Governor of Arkansas
President of the United States
William Jefferson Clinton (né Blythe III; born August 19, 1946) is an American lawyer and politician who served as the 42nd president of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Prior to his presidency, he served as governor of Arkansas (1979–1981 and 1983–1992) and as attorney general of Arkansas (1977–1979). A member of the Democratic Party, Clinton was known as a New Democrat, and many of his policies reflected a centrist “Third Way” political philosophy. He is the husband of former secretary of state, former U.S. senator, and two-time candidate for president Hillary Clinton.
Clinton was born and raised in Arkansas and attended Georgetown University,University College, Oxford, and Yale Law School. He met Hillary Rodham at Yale and they were married in 1975. After graduating from law school, Clinton returned to Arkansas and won election as state attorney general, followed by two non-consecutive terms as Arkansas governor. As governor, he overhauled the state’s education system and served as chairman of the National Governors Association. Clinton was elected president in 1992, defeating incumbent Republican opponent George H. W. Bush. At age 46, he became the third-youngest president in history.
Clinton presided over the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in American history. He signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, but failed to pass his plan for national health care reform. In the 1994 elections, the Republican Party won unified control of Congress for the first time in 40 years. In 1996, Clinton became the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to be elected to a second full term. He passed welfare reform and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, as well as financial deregulation measures. He also appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer to the U.S. Supreme Court. During the last three years of Clinton’s presidency, the Congressional Budget Office reported a budget surplus—the first such surplus since 1969. In foreign policy, Clinton ordered U.S. military intervention in the Bosnian and Kosovo wars, signed the Dayton Peace agreement, signed the Iraq Liberation Act in opposition to Saddam Hussein, participated in the Oslo I Accord and Camp David Summit to advance the Israeli–Palestinian peace process, and assisted the Northern Ireland peace process. In 1998, Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives, becoming the second U.S. president to be impeached, after Andrew Johnson. The impeachment was based on accusations that Clinton committed perjury and obstruction of justice for the purpose of concealing his affair with Monica Lewinsky, a 22-year-old White House intern. He was acquitted by the Senate and completed his second term in office.
Clinton left office with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any U.S. president since World War II, and has continually received high scores in the historical rankings of U.S. presidents. Since leaving office, he has been involved in public speaking and humanitarian work. He created the William J. Clinton Foundation to address international causes such as the prevention of AIDS and global warming. In 2004, Clinton published his autobiography, My Life. In 2009, he was named the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti and after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, he teamed up with George W. Bush to form the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. In addition, he secured the release of two American journalists imprisoned by North Korea, visiting the capital Pyongyang in 2009 and negotiating their release with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
Early life and career
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Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III on August 19, 1946, at Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, Arkansas. He is the son of William Jefferson Blythe Jr., a traveling salesman who had died in an automobile accident three months before his birth, and Virginia Dell Cassidy (later Virginia Kelley). His parents had married on September 4, 1943, but this union later proved to be bigamous, as Blythe was still married to his third wife. Virginia traveled to New Orleans to study nursing soon after Bill was born, leaving him in Hope with her parents Eldridge and Edith Cassidy, who owned and ran a small grocery store. At a time when the southern United States was racially segregated, Clinton’s grandparents sold goods on credit to people of all races. In 1950, Bill’s mother returned from nursing school and married Roger Clinton Sr., who co-owned an automobile dealership in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with his brother and Earl T. Ricks. The family moved to Hot Springs in 1950.
Although he immediately assumed use of his stepfather’s surname, it was not until Clinton turned 15 that he formally adopted the surname Clinton as a gesture toward him. Clinton has described his stepfather as a gambler and an alcoholic who regularly abused his mother and half-brother, Roger Clinton Jr. He threatened his stepfather with violence multiple times to protect them.
In Hot Springs, Clinton attended St. John’s Catholic Elementary School, Ramble Elementary School, and Hot Springs High School, where he was an active student leader, avid reader, and musician. Clinton was in the chorus and played the tenor saxophone, winning first chair in the state band’s saxophone section. He briefly considered dedicating his life to music, but as he noted in his autobiography My Life:
Clinton began an interest in law at Hot Springs High, when he took up the challenge to argue the defense of the ancient Roman senator Catiline in a mock trial in his Latin class. After a vigorous defense that made use of his “budding rhetorical and political skills”, he told the Latin teacher Elizabeth Buck it “made him realize that someday he would study law”.
Clinton has identified two influential moments in his life, both occurring in 1963, that contributed to his decision to become a public figure. One was his visit as a Boys Nation senator to the White House to meet President John F. Kennedy. The other was watching Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech on TV, which impressed him so much that he later memorized it.
