Clinton Vows To Remain In Office
WASHINGTON (AP) - Surrounded by dozens of Democratic defenders, President Clinton ignored calls for his resignation in the face of impeachment Saturday, vowing to remain in office "until the last hour of the last day of my term." Joining calls for an end to bitter partisanship, he declared, "We must stop the politics of personal destruction."
Lawmakers broke into applause as the president walked to the microphone on the South Lawn, with his wife Hillary on his arm. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., set the tone. "We've just witnessed a partisan vote that was a disgrace to our country and our Constitution," Gephardt said.
Vice President Al Gore added, "This is the saddest day I have seen in our nation's capital." He called the House vote "a great disservice to a man who I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest presidents."
Many dozens of Democrats turned out for the event in an extraordinary show of support for Clinton, only the second president in history to be impeached.
Clinton said he regretted that the House refused to consider an alternative to impeachment that was "reasonable, bipartisan and proportionate" to his misbehavior. "I have accepted responsibility for what I did wrong in my personal life," he said. He said he would look to the Senate to find a constitutional and fair way to punish him.
But the president made clear he did not intend to leave office voluntarily. "I will continue to do the work of the American people," Clinton said. He asked the American people "to move with me" and to "rise above the rancor."
"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," Clinton said. "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."
To make that point that he was still in charge, the White House announced he would meet with his national security team early Saturday evening to discuss American airstrikes against Iraq.
Earlier, his minister at his side, Clinton absorbed the House impeachment vote with an improbable fusion of dejection and defiance. "It's a sober moment, and he reflects it," White House chief of staff John Podesta said.
It was Podesta and senior adviser Doug Sosnik who broke to Clinton the news of the first vote to remove him from office for perjury, lying to a federal grand jury investigating the Monica Lewinsky affair.
The trio was huddled in Clinton's private study, the same small space off the Oval Office where Clinton often met and exchanged trinkets with the young White House intern.
As the first impeachment vote was gaveled open, the president was in the Oval Office, finishing a prayer meeting with his minister, the Rev. Tony Campolo. He did not watch the House roll call.
"I think he's tired. He's very upbeat and confident that things will work out, but he's very tired," Campolo said as he left down the White House driveway.
Aides said first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton followed her morning mission to a Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill by spending the day in the White House residence with the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea.
Democratic congressional leaders planned a support mission of their own, a visit with Clinton at the White House after Saturday's final vote. Clinton was to emerge afterward and make a public statement, his spokesman said.
Campolo, a sociology professor at Eastern College in St. Davids, Pa., is one of two spiritual leaders called to counsel Clinton months ago after he admitted an extramarital affair with Lewinsky.
The day began much as any other Saturday. West Wing offices were dark as the House began its weighty work. The president was still in the White House residence, where he got an update his first briefing of the day from Sandy Berger, his national security adviser.
When he entered the Oval Office at 10:05 a.m. to deliver a radio address on his military campaign against Iraq, a cluster of invited guests, mostly families of White House aides, greeted him with applause.
"The president was in a very good mood. You would think it was just an ordinary day for him," said one of the guests, Larry Wiener, of Hilton Head, S.C.
"The president was wonderful. You could tell he was very concerned with the situation in Iraq. But he was very caring and very down to earth," said Donna Matlack, of Rising Sun, Md.
Clinton made no mention of his personal and political peril but bid his "thoughts and prayers" to the U.S. and British troops of Operation Desert Fox. "You have our appreciation for your courage, and our nation's hopes for your safe and successful return," he said.
At some point, Clinton gave the "go" order for a fourth wave of airstrikes, unleashed on Baghdad just before 11 a.m. Washington time.