Clinton halts Iraq blitz but 'fights to the last' at home

BILL CLINTON hit straight back after the US House of Representatives voted to impeach him yesterday, promising to fight on until the "last hour of the last day" of his term.

Puffy eyed and apparently wiping away tears, the President emerged from the White House to make a defiant statement that he would not resign. "I want the American people to know today that I am still committed to working with people of 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 forward together," he said.

The US House voted for only the second time in its history to send the President for trial in the Senate after a day of bitterness, raw anger and an astonishing resignation. It began with a visit to Capitol Hill from Hillary Clinton, who came to bolster the case for the President's political survival with Congressional Democrats. The two parties then clashed angrily as they debated the articles of impeachment, but a last- ditch Democratic effort to replace them with a motion of censure came to nothing. The Democrats streamed out onto the steps of the Capitol building in a gesture that expressed despair more than anger. "We are deeply offended by this process," said Richard Gephardt, the Democrats' leader.

The vote that followed divided the House on sharply partisan lines, as the Republican majority pushed through two charges of impeachment with votes to spare. At about 1.25pm local time (6.25GMT), the first article of impeachment was approved by 228 votes to 206, with one member not voting. Five Republicans defected to vote for the President, and five Democrats opposed him.

The second and fourth articles of impeachment were defeated, but the House also backed his impeachment on a charge of obstruction of justice by 221-212. The first and third charges were the strongest to emerge from independent counsel Kenneth Starr's inquiry into the President's affair with Monica Lewinsky, and his efforts to conceal it.

But a year that has already seen many shocks saw another bizarre twist yesterday. Bob Livingston, the Louisiana Republican who was to replace Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House, had already admitted adulterous affairs that threatened his marriage. When he stood to denounce the President yesterday, calling for him to resign, there was uproar. "You resign!" shouted a Democrat. "You resign!" - and then all fell silent as Mr Livingston said he would do just that.

"I was prepared to lead our narrow majority as speaker and I believe I had it in me to do a fine job," he said. "But I cannot do that job or be the kind of leader that I would like to be under current circumstances. So I must set the example that I hope President Clinton will follow."

Mr Livingston had been pressed by leading Republicans to stand down, but the announcement stunned the rank and file of both parties. "What are we going to do?" asked David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat. "Line them up and mow them all down?"

Moderate Republican Dennis Hastert of Illinois, a favourite of the party leadership, looked likely to get the job. But Mr Livingston's departure raises the spectre of "sexual armageddon" for both parties. The pornographic magazine Hustler, which was preparing a story on Mr Livingston, says it has material on other Congressional figures.

It is hard to judge the President's mood after his historic defeat. He spent the morning in the White House, and during the vote prayed with Reverend Tony Campolo, one of his spiritual advisors, who later said the President was "tired". Officials say it has been hard to focus his attention on the impeachment process, partly because of the attacks on Iraq.

Now it will be up to the Senate to decide whether the President should be removed from office, a process that could absorb the American government for months. "The decision by the House concerning the conduct of the President sets in motion a solemn process in the Senate," said Trent Lott, the top Republican in the Senate and an ardent foe of the President. It is unclear when the trial will begin.

Nor is it clear what the result will be. Two-thirds of the Senate's 100 votes, not a simple majority, are necessary to remove him, and the Democrats have 45. It was the first time that the House had voted on impeachment since Andrew Johnson was sent for trial in 1868: he escaped conviction by one vote. In the 1970s Richard Nixon resigned before being impeached.

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