Presidency of Bill Clinton

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The presidency of Bill Clinton began at noon EST on January 20, 1993, when Bill Clinton was inaugurated as 42nd President of the United States, and ended on January 20, 2001. Clinton, a Democrat, took office following a decisive victory over Republican incumbent President George H. W. Bush and Independent businessman Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential election. Four years later, in the 1996 election, he defeated Perot and Republican Bob Dole to win re-election. During both elections, Clinton ran as a New Democrat, and many of his administration's policy proposals reflected his centrist, Third Way thinking. He was the first president elected after the end of the Cold War, the first Baby Boomer to become president, and also the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve two full terms. He was succeeded by Republican George W. Bush, who won the 2000 presidential election.

The nation experienced an extended period of economic prosperity during the Clinton presidency. Months into his first term, he signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, which raised taxes and set the stage for future budget surpluses. He won ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trade pact negotiated by President George H. W. Bush among the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Clinton's most ambitious legislative initiative, a plan to provide universal health care, never received a vote in Congress as he was unable to win sufficient congressional support for the policy. Clinton's party suffered a strong rebuke in the 1994 elections, and Republicans took control of both houses of Congress for the first time since the 1950s. The "Republican Revolution," as the 1994 elections came to be known, empowered Congressional Republicans led by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to propose several conservative policies. While Clinton vetoed many of these policies, he also signed some, including the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. Disagreements with Congressional Republicans led to two shutdowns of the federal government between 1995 and 1996. In foreign policy, Clinton's first term saw American interventions in Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans. Clinton also appointed two Supreme Court Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Clinton's second term saw the first federal budget surpluses since the 1960s, but this was partially overshadowed by his impeachment in 1998. His impeachment arose after he denied having an affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Though the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton, he was acquitted of all charges by the Senate. In 1997, Clinton signed into law a bill creating the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which was designed to help provide health care coverage for millions of children. In 1999, he signed the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, which allowed for the consolidation of investment banks and commercial banks. In foreign policy, Clinton launched a major bombing campaign in the Balkans, which led to the creation of a United Nations protectorate in Kosovo. He played a major role of the expansion of NATO into former Eastern Bloc countries but remained on good terms with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Clinton also pursued closer trade relations with several countries, most notably China.

Clinton left office with high approval ratings, though his preferred successor, Vice President Al Gore, was defeated by Bush in the 2000 presidential election. Since the end of Clinton's presidency, historians and political scientists have tended to rank Clinton as an "average" to "above average" president.[1]

1992 presidential election

President George H. W. Bush's popularity in the aftermath of the successful Gulf War convinced many prominent Democrats to sit out the 1992 presidential election. With party leaders like Mario Cuomo and Dick Gephardt out of the running, the 1992 Democratic primary field consisted of relatively unknown candidates. Among those who sought the Democratic nomination were former Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, former Governor Jerry Brown of California, and Bill Clinton, who had served as the Governor of Arkansas since 1983. Clinton emerged as the front-runner for the nomination after the first set of primaries in February 1992. A founding member of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, Clinton overcome opposition from more liberal Democrats like Brown and clinched the Democratic nomination in April 1992.[2]

Clinton defeated President George H. W. Bush in the 1992 presidential election

Bush defeated a challenge from conservative commentator Pat Buchanan to win his party's nomination. Along with Bush and Clinton, independent candidate Ross Perot emerged as a major factor in the race. Perot, a billionaire businessman from Texas, ran a populist campaign that focused on voters disillusioned with both parties. Perot emphasized his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement and his desire to balance the federal budget. Polls taken in early June 1992 showed Bush leading the race, followed by Perot and then Clinton. From July to September, Perot temporarily dropped out of the race, causing severe damage to his candidacy. At the 1992 Democratic National Convention, Clinton chose Senator Al Gore of Tennessee as his running mate, and this choice and other aspects of the convention unified Democrats behind Clinton. While the 1992 Republican National Convention placed a heavy emphasis on social issues, Clinton's campaign focused on the state of the economy, which was still emerging from the early 1990s recession.[3]

On election day, Clinton won 43% of the popular vote and a wide majority in the Electoral College. Bush won 37.4% of the popular vote, while Perot took 18.9%, the strongest showing by a third party or independent presidential candidate since the 1912 election. Later studies showed that Perot drew his voters roughly equally from Clinton and Bush. Clinton's victory included a sweep of the Northeastern United States, and he also won several states in the Midwest, the West, and the South.[4]


