained until the end that Clinton was the victim of a partisan effort to drive him from office.
The Republican Party, which holds the majority in the House -- and the Senate too -- contended that it was performing its constitutional duty to hold the president accountable to the laws of the land.
The four impeachment articles -- which can be described as the political equivalent of charges brough before a criminal court -- stemmed from the president's sexual relationship with a former White House aide named Monica Lewinsky. Clinton admitted to what he called an improper relationship with her, but he also denies any charges of illegal misconduct.
These are the four articles of impeachment:
ARTICLE 1: Approved 228-206.
Alleged President Clinton "willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony" before Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's grand jury on Aug. 17.
ARTICLE 2: Rejected 229-205.
Alleged Clinton "willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony" in sworn, written answers on Dec. 23, 1997, and during his videotaped testimony on Jan. 17, 1998, in the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones, a former state employee in Arkansas when Clinton was the governor there.
ARTICLE 3: Approved 221-212.
Alleged Clinton "prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice and has to that end engaged personally, and through his subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or scheme designed to delay, impede, cover up and conceal the existence of evidence and testimony" related to the Jones case. The article lists seven alleged acts of obstruction of justice.
ARTICLE 4: Rejected 148-285.
Alleged that Clinton "engaged in conduct that resulted in misuse and abuse of his high office." It says he "willfully made perjurious, false and misleading sworn statements" in his written responses to some of the 81 questions posed by the House Judiciary Committee.
The House voted on the impeachment articles after it rejected a last-minute attempt by Clinton's Democratic Party defenders to issue a public reprimand to the president instead of approving the more serious articles of impeachment. Clinton had said he would have accepted a public rebuke.
The day's debate began with a shocking announcement from Congressman Robert Livingston, who had already been selected by his Republican colleagues to serve as Speaker of the House when the new congress convenes next month.
Livingston, who made his own confession of adultery earlier this week, told the House he won't serve as the next speaker. He added that he will resign entirely from Congress in about six months.
Livingston said he could not demand resignation from Clinton unless he himself was prepared to resign from Congress. Dozens of congress members from both parties and even Clinton, urged Livingston to reconsider, but Republicans were already meeting late Saturday to choose a new speaker.
This was only the second time since Congress was established in 1789 that a president has been impeached. The House impeached President Andrew Johnson in 1868, but the Senate failed by one vote to convict him.
Johnson had been vice president and succeeded to the presidency after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. Clinton would therefore be the only elected president to have been impeached.