Hours after being relegated to an infamous place in historyas the second U.S. president to be impeached, William Jefferson Clinton, whoonce dreamed of a sterling presidential legacy, vowed to remain in office"until the last hour of the last day of my term."
Speaking on the South Lawn of the White House as twilight fell -- backedby much of the Democratic membership of the House and with his wife, HillaryRodham Clinton, by his side -- Clinton denounced the "politics of personaldestruction" and insisted he would fight to hold onto his job.
"I want the American people to know today that I am still committed toworking with people of good faith and good will of both parties to do what'sbest for our country to bring our nation together, to lift our people up, tomove us all forward together," Clinton said.
His jaw clenched at times, Clinton seemed to strain to play down thegravity and sadness of the day for him. In a stiff and carefully orchestratedpublic appearance, Clinton held onto his wife's hand like a lifeline andsmiled tepidly as they walked together from the Oval Office and into the crowdof Democrats who had come from Capitol Hill to show their enduring support forhim.
In his remarks, Clinton made no direct mention of the fate that had justbefallen him. But he said he would seek a bipartisan compromise to avoid atrial in the Senate, which must decide whether the 42nd president should beconvicted and removed from office.
"The question is what are we going to do now," Clinton said, as aChristmas tree shimmering from the Oval Office provided an incongruouslyfestive background.
"I have accepted responsibility for what I did wrong in my personal life,and I have invited members of Congress to work with us to find a reasonablebipartisan and proportionate response.
"That approach was rejected today by Republicans in the House, but I hopeit will be embraced by the Senate. I hope there will be a constitutional andfair means of resolving this matter in a prompt manner," he said.
During remarks by Vice President Al Gore, House Democratic leader RichardA. Gephardt and the president's chief of staff, John Podesta, that precededhis own, Clinton stood motionless and uncharacteristically expressionless in astark black suit, his hands by his side or behind his back.
His wife, who paid an emotional early morning visit to House Democrats onCapitol Hill yesterday at which she professed her love and support for herhusband, nodded in agreement with the speakers, tears welling in her eyes.
"This is the saddest day I have seen in our nation's capital," Gore said,"because today's vote in the House of Representatives disregarded the plainwishes and good will of the American people and the plain meaning of ourConstitution."
Gore, who would become president if Clinton resigned or were removed fromoffice, said he was confident that Clinton would ultimately be regarded as oneof America's greatest presidents.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the verdict of history will undo theunworthy judgment rendered a while ago in the United States Capitol," the vicepresident said.
Gephardt said: "We have just witnessed a partisan vote that was a disgraceto our country and our Constitution. The Democratic caucus in the House willcontinue to stand alongside our president."
The Democrats cheered the president throughout his remarks, and afterwardcrowded around him to exchange handshakes, embraces, even oddly cheery wishesof "Merry Christmas."
Normally a man who can't resist shaking another hand, Clinton seemed eagerto retreat to the Oval Office, even as he thanked the lawmakers one by one andmade startlingly lighthearted comments, such as, "We're going Christmasshopping this week."
Twice, he reached for his wife's hand and clung to it firmly even as shestretched to hug lawmakers.
Once inside the Oval Office, Clinton hugged his now famous secretary,Betty Currie, one of the central players in the Monica Lewinsky scandal thathas put his presidency in grave jeopardy.
House Democrats had made the short trip to the White House in two busesyesterday just after the final impeachment vote. In a private meeting in theEast Room, they sought to buoy the president's spirits and assure him thatthey stoutly opposed any consideration of resignation.
During the closed-door meeting, Clinton expressed gratitude to theDemocratic members for their nearly unanimous support -- only five Democratsvoted for impeachment -- and said he wished he had never put them through thisordeal.
From the private East Room session, Clinton and the first lady, flanked byGore, Gephardt and Podesta, walked along the wreath-dotted White Housecolonnade to the Oval Office, smiling and chatting animatedly.
They were followed by the parade of House members, which made its way tothe South Lawn to form a backdrop and await Clinton's first publicpost-impeachment appearance.
Earlier in the day, as the first article of impeachment was approved at 1:24 p.m., Clinton was in the Oval Office, finishing a prayer with one of hisspiritual advisers, the Rev. Tony Campolo. They were not watching theimpeachment debate.
Podesta and another top aide, Douglas Sosnik, interrupted to inform thepresident of the vote.
Clinton and his two aides then proceeded to the president's private study-- the same small area off the Oval Office where the president metoccasionally with Lewinsky -- to watch the remaining votes.
"He was not surprised, based on how the process has been conducted sofar," one White House official said. "He's disappointed, but determined tocontinue to work toward a bipartisan solution to this."
The White House is bringing in additional help as the president tries tosurvive the critical next phase of the impeachment process in the Senate. Theyhope to enlist, among others, former Senate Democratic leader George J.Mitchell, who has good relations with a number of Republican lawmakers.
In another day of high drama and high stakes, Clinton juggled the historicvote on his presidency with the military action against Iraq, announcing anend to Operation Desert Fox just 90 minutes after he had first commented onhis impeachment in nationally televised remarks.
Clinton was thrown another wild card earlier in the day whenSpeaker-designate Robert L. Livingston announced that he was resigning fromthe House after revelations that he had had extramarital affairs -- and hechallenged Clinton to do the same.
Clinton, through his spokesman, called on Livingston to reconsider hisdecision. And in his remarks yesterday afternoon, the president denounced theuse of personal misdeeds as politic weapons.
"We must stop the politics of personal destruction," Clinton said. TC "Wemust get rid of the poisonous venom of excessive partisanship, obsessiveanimosity and uncontrolled anger. That is not what America deserves. That isnot what America is about.
"I ask the American people to move with me, to go on from here, to riseabout the rancor, to overcome the pain and division."
Just as the country is coming together, Clinton said, "it must look fromthe country's point of view like Washington is coming apart."
All through the day, the first lady took on an unusually high profile,making a rare trip to Capitol Hill before the House proceedings began to rallyHouse Democrats and ask for their continued support of her husband.
Greeted with wild applause from the Democratic lawmakers, she assured themthat the president would not resign and said she believed he had been treatedunfairly by the Republican-led House.
She said the impeachment process "should be done right, and that up to nowit has not been," said Gephardt, who had invited her to the caucus meeting.
At one point, Mrs. Clinton, who wore a gold American eagle brooch on herdark blue pants suit, spoke in unusually personal terms about her husband.
"I love and care deeply about my husband," she said.
Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas said: "She showed strength and grace anddignity on what must be a very difficult day. She was gracious in thanking themembers of the House."