President Clinton's Cabinet, 1993. The President is seated front right, with Vice President Al Gore seated front left.
The Clinton Cabinet
Office Name Term
President Bill Clinton 1993–2001
Vice President Al Gore 1993–2001
Secretary of State Warren Christopher 1993–1997
Madeleine Albright 1997–2001
Secretary of Treasury Lloyd Bentsen 1993–1994
Robert Rubin 1995–1999
Lawrence Summers 1999–2001
Secretary of Defense Les Aspin 1993–1994
William Perry 1994–1997
William Cohen 1997–2001
Attorney General Janet Reno 1993–2001
Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt 1993–2001
Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy 1993–1994
Daniel Glickman 1995–2001
Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown 1993–1996
Mickey Kantor 1996–1997
William Daley 1997–2000
Norman Mineta 2000–2001
Secretary of Labor Robert Reich 1993–1997
Alexis Herman 1997–2001
Secretary of Health and
Human Services
Donna Shalala 1993–2001
Secretary of Education Richard Riley 1993–2001
Secretary of Housing and
Urban Development
Henry Cisneros 1993–1997
Andrew Cuomo 1997–2001
Secretary of Transportation Federico Peña 1993–1997
Rodney Slater 1997–2001
Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary 1993–1997
Federico Peña 1997–1998
Bill Richardson 1998–2001
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown 1993–1997
Togo West 1998–2000
Hershel W. Gober, act. 2000–2001
Chief of Staff Mack McLarty 1993–1994
Leon Panetta 1994–1997
Erskine Bowles 1997–1998
John Podesta 1998–2001
Administrator of the
Environmental Protection Agency
Carol Browner 1993–2001
Director of the Office of
Management and Budget
Leon Panetta 1993–1994
Alice Rivlin 1994–1996
Franklin Raines 1996–1998
Jacob Lew 1998–2001
Director of the Office of
National Drug Control Policy
Lee Brown 1993–1995
Barry McCaffrey 1996–2001
United States Trade Representative Mickey Kantor 1993–1997
Charlene Barshefsky 1997–2001

Vice President Gore and First Lady Hillary Clinton emerged as two of the most influential figures of the Clinton administration, and Clinton solicited their opinions on a wide range of issues.[5] Mack McLarty, a long-time friend of Clinton who had led a successful business career and had served as the chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, became Clinton's first chief of staff.[6] Clinton convinced Lloyd Bentsen, a longtime Senator from Texas and the 1988 Democratic vice presidential nominee, to serve as his first Secretary of the Treasury.[7] At the start of Clinton's first term, Bentsen, OMB Director Leon Panetta, Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, and policy coordinator Robert Rubin were Clinton's top economic advisers.[8] Clinton decided to appoint the first female Attorney General, settling on little-known corporate lawyer Zoë Baird. In what became known as the Nannygate matter, the Senate Judiciary Committee revealed that Baird had hired a Peruvian couple, both illegal immigrants, to work in her home.[9] Baird withdrew her nomination and Clinton next chose Kimba Wood, who was quickly forced to withdraw due to somewhat similar problems. This led to over a thousand presidential appointment positions being subjected to heightened scrutiny for household help hiring practices, and a consequent significant slowdown in getting new administration positions filled.[10] Janet Reno, a Florida state's attorney, was nominated for Attorney General a few weeks later, and she won confirmation in March 1993.[11] Clinton's first term foreign policy team was led by National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and Secretary of State Warren Christopher, both of whom had served in the Carter administration.[12]

Secretary of Defense Les Aspin resigned in the aftermath of the Battle of Mogadishu, and was succeeded by William Perry.[13] Bentsen and McLarty also left office in 1994, and they were replaced by Rubin and Panetta, respectively.[14] After Clinton's re-election, Panetta stepped down and was replaced by former deputy chief of staff Erskine Bowles.[15] Madeleine Albright became the first female Secretary of State, Sandy Berger succeeded Lake as National Security Adviser, and former Republican Senator William Cohen became the Secretary of Defense.[16] According to reporter John Harris, Berger's close rapport with Clinton made him the leading foreign policy figure of Clinton's second term, as well as the most influential National Security Advisor since Henry Kissinger.[17] John Podesta assumed the position of Chief of Staff in 1998, while Lawrence Summers replaced Rubin as Treasury Secretary in 1999.[18]

Judicial appointments

Clinton appointed two justices to the Supreme Court. The first vacancy arose in March 1993, when Associate Justice Byron White informed Clinton of his impending retirement. Clinton considered various nominating political leaders like Mario Cuomo and Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, whom he believed could become leaders on the court in a similar fashion to Earl Warren.[19] After weeks of consideration, Clinton began to favor appointing an experienced jurist, and he conducted interviews with Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both of whom served as federal appellate judges. Clinton announced Ginsburg's nomination in June 1993 and she was confirmed by the Senate two months later, making her the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court after Sandra Day O'Connor.[20] Harry Blackmun retired in 1994, and Clinton successfully nominated Breyer to succeed Blackmun.