College and law school years
With the aid of scholarships, Clinton attended the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., receiving a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service degree in 1968.
In 1964 and 1965, Clinton won elections for class president. From 1964 to 1967, he was an intern and then a clerk in the office of Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright. While in college, he became a brother of service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Clinton was also a member of the Order of DeMolay, a youth group affiliated with Freemasonry, but he never became a Freemason. He is a member of Kappa Kappa Psi honorary band fraternity.
Upon graduating from Georgetown in 1968, Clinton won a Rhodes Scholarship to University College, Oxford, where he initially read for a B.Phil. in philosophy, politics, and economics but transferred to a B.Litt. in politics and, ultimately, a B.Phil. in politics. Clinton did not expect to return for the second year because of the draft and he switched programs; this type of activity was common among other Rhodes Scholars from his cohort. He had received an offer to study at Yale Law School, Yale University, but he left early to return to the United States and did not receive a degree from Oxford.
During his time at Oxford, Clinton befriended fellow American Rhodes Scholar Frank Aller. In 1969, Aller received a draft letter that mandated deployment to the Vietnam War. Aller’s 1971 suicide had an influential impact on Clinton. British writer and feminist Sara Maitland said of Clinton, “I remember Bill and Frank Aller taking me to a pub in Walton Street in the summer term of 1969 and talking to me about the Vietnam War. I knew nothing about it, and when Frank began to describe the napalming of civilians I began to cry. Bill said that feeling bad wasn’t good enough. That was the first time I encountered the idea that liberal sensitivities weren’t enough and you had to do something about such things”. Clinton was a member of the Oxford University Basketball Club and also played for Oxford University’s rugby union team.
While Clinton was president in 1994, he received an honorary degree and a fellowship from the University of Oxford, specifically for being “a doughty and tireless champion of the cause of world peace”, having “a powerful collaborator in his wife,” and for winning “general applause for his achievement of resolving the gridlock that prevented an agreed budget”.
Vietnam War opposition and draft controversy
During the Vietnam War, Clinton received educational draft deferments while he was in England in 1968 and 1969. While at Oxford, he participated in Vietnam War protests and organized a Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam event in October 1969. He was planning to attend law school in the U.S. and knew he might lose his deferment. Clinton tried unsuccessfully to obtain positions in the National Guard or Air Force, and he then made arrangements to join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program at the University of Arkansas.
He subsequently decided not to join the ROTC, saying in a letter to the officer in charge of the program that he opposed the war, but did not think it was honorable to use ROTC, National Guard, or Reserve service to avoid serving in Vietnam. He further stated that because he opposed the war, he would not volunteer to serve in uniform, but would subject himself to the draft, and would serve if selected only as a way “to maintain my political viability within the system”. Clinton registered for the draft and received a high number (311), meaning that those whose birthdays had been drawn as numbers 1 to 310 would be drafted before him, making it unlikely he would be called up. (In fact, the highest number drafted was 195.)
Colonel Eugene Holmes, the Army officer who had been involved with Clinton’s ROTC application, suspected that Clinton attempted to manipulate the situation to avoid the draft and avoid serving in uniform. He issued a notarized statement during the 1992 presidential campaign:
During the 1992 campaign, it was revealed that Clinton’s uncle had attempted to secure him a position in the Navy Reserve, which would have prevented him from being deployed to Vietnam. This effort was unsuccessful and Clinton said in 1992 that he had been unaware of it until then. Although legal, Clinton’s actions with respect to the draft and deciding whether to serve in the military were criticized during his first presidential campaign by conservatives and some Vietnam veterans, some of whom charged that he had used Fulbright’s influence to avoid military service. Clinton’s 1992 campaign manager, James Carville, successfully argued that Clinton’s letter in which he declined to join the ROTC should be made public, insisting that voters, many of whom had also opposed the Vietnam War, would understand and appreciate his position.
After Oxford, Clinton attended Yale Law School and earned a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree in 1973. In 1971, he met his future wife, Hillary Rodham, in the Yale Law Library; she was a class year ahead of him. They began dating and were soon inseparable. After only about a month, Clinton postponed his summer plans to be a coordinator for the George McGovern campaign for the 1972 United States presidential election in order to move in with her in California. The couple continued living together in New Haven when they returned to law school.
Clinton eventually moved to Texas with Rodham in 1972 to take a job leading McGovern’s effort there. He spent considerable time in Dallas, at the campaign’s local headquarters on Lemmon Avenue, where he had an office. Clinton worked with future two-term mayor of Dallas Ron Kirk, future governor of Texas Ann Richards, and then unknown television director (and future filmmaker) Steven Spielberg.
