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Background of the Issue


Clinton being sworn into office on Jan. 20, 1993 at age 46.
(click to enlarge image)
Clinton being sworn into office on Jan. 20, 1993 at age 46.
Source: History Channel, history.com (accessed Oct. 4, 2010)
William Jefferson Clinton, known as Bill Clinton, served as the 42nd President of the United States from Jan. 20, 1993 to Jan. 19, 2001.

His proponents contend that under his presidency the US enjoyed the lowest unemployment and inflation rates in recent history, high home ownership, low crime rates, and a budget surplus. They give him credit for eliminating the federal deficit and reforming welfare, despite being forced to deal with a Republican-controlled Congress.

His opponents say that Clinton cannot take credit for the economic prosperity experienced during his scandal-plagued presidency because it was the result of other factors. In fact, they blame his policies for the financial crisis that began in 2007. They point to his impeachment by Congress and his failure to pass universal health care coverage as further evidence that he was not a good president.

Bill Clinton was born on Aug. 19, 1946 in Hope, Arkansas. He graduated with a BS from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in 1968, then attended Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, then earned his JD from Yale Law School in 1973. He married Hillary Rodham in 1975, and was first elected Governor of Arkansas in 1978. After serving five terms (12 years) as Governor, Clinton announced his candidacy for US president on Oct. 3, 1991. Despite scandals involving accusations of draft dodging and cheating on his wife, Clinton and his running mate, then-Senator Al Gore (D-TN), won the Nov. 3, 1992 election with 370 electoral votes and 43 percent of the popular vote. [47] By defeating incumbent Republican George H.W. Bush and independent Ross Perot, Clinton became the first Democratic president in 12 years. [48].

At the age of 46, Clinton was the youngest president since John F. Kennedy and the third-youngest ever. [1] His campaign staff was also considered young and inexperienced at dealing with the challenges of transitioning from the campaign trail to the White House. This led to some alleged missteps early in his presidency, which were compounded by the inheritance of problems such as the annual deficit being $60 billion worse than the first Bush administration originally admitted. [49]

Although Clinton had intended to "focus like a laser beam" on improving the economy at the beginning of his first term [50], his campaign promise to end the ban on gays in the military was unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight, forcing the administration to address the divisive issue earlier than it would have liked. On Jan. 29, 1993 Clinton settled on a compromise known as "don't ask, don't tell:" the military would not ask about sexual orientation and service members would not divulge it. The solution was unsatisfying to the conservatives opposed to gays in the military as well as the liberals seeking to have the ban on gays lifted. [24]

Clinton, determined to overhaul health care in the US, made his wife Hillary the chair of the President's Task Force on National Health Care Reform on Jan. 25, 1993. [49] Her resulting 1,342-page plan presented to Congress sought to offer universal coverage, regulate the private market, and require employers to provide insurance, among other changes. Facing strong opposition to this ambitious plan and lacking Democratic support, this reform effort finally ended in Sep. 1994. [38] The Clinton Administration's attempt to reform health care is seen as one of its greatest failures. [51]

A truck bomb made with explosive-grade ammonium nitrate fertilizer blasted the Albert P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on Apr. 19, 1995.
(click to enlarge image)
A truck bomb made with explosive-grade ammonium nitrate fertilizer blasted the Albert P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on Apr. 19, 1995.
Source: TIME, time.com (accessed Oct. 4, 2010)
The fallout from the health care failure, in part, enabled the Republican Party to gain control of Congress by winning seven Senate seats and 52 House seats in the Nov. 8, 1994 midterm elections. [52] They used their control to make it difficult for Clinton to pass legislation in other areas. [53]

Clinton did successfully pass the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a treaty that eliminated tariffs and trade restrictions between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Labor unions were bitterly opposed to the treaty because they feared it would result in thousands of US jobs moving to Mexico, but Clinton believed expanding trade would actually create more jobs. [54] NAFTA was signed on Dec. 8, 1993, and received more support from Republicans than Democrats (Republicans comprised 56% of the votes to pass it in both the House and Senate). [55]

After the Apr. 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, an act of domestic terrorism that killed 168 people (including 19 children), the country rallied behind their president as he comforted them and acted decisively to deal with the tragedy. [56]

The Nov. 1995 government shutdowns, caused by an impasse over the federal budget between the Republican-controlled congress and Clinton, put 800,000 federal employees on furlough and cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars. A comment by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich implied he caused the impasse to punish Clinton for making him sit at the back of Air Force One on a flight to a funeral in Israel. Clinton emerged from the conflict with much higher approval ratings, while the Republicans were perceived as petty and partisan. [57] [58]

On Aug. 22, 1996, Clinton signed a welfare reform bill, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, in fulfillment of a major campaign policy. The reform included time limits on receiving benefits and new requirements for most recipients to work within two years of receiving assistance. [21] On the back of this success, Clinton defeated then-Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) in the 1996 US presidential election to win a second term with 49 percent of the popular vote and 379 electoral votes. [59] He was the first Democrat elected to a second term since Franklin D. Roosevelt [60].