Clinton also appointed 66 judges to the United States Courts of Appeals and 305 judges to the United States district courts. Among Clinton's appellate appointees were future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Merrick Garland, who was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2016.

Domestic affairs



Clinton inherited a major budget deficit left over from the Reagan and Bush administrations; fiscal year 1992 had seen a $290 billion deficit. In order to cut the deficit, Bentsen, Panetta, and Rubin urged Clinton to pursue both tax increases and spending cuts. They argued that by taming the deficit, Clinton would encourage Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to lower interest rates, which, along with increased confidence among investors, would lead to an economic boom.[21] Though Secretary of Labor Robert Reich argued that stagnant earnings as a bigger economic issue than the deficits, Clinton decided to pursue deficit reduction as the major economic priority of his first year in office.[22] In doing so, he reluctantly abandoned a middle class tax cut that he championed during the campaign.[23]

Clinton presented his budget plan to Congress in February 1993, proposing a mix of tax increases and spending reductions that would cut the deficit in half by 1997.[24] Republican leaders strongly opposed any tax increase, and they pressured congressional Republicans to unite in opposition to Clinton's budget,[25] and not a single Republican would vote in favor of Clinton's proposed bill.[22] Senate Democrats eliminated the implementation of a new energy tax in favor of an increase in the gasoline tax, but Clinton successfully resisted efforts to defeat his proposed expansion of the earned income tax credit.[26] By narrow margins, the Senate and the House of Representatives both passed versions of Clinton's budget bill, and a conference committee settled the differences between the House and Senate.[27] The House passed the final bill in a 218–216 vote. After intensely lobbying Bob Kerrey and other Democratic senators, Clinton won passage of his bill in the Senate in 50–50 tie vote; Vice President Gore broke the tie. Clinton signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (OBRA–93) into law on August 10, 1993.[28]

Government shutdowns

After Republicans took control of Congress in the 1994 elections, incoming Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich promised a conservative "revolution" that would implement tax cuts, welfare reform, and major domestic spending cuts.[29] With conservatism on the rise and New Deal liberalism in retreat, Clinton hoped to forge a new consensus that did not totally reject government interventionism.[30] In reaction to his party's electoral defeat, Clinton hired consultant Dick Morris, who advocated that Clinton pursue a policy of triangulation between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. By co-opting some of Republican ideas, Morris argued that Clinton could boost his own popularity while blocking the possibility of the drastic reforms advocated by some conservatives.[30]

The Republican Congress presented Clinton with a budget plan that cut Medicare spending and instituted major tax cuts for the wealthy, giving him a November 14, 1995 deadline to approve the bill. After the deadline, the government would be forced to temporarily shut down due to a lack of funding. In reaction, Clinton presented his own plan that did not include spending cuts to Medicare, but would balance the budget by 2005. As Clinton refused to sign the Republican bill, major portions of the government suspended operations on November 14. Congress enacted a stopgap measure to re-open the government, but the government shut down again on December 16 after Clinton vetoed the Republican budget proposal. Polls showed that most in the public blamed congressional Republicans for the shut down, and Congress passed a bill that hewed closely to Clinton's budget proposal.[31]

Budget surplus

U.S. Federal Debt as Percent of GDP since World War II, with presidential terms marked.