Bill married Hillary on October 11, 1975, and their only child, Chelsea, was born on February 27, 1980.
Governor of Arkansas (1979–1981, 1983–1992)
After graduating from Yale Law School, Clinton returned to Arkansas and became a law professor at the University of Arkansas. In 1974, he ran for the House of Representatives. Running in a conservative district against incumbent Republican John Paul Hammerschmidt, Clinton’s campaign was bolstered by the anti-Republican and anti-incumbent mood resulting from the Watergate scandal. Hammerschmidt, who had received 77 percent of the vote in 1972, defeated Clinton by only a 52 percent to 48 percent margin. In 1976, Clinton ran for Arkansas attorney general. With only minor opposition in the primary and no opposition at all in the general election, Clinton was elected.
In 1978, Clinton entered the Arkansas gubernatorial primary. At just 31 years old, he was one of the youngest gubernatorial candidates in the state’s history. Clinton was elected Governor of Arkansas in 1978, having defeated the Republican candidate Lynn Lowe, a farmer from Texarkana. Clinton was only 32 years old when he took office, the youngest governor in the country at the time and the second youngest governor in the history of Arkansas. Due to his youthful appearance, Clinton was often called the “Boy Governor”. He worked on educational reform and directed the maintenance of Arkansas’s roads, with wife Hillary leading a successful committee on urban health care reform. However, his term included an unpopular motor vehicle tax and citizens’ anger over the escape of Cuban refugees (from the Mariel boatlift) detained in Fort Chaffee in 1980. Monroe Schwarzlose, of Kingsland in Cleveland County, polled 31 percent of the vote against Clinton in the Democratic gubernatorial primary of 1980. Some suggested Schwarzlose’s unexpected voter turnout foreshadowed Clinton’s defeat by Republican challenger Frank D. White in the general election that year. As Clinton once joked, he was the youngest ex-governor in the nation’s history.
Clinton joined friend Bruce Lindsey’s Little Rock law firm of Wright, Lindsey and Jennings. In 1982, he was elected governor a second time and kept the office for ten years. Effective with the 1986 election, Arkansas had changed its gubernatorial term of office from two to four years. During his term, he helped transform Arkansas’s economy and improved the state’s educational system. For senior citizens, he removed the sales tax from medications and increased the home property-tax exemption. He became a leading figure among the New Democrats, a group of Democrats who advocated welfare reform, smaller government, and other policies not supported by liberals. Formally organized as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the New Democrats argued that in light of President Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory in 1984, the Democratic Party needed to adopt a more centrist political stance in order to succeed at the national level. Clinton delivered the Democratic response to Reagan’s 1985 State of the Union Address and served as chair of the National Governors Association from 1986 to 1987, bringing him to an audience beyond Arkansas.
In the early 1980s, Clinton made reform of the Arkansas education system a top priority of his gubernatorial administration. The Arkansas Education Standards Committee was chaired by Clinton’s wife Hillary, who was also an attorney as well as the chair of the Legal Services Corporation. The committee transformed Arkansas’s education system. Proposed reforms included more spending for schools (supported by a sales-tax increase), better opportunities for gifted children, vocational education, higher teachers’ salaries, more course variety, and compulsory teacher competency exams. The reforms passed in September 1983 after Clinton called a special legislative session—the longest in Arkansas history. Many have considered this the greatest achievement of the Clinton governorship. He defeated four Republican candidates for governor: Lowe (1978), White (1982 and 1986), Jonesboro businessmen Woody Freeman (1984), and Sheffield Nelson of Little Rock (1990).
Also in the 1980s, the Clintons’ personal and business affairs included transactions that became the basis of the Whitewater controversy investigation, which later dogged his presidential administration. After extensive investigation over several years, no indictments were made against the Clintons related to the years in Arkansas.
According to some sources, Clinton was a death penalty opponent in his early years, but he eventually switched positions. During Clinton’s term, Arkansas performed its first executions since 1964 (the death penalty had been reinstated in 1976). As Governor, he oversaw four executions: one by electric chair and three by lethal injection. Later, Clinton was the first president to pardon a death-row inmate since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988.