Clinton denied having an affair with Monica Lewinsky at a Jan. 26, 1998 press conference.
(click to enlarge image)
Clinton denied having an affair with Monica Lewinsky at a Jan. 26, 1998 press conference.
Source: Independent, www.independent.co.uk (accessed Oct. 4, 2010)
After years of conflict with Republicans, Clinton signed the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 on Aug. 5, which committed the government to balance the budget by 2002. He achieved several goals with the legislation, including extending health insurance to five million children, restoring welfare benefits for some legal immigrants, and bolstering Medicare. He also signed the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, cutting $152 billion in taxes. [61] [62]

The last few years of Clinton's presidency were marked by several scandals related to his personal life. A sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones on May 6, 1994 picked up steam on May 27, 1997 after the US Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that Clinton could not postpone the trial while serving as President. [63] Depositions from that case exposed the news that Clinton may have had a sexual relationship with then-22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky between 1995 and 1997. He initially denied the allegations under oath, in a deposition and in front of a grand jury, and in a press conference, claiming "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." [61] Seven months later, the president admitted there had been a relationship that was "not appropriate." [64] On Dec. 19, 1998 the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton, only the second time in US history that a president was impeached. The charges were perjury (lying under oath) and obstruction of justice. The Senate needed to convict Clinton with a two-thirds vote to remove him from office. The Senate vote was 45-55 to convict on the perjury charge and 50-50 on the obstruction of justice charge, so Clinton was acquitted and remained in office. [65]

Having helped Northern Ireland achieve peace, Clinton spent time trying to mediate peace in the Middle East. [66] He brought the leaders from Israel and Palestine, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat respectively, to the Camp David presidential retreat from July 11-25, 2000 to push for a peace agreement, but none was reached. [67]

In Sep. 2000, a six-year $50 million investigation into the Clinton's Whitewater real estate deal ended when an independent counsel was unable to find sufficient evidence to file criminal charges. [68] Two months later, Hillary Clinton was elected as a US Senator representing the state of New York. [61]

Clinton posed for a photo with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il while on a 2009 diplomatic mission to secure the release of two US journalists.
(click to enlarge image)
Clinton posed for a photo with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il while on a 2009 diplomatic mission to secure the release of two US journalists.
Source: Reuters, reuters.com, Aug. 4, 2009
Clinton created the final scandal of his presidency when he issued 140 pardons and 36 commutations on his last day in office, Jan. 19, 2001. Even Democrats and people close to Clinton spoke out against some of his pardons, especially when it was discovered that Hillary's brother was paid $400,000 for his help in securing a presidential pardon. [69] [70]

By the end of Clinton's second term, 22.5 million jobs were created, the home ownership rate was the highest ever recorded at 67.7 percent, and crime was at a 26-year low. [2] Gallup lists Clinton as having the highest final job approval rating of any US President in recent history (since the end of World War II), with 66 percent approval at the end of his second term. [71] A CBS poll put him equal to Ronald Reagan, with both men scoring 68 percent final approval ratings. [72] Clinton was known as a charismatic leader who paid close attention to public opinion and let it influence his decisions. [73]

Post-presidency, Clinton has devoted much of his time to philanthropy and diplomacy. A Sep. 22, 2010 poll by NBC and the Wall Street Journal [74] found that Clinton was the most popular living political figure in the US at the time of the poll. His 55 percent approval rating topped President Barack Obama (46 percent), former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin (30 percent), and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (22 percent). [5]

Bill Clinton stumped heavily for President Obama's reelection in 2012, making as many 16 campaign stops in the week before the election. [75] His wife's position as US Secretary of State from Jan. 2012 to Feb. 2013 required him to disclose details about private earnings. President Clinton received over $106 million in speaking fees in the first 12 years after he left the White House, including $17 million for 73 speeches given in 2012. When she resigned her Secretary of State post in 2013, Mrs. Clinton gave no indication of returning to politics. However, there is speculation among pundits and in the media that Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2016, which would put Bill Clinton back into the public spotlight. [76]