Combined with a strong economy, the 1993 deficit reduction plan produced smaller budget deficits each year. In 1998, the federal government experienced the first budget surplus since the 1960s. Reflecting the importance of the budget surplus, the New York Times described the end of budget deficits as "the fiscal equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall." With the improving state of the federal budget, Clinton and congressional Republicans reached a budget agreement in 1997 that provided for relatively small changes to the budget.[32] Though Republican leaders called for large tax cuts in light of the budgetary surplus, Clinton successfully resisted any major budgetary changes in the last three years of his term.[33]

1993 health care plan

Democrats had sought to establish a national health insurance system since the Truman administration. When Clinton took office, approximately twenty percent of American adults lacked health insurance, despite the fact that the United States spent more on health care than other developed countries.[1][34] Many liberals advocated the establishment of a single-payer healthcare system similar to that of Canada, while a group of congressional Republicans developed a plan consisting of government subsidies and the implementation of a mandate that would require individuals to purchase health insurance.[34] The administration formed a task force, led by First Lady Hillary Clinton, that was charged with creating a plan that would provide for universal health care. Though Hillary Clinton had led a similar effort on education reform in Arkansas, the appointment of the president's wife to such a major position sparked controversy.[35] Rejecting calls for a single-payer system, the Clinton health care plan sought to extend employer-based health insurance by requiring most businesses to provide insurance to their employees. The plan also expanded the government's regulatory role in a concept known as "managed competition," with the government setting a minimum level of benefits that each plan could provide. Additionally, insurers would no longer be permitted to charge different rates to customers based on age and pre-existing conditions.[36]

After winning the passage of OBRA–93 and the ratification of NAFTA in 1993, Clinton made the passage off his major initiative in 1994.[37] Though many corporations supported the proposal in hopes of reducing their own costs, several other groups strongly objected to the plan. Liberals criticized Clinton for not proposing more far-reaching reforms, while conservatives attacked the expansion of government. Interest groups ran ad campaigns alleging that the Clinton health care bill would lead to health care rationing, reduced choices, and increased costs. Congressmen Newt Gingrich and columnist Bill Kristol led opposition to the bill, convincing congressional Republicans to resist any form of compromise. Clinton's decision not to engage congressional Democrats and moderate Republicans early in 1993, and his own refusal to compromise on various aspects of the bill, also limited his plan's support. Lacking support from Republicans, and with his own party divided, Clinton decided to abandon his reform plan in September 1994.[38]

Welfare reform

Shortly after the end of the government shutdown, Clinton announced his plan to pursue major changes to the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, which provided financial assistance to low-income families with children. Clinton believed that the program inadvertently trapped many poor families and individuals in a cycle of poverty, and he favored shifting funding from AFDC to job training and child care programs.[39] Republicans shared Clinton's goal of making major changes to the welfare system, but they were unwilling to fund the job training programs and wanted to prevent legal immigrants from receiving welfare benefits.[40] Clinton twice vetoed Republican plans that terminated AFDC, but he ultimately decided that he favored the Republican reform plan over no reform at all. In July 1996, Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which terminated AFDC. In its place, the bill created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which imposed new work requirements for and lifetime limits on aid recipients, and shifted responsibility for the administration of the programs to the states.[39]


Budget Deficit in Billions of Dollars (1971-2001). There were budget surpluses from 1998 to 2001.
Waterfall chart shows cause of change from deficit in 1994 to surplus in 2001, measured as a % GDP. Income tax revenues rose as a % GDP following higher taxes for high income earners, while defense spending and interest fell relative to GDP.

Clinton's presidency included a great period of economic growth in America's history. David Greenberg, a professor of history and media studies at Rutgers University, opined that:

By the end of the Clinton presidency, the numbers were uniformly impressive. Besides the record-high surpluses and the record-low poverty rates, the economy could boast the longest economic expansion in history; the lowest unemployment since the early 1970s; and the lowest poverty rates for single mothers, black Americans, and the aged.[41]

Clinton proposed a $30 billion economic stimulus package in his first year in office, but his proposal was blocked by Senate Republicans, and he would be unable to win the passage of any similar proposal for the remainder of his presidency. Clinton held office at a time when monetarism had supplanted Keynesianism as the dominant theory of economic growth among many in Washington. Under the theory of monetarism, the Clinton's fiscal policies would have relatively little impact on the economy. Instead, monetarists contended that the economy was guided by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, a group of appointed officials who set monetary policy. Throughout Clinton's presidency, Alan Greenspan served as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and he emerged as an even more prominent public figure as the economy improved in mid-to-late 1990s.[42] Though much of the credit for the strong economy was assigned to Greenspan, the Clinton administration also basked in the approval of Americans who enjoyed the benefits of a strong economy, and good economic conditions helped Clinton remain popular despite controversies over his personal life.[43]


Clinton presided over a period of deregulation in the telecommunications and financial industries. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 represented the first major overhaul of the Communications Act of 1934.[44] In 1999, Clinton signed into law the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act. The act repealed a provision of the Glass–Steagall Act that had prevented one institution from acting as both an investment bank and a commercial bank.[45] Shortly before leaving office, Clinton signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which deregulated trading of derivatives. The bill also included the "Enron loophole," which lessened regulation of energy trading by companies such as Enron.[46]