1988 Democratic presidential primaries
In 1987, the media speculated that Clinton would enter the presidential race after incumbent New York governor Mario Cuomo declined to run and Democratic front-runner Gary Hart withdrew owing to revelations of multiple marital infidelities. Clinton decided to remain as Arkansas governor (following consideration for the potential candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton for governor, initially favored—but ultimately vetoed—by the First Lady). For the nomination, Clinton endorsed Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis. He gave the nationally televised opening night address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, but his speech, which was 33 minutes long and twice the length it was expected to be, was criticized for being too long and poorly delivered. Clinton presented himself both as a moderate and as a member of the New Democrat wing of the Democratic Party, and he headed the moderate Democratic Leadership Council in 1990 and 1991.
During his presidency, Clinton advocated for a wide variety of legislation and programs, most of which were enacted into law or implemented by the executive branch. His policies, particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement and welfare reform, have been attributed to a centrist Third Way philosophy of governance. His policy of fiscal conservatism helped to reduce deficits on budgetary matters. Clinton presided over the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in American history.
The Congressional Budget Office reported budget surpluses of $69 billion in 1998, $126 billion in 1999, and $236 billion in 2000, during the last three years of Clinton’s presidency. Over the years of the recorded surplus, the gross national debt rose each year. At the end of the fiscal year (September 30) for each of the years a surplus was recorded, The U.S. treasury reported a gross debt of $5.413 trillion in 1997, $5.526 trillion in 1998, $5.656 trillion in 1999, and $5.674 trillion in 2000. Over the same period, the Office of Management and Budget reported an end of year (December 31) gross debt of $5.369 trillion in 1997, $5.478 trillion in 1998, $5.606 in 1999, and $5.629 trillion in 2000. At the end of his presidency, the Clintons moved to Chappaqua, New York, in order to satisfy a residency requirement for his wife to win election as a U.S. Senator from New York.
1992 presidential campaign
In the first primary contest, the Iowa Caucus, Clinton finished a distant third to Iowa senator Tom Harkin. During the campaign for the New Hampshire primary, reports surfaced that Clinton had engaged in an extramarital affair with Gennifer Flowers. Clinton fell far behind former Massachusetts senator Paul Tsongas in the New Hampshire polls. Following Super Bowl XXVI, Clinton and his wife Hillary went on 60 Minutes to rebuff the charges. Their television appearance was a calculated risk, but Clinton regained several delegates. He finished second to Tsongas in the New Hampshire primary, but after trailing badly in the polls and coming within single digits of winning, the media viewed it as a victory. News outlets labeled him “The Comeback Kid” for earning a firm second-place finish.
Winning the big prizes of Florida and Texas and many of the Southern primaries on Super Tuesday gave Clinton a sizable delegate lead. However, former California governor Jerry Brown was scoring victories and Clinton had yet to win a significant contest outside his native South. With no major Southern state remaining, Clinton targeted New York, which had many delegates. He scored a resounding victory in New York City, shedding his image as a regional candidate. Having been transformed into the consensus candidate, he secured the Democratic Party nomination, finishing with a victory in Jerry Brown’s home state of California.
During the campaign, questions of conflict of interest regarding state business and the politically powerful Rose Law Firm, at which Hillary Rodham Clinton was a partner, arose. Clinton argued the questions were moot because all transactions with the state had been deducted before determining Hillary’s firm pay. Further concern arose when Bill Clinton announced that, with Hillary, voters would be getting two presidents “for the price of one”.
Clinton was still the governor of Arkansas while campaigning for U.S. president, and he returned to his home state to see that Ricky Ray Rector would be executed. After killing a police officer and a civilian, Rector shot himself in the head, leading to what his lawyers said was a state where he could still talk but did not understand the idea of death. According to both Arkansas state law and Federal law, a seriously mentally impaired inmate cannot be executed. The courts disagreed with the allegation of grave mental impairment and allowed the execution. Clinton’s return to Arkansas for the execution was framed in an article for The New York Times as a possible political move to counter “soft on crime” accusations.
Bush’s approval ratings were around 80 percent during the Gulf War, and he was described as unbeatable. When Bush compromised with Democrats to try to lower Federal deficits, he reneged on his promise not to raise taxes, which hurt his approval rating. Clinton repeatedly condemned Bush for making a promise he failed to keep. By election time, the economy was souring and Bush saw his approval rating plummet to just slightly over 40 percent. Finally, conservatives were previously united by anti-communism, but with the end of the Cold War, the party lacked a uniting issue. When Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson addressed Christian themes at the Republican National Convention—with Bush criticizing Democrats for omitting God from their platform—many moderates were alienated. Clinton then pointed to his moderate, “New Democrat” record as governor of Arkansas, though some on the more liberal side of the party remained suspicious. Many Democrats who had supported Ronald Reagan and Bush in previous elections switched their support to Clinton. Clinton and his running mate, Al Gore, toured the country during the final weeks of the campaign, shoring up support and pledging a “new beginning”.