Social issues

On taking office, Clinton revoked a gag order that had prevented abortion counseling in federally funded clinics. He also signed an executive order allowing the use of fetal tissue in medical research. These early policies moves signaled Clinton's break with the socially conservative policies of his predecessors.[47] Clinton supported the right of homosexual individuals to serve in the military, and, along with Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, he developed a plan that would allow openly gay individuals to serve in the military. Clinton's proposal received strong pushback from military leaders, especially Marine Commandant Carl Epting Mundy Jr. General Colin Powell suggested a compromise solution in which the military would not ask recruits about their sexual orientation, but would retain the right to discharge those who were gay. Clinton resisted the compromise policy, which became known as "don't ask, don't tell," but congressional leaders of both parties made it clear that they would reverse any executive order allowing gay individuals to openly serve in the military.[48]

Other policies

Within a month of taking office, Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. The act, which had been vetoed by Bush, guaranteed workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave for certain medical and family reasons, including pregnancy.[22] Clinton signed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in August 1996. The bipartisan bill granted people the right to keep their insurance plan if they changed jobs, and also contained several other health care reforms.[49] In October 1996, Senator Ted Kennedy introduced a bill to provide health care coverage for children of the working poor, to be financed via a 75 cents a pack cigarette tax increase.[50] Working with Clinton and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, Kennedy won passage of the Children's Health Insurance Program in 1997.[51]

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, enacted by Clinton on October 21, 1998, served as the first significant amendment to the Copyright Act since 1976. The DMCA provided a framework for sound recording copyright owners and recording artists to seek public performance royalties under statute, which proved to be a landmark achievement for the recording industry.[citation needed] The law included a provision reiterating the "fair use" of copyrighted materials, and another provision that exempted internet service providers from responsibility for inadvertently transmitting copyrighted works.[52] That same month, Clinton also signed the Copyright Term Extension Act, which retroactively extended copyright protection an extra twenty years.[53]

Foreign affairs


Clinton took office less than two years after the Dissolution of the Soviet Union, which marked the end of the Cold War. With the end of that long-standing geopolitical conflict, trade became an increasingly prominent issue in international politics, as countries sought reduced tariffs and other trade agreements. Clinton believed that globalization would promote economic prosperity and democratization throughout the world, and he pursued several major trade agreements.[54] President Bush had signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico in the final year of his term, but the agreement had not yet been ratified when Clinton took office. Opposition to NAFTA crossed party lines, as organized labor allies like Democratic Congressman Dick Gephardt and conservative isolationists like Pat Buchanan both opposed ratification.[55] With the fate of NAFTA still uncertain in the House of Representatives, Vice President Gore met Ross Perot in a televised debate on CNN. Gore's strong performance in the debate, as well as the Clinton administration's lobbying campaign, helped NAFTA win ratification in November 1993.[56]

In total, the Clinton administration negotiated approximately 300 trade agreements with other countries.[57] By granting China temporary most favoured nation status in 1993, his administration minimized tariff levels in Chinese imports. Clinton initially conditioned extension of this status on Chinese human rights reforms, but ultimately decided to extend the status despite a lack of reform.[58] In 2000, Clinton signed a bill granting permanent normal trade relations to China, and American imports from China massively increased in the subsequent years.[59] Clinton's last treasury secretary, Lawrence Summers, argued that Clinton's trade policies were technically "the largest tax cut in the history of the world" in that they reduced prices on consumer goods by lowering tariffs.[60] Clinton's advocacy of trade agreements sparked a backlash among those who criticized the various aspects of globalization, as well as the domestic manufacturing job losses that occurred during following the ratification of NAFTA. A 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle was overshadowed by major protests that descended into violence.[58]

Military interventions

Unrest in Somalia had escalated into a full-scale civil war in 1991 and the following year, President Bush dispatched 25,000 U.S. soldiers to the country to join a United Nations peacekeeping mission. By the fall of 1993, Somalia remained in a state of civil war, and the 4,000 U.S. soldiers still served in the peacekeeping mission. In October 1993, U.S. special forces launched a raid on Mogadishu with the intention of capturing warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, who had led attacks against U.N. forces. The raid ended in failure and in the death of eighteen Americans. U.S. forces withdrew from Somalia in March 1994.[61]

The experience in Somalia exacerbated internal debates around the role of U.S. military power in the Post–Cold War era. In a victory for those who favored non-intervention, the Clinton administration placed new limits on the deployment of U.S. troops, especially as part of U.N. peacekeeping missions.[62] In April 1994, the Hutu of Rwanda engaged in a genocide against the minority Tutsi, killing 800,000 people in a three-month span. The UN sent a small force to provide aid, but the U.S., with no strategic or economic interest in the country, did not intervene.[63] Clinton would later describe non-intervention in Rwanda as the worst mistake of his administration.[64]

A military junta in Haiti had ousted the country's democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 1991.[65] Clinton was inclined to restore Aristide, in part due to stem the flow of Haitians fleeing to the U.S., but many Americans opposed a military intervention in a country that posed not threat to the United States.[66] Despite congressional and public opposition, Clinton announced in September 1994 that the United States would remove the junta if it did not voluntarily relinquish power.[67] At the same time, he sent a peace mission consisting of Powell, former President Jimmy Carter, and Senator Sam Nunn to convince the military government to step aside. As U.S. soldiers prepared to launch a strike against Haiti, the military government agreed to restore Aristide.[68]


Map of the six Yugoslav republics and autonomous provinces in 1991[69]

During the closing stages of the Cold War, Serbian nationalist Slobodan Milošević took power as the leader of the Socialist Republic of Serbia. His nationalist policies alienated leaders of the other constituent countries of Yugoslavia, a multi-ethnic state that had been established in 1918. Slovenia, Croatia, and the Republic of Macedonia each declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, but Serbian forces forcefully opposed Croatia's independence, beginning the Yugoslav Wars. In 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina also declared independence. As in Croatia, a significant minority of Serbs opposed to independence lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Bosnian War began between proponents and opponents of independence.[70] ethnic cleansing campaigns conducted by Bosnian Serbs provoked world condemnation, and the issue of whether to intervene in the Balkan Wars posed one of the greatest foreign policy questions as Clinton took office. Activists such Elie Wiesel pressured Clinton to help put an end to the ethnic cleansing, and Clinton himself wanted to do something to end the violence.[71] General Colin Powell, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, convinced Clinton to abstain from a military intervention, arguing that the United States should not become involved in a region in which it lacked clear strategic interests.[72]

In May 1994, after Serb forces invaded safe zones established by the United Nations Protection Force, Clinton authorized air strikes against Serb positions.[73] The air strikes did not end Serb advances, and in July 1995 over 8,000 Bosniaks were killed in the Srebrenica massacre. Clinton and National Security Adviser Anthony Lake formulated a plan to end the genocide in Bosnia, with the key part of the plan being a major NATO air campaign against the Bosnian Serbs. After Clinton won the support of European leaders for the campaign, NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force. In reaction to bombing campaign and the advance of Bosniak forces, Milošević agreed to begin peace talks.[74] The subsequent Dayton Agreement ended the Bosnian War and divided Bosnia into two autonomous regions.[75]

In 1998, the Kosovo War broke out in Kosovo, an autonomous province of Serbia. A group of ethnic Albanians known as the Kosovo Liberation Army sought independence, launching attacks against Serb forces. In putting down the attacks, Serb forces engaged in an ethnic cleaning campaign against the Albanian population. Though NATO leaders were reluctant to become involved, and Russia threatened to veto any U.N. resolution allowing for military action, many of Clinton's advisers called for another intervention in the Balkans.[76] Hoping to again force Milošević into peace talks, Clinton ordered a bombing campaign against Serb forces in March 1999. As Milošević refused to capitulate, NATO escalated the bombing campaign, resulting in the devastation of the Serbian capital of Belgrade. As domestic opposition to his leadership grew, Milošević agreed to withdraw troops and allow NATO-led peacekeeping force to be stationed in Kosovo. Kosovo's status would be disputed in subsequent years, while Milošević was overthrown in October 2000.[77]