On March 26, 1992, during a Democratic fund raiser of the presidential campaign, Robert Rafsky confronted then Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas and asked what he was going to do about AIDS, to which Clinton replied, “I feel your pain.” The televised exchange led to AIDS becoming an issue in the 1992 presidential election. On April 4, then candidate Clinton met with members of ACT UP and other leading AIDS advocates to discuss his AIDS agenda and agreed to make a major AIDS policy speech, to have people with HIV speak to the Democratic Convention, and to sign onto the AIDS United Action five point plan.
Clinton won the 1992 presidential election (370 electoral votes) against Republican incumbent George H. W. Bush (168 electoral votes) and billionaire populist Ross Perot (zero electoral votes), who ran as an independent on a platform that focused on domestic issues. Bush’s steep decline in public approval was a significant part of Clinton’s success. Clinton’s victory in the election ended twelve years of Republican rule of the White House and twenty of the previous twenty-four years. The election gave Democrats full control of the United States Congress, the first time one party controlled both the executive and legislative branches since Democrats held the 96th United States Congress during the presidency of Jimmy Carter.
First term (1993–1997)
First inauguration of Bill Clinton (January 20, 1993)
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Inaugural address, January 20, 1993.
Clinton was inaugurated as the 42nd president of the United States on January 20, 1993. Less than a month after taking office, he signed the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which required large employers to allow employees to take unpaid leave for pregnancy or a serious medical condition. This action had bipartisan support, and was popular with the public.
Two days after taking office, on January 22, 1993—the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade—Clinton reversed restrictions on domestic and international family planning programs that had been imposed by Reagan and Bush. Clinton said abortion should be kept “safe, legal, and rare”—a slogan that had been suggested by University of California, San Diego political scientist Samuel L. Popkin and first used by Clinton in December 1991, while campaigning. During the eight years of the Clinton administration, the U.S. abortion rate declined by about 18.4 percent.
On February 15, 1993, Clinton made his first address to the nation, announcing his plan to raise taxes to close a budget deficit. Two days later, in a nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress, Clinton unveiled his economic plan. The plan focused on reducing the deficit rather than on cutting taxes for the middle class, which had been high on his campaign agenda. Clinton’s advisers pressured him to raise taxes, based on the theory that a smaller federal budget deficit would reduce bond interest rates.
President Clinton’s attorney general Janet Reno authorized the FBI’s use of armored vehicles to deploy tear gas into the buildings of the Branch Davidian community near Waco, Texas, in hopes of ending a 51 day siege. During the operation on April 19, 1993, the buildings caught fire and 75 of the residents died, including 24 children.
On May 19, 1993, Clinton fired seven employees of the White House Travel Office. This caused the White House travel office controversy even though the travel office staff served at the pleasure of the president and could be dismissed without cause. The White House responded to the controversy by claiming that the firings were done in response to financial improprieties that had been revealed by a brief FBI investigation. Critics contended that the firings had been done to allow friends of the Clintons to take over the travel business and the involvement of the FBI was unwarranted.
In August, Clinton signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, which passed Congress without a Republican vote. It cut taxes for 15 million low-income families, made tax cuts available to 90 percent of small businesses, and raised taxes on the wealthiest 1.2 percent of taxpayers. Additionally, it mandated that the budget be balanced over a number of years through the implementation of spending restraints.
On September 22, 1993, Clinton made a major speech to Congress regarding a health care reform plan; the program aimed at achieving universal coverage through a national health care plan. This was one of the most prominent items on Clinton’s legislative agenda and resulted from a task force headed by Hillary Clinton. The plan was well received in political circles, but it was eventually doomed by well-organized lobby opposition from conservatives, the American Medical Association, and the health insurance industry. However, Clinton biographer John F. Harris said the program failed because of a lack of coordination within the White House. Despite the Democratic majority in Congress, the effort to create a national health care system ultimately died when compromise legislation by George J. Mitchell failed to gain a majority of support in August 1994. The failure of the bill was the first major legislative defeat of the Clinton administration.
In November 1993, David Hale—the source of criminal allegations against Bill Clinton in the Whitewater controversy—alleged that while he was governor of Arkansas, Clinton pressured him to provide an illegal $300,000 loan to Susan McDougal, the Clintons’ partner in the Whitewater land deal. A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation resulted in convictions against the McDougals for their role in the Whitewater project, but the Clintons themselves were never charged, and Clinton maintains his and his wife’s innocence in the affair.
On November 30, 1993, Clinton signed into law the Brady Bill, which mandated federal background checks on people who purchase firearms in the United States. The law also imposed a five-day waiting period on purchases, until the NICS system was implemented in 1998. He also expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit, a subsidy for low-income workers.
In December of the same year, allegations by Arkansas state troopers Larry Patterson and Roger Perry were first reported by David Brock in The American Spectator. In the affair later known as “Troopergate”, the officers alleged that they had arranged sexual liaisons for Clinton back when he was governor of Arkansas. The story mentioned a woman named Paula, a reference to Paula Jones. Brock later apologized to Clinton, saying the article was politically motivated “bad journalism”, and that “the troopers were greedy and had slimy motives”.
That month, Clinton implemented a Department of Defense directive known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, which allowed gay men and women to serve in the armed services provided they kept their sexual preferences a secret. The Act forbade the military from inquiring about an individual’s sexual orientation. The policy was developed as a compromise after Clinton’s proposal to allow gays to serve openly in the military met staunch opposition from prominent Congressional Republicans and Democrats, including senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Sam Nunn (D-GA). According to David Mixner, Clinton’s support for the compromise led to a heated dispute with Vice President Al Gore, who felt that “the President should lift the ban … even though [his executive order] was sure to be overridden by the Congress”. Some gay-rights advocates criticized Clinton for not going far enough and accused him of making his campaign promise to get votes and contributions. Their position was that Clinton should have integrated the military by executive order, noting that President Harry S. Truman used executive order to racially desegregate the armed forces. Clinton’s defenders argued that an executive order might have prompted the Senate to write the exclusion of gays into law, potentially making it harder to integrate the military in the future. Later in his presidency, in 1999, Clinton criticized the way the policy was implemented, saying he did not think any serious person could say it was not “out of whack”. The policy remained controversial, and was finally repealed in 2011, removing open sexual orientation as a reason for dismissal from the armed forces.
Remarks on the Signing of NAFTA (December 8, 1993)
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On January 1, 1994, Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement into law. Throughout his first year in office, Clinton consistently supported ratification of the treaty by the U.S. Senate. Clinton and most of his allies in the Democratic Leadership Committee strongly supported free trade measures; there remained, however, strong disagreement within the party. Opposition came chiefly from anti-trade Republicans, protectionist Democrats and supporters of Ross Perot. The bill passed the house with 234 votes against 200 opposed (132 Republicans and 102 Democrats voting in favor; 156 Democrats, 43 Republicans, and one independent against). The treaty was then ratified by the Senate and signed into law by the president.
The Omnibus Crime Bill, which Clinton signed into law in September 1994, made many changes to U.S. crime and law enforcement legislation including the expansion of the death penalty to include crimes not resulting in death, such as running a large-scale drug enterprise. During Clinton’s re-election campaign he said, “My 1994 crime bill expanded the death penalty for drug kingpins, murderers of federal law enforcement officers, and nearly 60 additional categories of violent felons.” It also included a subsection of assault weapons ban for a ten-year period.
On October 21, 1994, the Clinton administration launched the first official White House website, whitehouse.gov. The site was followed with three more versions, resulting in the final edition launched in 2000. The White House website was part of a wider movement of the Clinton administration toward web-based communication. According to Robert Longley, “Clinton and Gore were responsible for pressing almost all federal agencies, the U.S. court system and the U.S. military onto the Internet, thus opening up America’s government to more of America’s citizens than ever before. On July 17, 1996, Clinton issued Executive Order 13011—Federal Information Technology, ordering the heads of all federal agencies to utilize information technology fully to make the information of the agency easily accessible to the public.”
After two years of Democratic Party control, the Democrats lost control of Congress to the Republicans in the mid-term elections in 1994, for the first time in forty years.
A speech delivered by President Bill Clinton at the December 6, 1995 White House Conference on HIV/AIDS projected that a cure for AIDS and a vaccine to prevent further infection would be developed. The President focused on his administration’s accomplishments and efforts related to the epidemic, including an accelerated drug-approval process. He also condemned homophobia and discrimination against people with HIV. Clinton announced three new initiatives: creating a special working group to coordinate AIDS research throughout the Federal government; convening public health experts to develop an action plan that integrates HIV prevention with substance abuse prevention; and launching a new effort by the Justice Department to ensure that health care facilities provide equal access to people with HIV and AIDS.