Expansion of NATO

One of Clinton's major priorities was an expansion of NATO into former Eastern Bloc countries in Eastern Europe. Clinton believed that NATO would provide a stabilizing influence on these countries.[78] NATO had been created as a bloc in opposition to the Soviet Union, and many Russian leaders felt threatened by the expansion of the military alliance. Clinton's NATO expansion also faced domestic resistance from those who feared alienating Russia.[79] Upon taking office, Clinton cultivated a close relationship with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and he had convinced Yeltsin to play a role in enforcing the Dayton Agreement in Bosnia.[80] In 1997, Clinton won Yeltsin's reluctant assent to the expansion of NATO, clearing the way for the accession of Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic into NATO.[78] Yeltsin pressed for a commitment not to expand NATO into the Baltic states, but Clinton was not willing to bind his successors to such a promise.[81] The French pushed for the addition of Romania and Slovenia to NATO, but Clinton opposed this move, as he believed that too quick of an expansion into Eastern Europe would dilute the strength of NATO.[82]


Terrorism emerged as an increasingly important national security issue during Clinton's administration.[83] In the closing years of the Soviet–Afghan War, Osama bin Laden had organized al-Qaeda, a militant Sunni organization. Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders despised Western values, and were particularly by the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaeda grew during the 1990s and engaged in terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere.[84] The group claimed responsibility for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, and the bombing of a U.S. ship at port in Yemen. In retaliation, Clinton ordered the bombing of al-Qaeda facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan.[85] The Central Intelligence Agency and the military tracked bin Laden's movements in an attempt to capture or kill him, but Bin Laden evaded capture or death within the mountainous and hostile country of Afghanistan.[86]

Other issues and events

Clinton sought to mediate the Arab-Israeli Conflict, encouraging the leaders of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization to reach the 1993 Oslo Accords.[87] A subsequent agreement created the Palestinian National Authority, which was given control over the Gaza strip, a territory that Israel had taken control of in the 1967 Six-Day War. During his second terms, Clinton sought to revive the dormant peace process, specifically by convincing Israel to turn over control of the West Bank, another territory captured in the Six-Day War. Clinton hosted the 2000 Camp David Summit between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, but the two sides were unable to reach an agreement. In September 2000, the Palestinians launched an uprising known as the Second Intifada, beginning an upsurge that would continue after the end of Clinton's presidency.[88]

Clinton maintained the economic sanctions and the no-fly zones imposed on Iraq in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War. In retaliation for Iraq's attempted assassination of former President Bush, Clinton ordered cruise missile strikes on the headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.[87] After Hussein repeatedly obstructed the UN commission charged with monitoring Iraq's WMD program, the U.S. and the U.K. engaged in a bombing campaign against Iraqi weapon facilities.[89]

In January 1995, Clinton's economic advisers informed him that the Mexican government would default on its loans unless the U.S. offered a $25 billion loan package. Though Clinton and Speaker of the House Gingrich both believed that preventing the Mexican economy was important to U.S. interests, Congress refused to authorize an aid package.[90] The Clinton administration also helped limit the effects of the 1997 Asian financial crisis by keeping U.S. markets open.[91]

Despite opposition from conservatives and veterans of the Vietnam War, Clinton normalized relations with Vietnam in 1995. That same year, he became the first U.S. president to Vietnam. Clinton was also the first president to visit Botswana, Slovenia, and South Africa.[92]


Prior to taking office, Bill and Hillary Clinton had invested in the Whitewater Development Corporation, a real estate development company owned by Jim McDougal and Susan McDougal that quickly went bankrupt. The McDougals were later charged with fraud due to their activities connected to a savings and loan association. The July 1993 death of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster raised new allegations about the Clinton's connections to the savings and loan associations, marking the start of what became known as the Whitewater controversy. To defuse allegations stemming from Foster's death, Clinton authorized Attorney General Reno to appoint a special prosecutor under the terms of the Ethics in Government Act. Later, a special three-judge panel convened and appointed Ken Starr, a former U.S. solicitor general, as an independent counsel charged with investigating the Whitewater controvery. Starr's investigation expanded beyond Whitewater, in part because of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Clinton by Paula Jones, a former Arkansas employee.[93]

In 1998, Starr's office learned that a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky had engaged in an affair with Clinton. In a deposition related to the Jones lawsuit, Clinton swore under oath that he had not engaged in sexual relations with Lewinsky. Starr reached an immunity deal with Lewinsky and obtained her confession of the affair. Though Clinton argued that he had not lied under oath in his answers to the questions asked at the Jones deposition, the House Judiciary Committee began impeachment proceedings against Clinton. In a party-line vote, the House passed two articles of impeachment against Clinton. In January 1999, the Senate began the second presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, after that of Andrew Johnson. Removal of the president would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate. Though Republicans held a majority in the Senate, both articles of impeachment failed to even win a majority of the vote. Clinton would later publicly acknowledge that he "knowingly gave evasive and misleading answers" in the Jones deposition.[94]

The impeachment proceedings may have boosted Clinton's popularity, as many viewed the Republican impeachment attempts as politically motivated. In 1999, Congress chose not to renew the independent counsel law that had allowed Starr's appointment, meaning that future investigations of a similar nature would be conducted under the oversight of the Justice Department rather than through a judicial panel.[95]


1994 mid-term election

A series of controversies, including the debate over gays in the military, contentious confirmation battles, and "Travelgate," sunk Clinton's approval ratings to just 37 percent in mid-1993.[96] Further setbacks related to health care and foreign policy left Clinton in a weak position in the lead-up to the 1994 elections.[97] Led by Newt Gingrich, House Republicans created the Contract with America, which promised an overhaul of the federal welfare system and passage of a balanced budget amendment, term limits, and deregulation. Republican won control of both chambers of Congress, picking up 54 seats in the House of Representatives and 9 Senate seats.[98] As the victory gave Republicans unified control of Congress for the first time since 1955, some commentators referred to the 1994 elections as the "Republican Revolution."

1996 re-election

Clinton defeated Bob Dole in the 1996 presidential election

Clinton's handling of the budget and the Bosnian War improved his approval ratings, and his own polling showed him consistently leading Republican challengers throughout 1996.[99] Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole defeated Pat Buchanan and publisher Steve Forbes in the 1996 Republican primaries, and Dole was formally nominated at the August 1996 Republican National Convention. At the convention, Dole selected conservative former Congressman Jack Kemp and announced that he favored a 15% across-the-board income tax cut. Perot also ran again, this time as a member of the Reform Party. Dole was unable to find a winning topic to campaign on, and Clinton won by a wide margin in the popular vote and the Electoral College. Despite Clinton's victory, Republican contained control of the House and the Senate in the 1996 congressional elections.[100]

1998 mid-term election

In the midst of the impeachment hearings, Clinton's approval ratings rose above 65 percent. Polls showed that many in the public did not condone Clinton's relations with Lewinsky, but they did not believe that it was grounds for removal from office. Defying predictions of congressional losses, the Democrats picked up five seats in the House of Representatives; neither party gained seats in the Senate. It was the first example of a president's party gaining seats during the president's sixth year in office since the Civil War. Gingrich resigned from office after the elections, and he was succeeded as Speaker of the House by Dennis Hastert.[101]

2000 election

Republican George W. Bush defeated Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election

Vice President Al Gore won the Democratic nomination in the 2000 presidential election, defeating a challenge from Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey. Governor George W. Bush of Texas won the Republican nomination after defeating Senator John McCain of Arizona in the 2000 Republican primaries. Ralph Nader ran as the Green Party candidate, winning support from many liberals who were disappointed by the centrist tendencies of Clinton and Gore.[102] Clinton and Gore had been close political partners for much of Clinton's presidency, but Gore kept his distance from Clinton during the presidential campaign.[103] Gore chose Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, a prominent intra-party critic of Clinton and the affair with Lewinsky, as his running mate.[104] In an extremely close and controversial election, Bush defeated Gore in the 2000 election, though Gore did win the popular vote. The election was decided in the state of Florida, which saw a prolonged recount end via a 5-4 Supreme Court decision; Bush won the state by just 537 votes. That same year, First Lady Hillary Clinton was elected to represent New York in the United States Senate.

See also


  1. ^ Health care spending made up 14% of the American economy in 1994, compared to 10% for Canada and less than 9% in the remaining developed countries.[105]


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Works Cited

Further Reading

  • Peter Baker The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton (2000) ISBN 0-684-86813-X
  • Hamilton, Nigel (2007). Bill Clinton : mastering the presidency. New York: PublicAffairs. 
  • Herring, George (2008). From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776. Oxford University Press. 
  • Klein, Joe (2002). The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton. Doubleday. ISBN 0-7679-1412-0. 
  • Leuchtenberg, William (2015). The American President: From Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton. Oxford University Press. 
  • Maney, Patrick J. (2016). Bill Clinton: New Gilded Age President. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0700621941. 
  • Troy, Gil. The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s (2015)
  • White, Mark J., ed. (2012). The Presidency of Bill Clinton: The Legacy of a New Domestic and Foreign Policy. I.B. Tauris. 
U.S. Presidential Administrations
Preceded by
G. H. W. Bush
Clinton Presidency
Succeeded by
G. W. Bush
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