The White House FBI files controversy of June 1996 arose concerning improper access by the White House to FBI security-clearance documents. Craig Livingstone, head of the White House Office of Personnel Security, improperly requested, and received from the FBI, background report files without asking permission of the subject individuals; many of these were employees of former Republican administrations. In March 2000, Independent Counsel Robert Ray determined there was no credible evidence of any crime. Ray’s report further stated, “there was no substantial and credible evidence that any senior White House official was involved” in seeking the files.
On September 21, 1996, Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage for federal purposes as the legal union of one man and one woman; the legislation allowed individual states to refuse to recognize gay marriages that were performed in other states.Paul Yandura, speaking for the White House gay and lesbian liaison office, said Clinton’s signing DOMA “was a political decision that they made at the time of a re-election”. In defense of his actions, Clinton has said that DOMA was intended to “head off an attempt to send a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the states”, a possibility he described as highly likely in the context of a “very reactionary Congress”. Administration spokesman Richard Socarides said, “the alternatives we knew were going to be far worse, and it was time to move on and get the president re-elected.” Clinton himself said DOMA was something “which the Republicans put on the ballot to try to get the base vote for Bush up, I think it’s obvious that something had to be done to try to keep the Republican Congress from presenting that”. Others were more critical. The veteran gay rights and gay marriage activist Evan Wolfson has called these claims “historic revisionism”. In a July 2, 2011, editorial The New York Times opined, “The Defense of Marriage Act was enacted in 1996 as an election-year wedge issue, signed by President Bill Clinton in one of his worst policy moments.” Ultimately, in United States v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA in June 2013.
Despite DOMA, Clinton was the first president to select openly gay persons for administrative positions, and he is generally credited as being the first president to publicly champion gay rights. During his presidency, Clinton issued two substantially controversial executive orders on behalf of gay rights, the first lifting the ban on security clearances for LGBT federal employees and the second outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal civilian workforce. Under Clinton’s leadership, federal funding for HIV/AIDS research, prevention and treatment more than doubled. Clinton also pushed for passing hate crimes laws for gays and for the private sector Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which, buoyed by his lobbying, failed to pass the Senate by a single vote in 1996. Advocacy for these issues, paired with the politically unpopular nature of the gay rights movement at the time, led to enthusiastic support for Clinton’s election and reelection by the Human Rights Campaign. Clinton came out for gay marriage in July 2009 and urged the Supreme Court to overturn DOMA in 2013. He was later honored by GLAAD for his prior pro-gay stances and his reversal on DOMA.
Bill Clinton’s announcement of Next Generation Internet initiative, October 1996.
The 1996 United States campaign finance controversy was an alleged effort by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to influence the domestic policies of the United States, before and during the Clinton administration, and involved the fundraising practices of the administration itself. Despite the evidence, the Chinese government denied all accusations.
As part of a 1996 initiative to curb illegal immigration, Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) on September 30, 1996. Appointed by Clinton, the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform recommended reducing legal immigration from about 800,000 people a year to about 550,000.
Ken Gormley, author of The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr, reveals in his book that Clinton narrowly escaped possible assassination in the Philippines in November 1996. During his visit to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Manila, while he was on his way to meet with a senior member of the Philippine government, Clinton was saved from danger minutes before his motorcade was scheduled to drive over a bridge charged with a timed improvised explosive device (IED). According to officials, the IED was large enough to “blow up the entire presidential motorcade”. Details of the plot were revealed to Gormley by Lewis C. Merletti, former member of the presidential protection detail and Director of the Secret Service. Intelligence officers intercepted a radio transmission indicating there was a wedding cake under a bridge. This alerted Merletti and others as Clinton’s motorcade was scheduled to drive over a major bridge in downtown Manila. Once more, the word “wedding” was the code name used by a terrorist group for a past assassination attempt. Merletti wanted to reroute the motorcade, but the alternate route would add forty-five minutes to the drive time. Clinton was very angry, as he was already late for the meeting, but following the advice of the secret service possibly saved his life. Two other bombs had been discovered in Manila earlier in the week so the threat level that day was high. Security personnel at the Manila International Airport uncovered several grenades and a timing device in a travel bag. Officials also discovered a bomb near a major U.S. naval base. The president was scheduled to visit both these locations later in the week. An intense investigation took place into the events in Manila and it was discovered that the group behind the bridge bomb was a Saudi terrorist group in Afghanistan known as al-Qaeda and the plot was masterminded by Osama bin Laden. Until recently, this thwarted assassination attempt was never made public and remained top secret. Only top members of the U.S. intelligence community were aware of these events.
1996 presidential election
In the 1996 presidential election, Clinton was re-elected, receiving 49.2 percent of the popular vote over Republican Bob Dole (40.7 percent of the popular vote) and Reform candidate Ross Perot (8.4 percent of the popular vote). Clinton received 379 of the Electoral College votes, with Dole receiving 159 electoral votes. He became the first Democratic incumbent since Lyndon B. Johnson to be elected to a second term and the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to be elected president more than once.
Second term (1997–2001)
In the January 1997, State of the Union address, Clinton proposed a new initiative to provide health coverage to up to five million children. Senators Ted Kennedy—a Democrat—and Orrin Hatch—a Republican—teamed up with Hillary Rodham Clinton and her staff in 1997, and succeeded in passing legislation forming the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), the largest (successful) health care reform in the years of the Clinton Presidency. That year, Hillary Clinton shepherded through Congress the Adoption and Safe Families Act and two years later she succeeded in helping pass the Foster Care Independence Act. Bill Clinton negotiated the passage of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 by the Republican Congress. In October 1997, he announced he was getting hearing aids, due to hearing loss attributed to his age, and his time spent as a musician in his youth. In 1999, he signed into law the Financial Services Modernization Act also known as the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, which repealed the part of the Glass–Steagall Act that had prohibited a bank from offering a full range of investment, commercial banking, and insurance services since its enactment in 1933.
Impeachment and acquittal
Clinton was impeached on December 19, 1998 by the House of Representatives. The House voted 228–206 to impeach him for perjury to a grand jury and voted 221–212 to impeach him for obstruction of justice. Clinton was only the second U.S. president (after Andrew Johnson) to be impeached. Impeachment proceedings were based on allegations that Clinton had illegally lied about and covered up his relationship with 22-year-old White House (and later Department of Defense) employee Monica Lewinsky. After the Starr Report was submitted to the House providing what it termed “substantial and credible information that President Clinton Committed Acts that May Constitute Grounds for an Impeachment”, the House began impeachment hearings against Clinton before the mid-term elections. To hold impeachment proceedings, the Republican leadership called a lame-duck session in December 1998.
While the House Judiciary Committee hearings ended in a straight party-line vote, there was lively debate on the House floor. The two charges passed in the House (largely with Republican support, but with a handful of Democratic votes as well) were for perjury and obstruction of justice. The perjury charge arose from Clinton’s testimony before a grand jury that had been convened to investigate perjury he may have committed in his sworn deposition during Jones v. Clinton, Paula Jones’s sexual harassment lawsuit. The obstruction charge was based on his actions to conceal his relationship with Lewinsky before and after that deposition.
The Senate later acquitted Clinton of both charges. The Senate refused to meet to hold an impeachment trial before the end of the old term, so the trial was held over until the next Congress. Clinton was represented by Washington law firm Williams & Connolly. The Senate finished a twenty-one-day trial on February 12, 1999, with the vote of 55 Not Guilty/45 Guilty on the perjury charge and 50 Not Guilty/50 Guilty on the obstruction of justice charge. Both votes fell short of the constitutional two-thirds majority requirement to convict and remove an officeholder. The final vote was generally along party lines, with no Democrats voting guilty, and only a handful of Republicans voting not guilty.
On January 19, 2001, Clinton’s law license was suspended for five years after he acknowledged to an Arkansas circuit court that he had engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice in the Jones case.
Pardons and commutations
Clinton controversially issued 141 pardons and 36 commutations on his last day in office on January 20, 2001. Most of the controversy surrounded Marc Rich and allegations that Hillary Clinton’s brother, Hugh Rodham, accepted payments in return for influencing the president’s decision-making regarding the pardons. Federal prosecutor Mary Jo White was appointed to investigate the pardon of Rich. She was later replaced by then-Republican James Comey, who found no wrongdoing on Clinton’s part. Some of Clinton’s pardons remain a point of controversy.
Military and foreign affairs
The Battle of Mogadishu occurred in Somalia in 1993. During the operation, two U.S. helicopters were shot down by rocket-propelled grenade attacks to their tail rotors, trapping soldiers behind enemy lines. This resulted in an urban battle that killed 18 American soldiers, wounded 73 others, and one was taken prisoner. There were many more Somali casualties. Some of the American bodies were dragged through the streets—a spectacle broadcast on television news programs. In response, U.S. forces were withdrawn from Somalia and later conflicts were approached with fewer soldiers on the ground.
In April 1994, genocide broke out in Rwanda. Intelligence reports indicate that Clinton was aware a “final solution to eliminate all Tutsis” was underway, long before the administration publicly used the word “genocide”. Fearing a reprisal of the events in Somalia the previous year, Clinton chose not to intervene