Bill Clinton becomes the first Democratic president in 12 years and the 42nd president of the United States. He wins with 43 percent of the vote, followed by incumbent George H.W. Bush with approximately 38 percent and independent candidate Ross Perot with 19 percent. Clinton's popular vote percentage is lower than any incoming president since Woodrow Wilson in 1912.
Clinton is inaugurated, becoming the first president born after World War II. In his inaugural address, Clinton speaks of the rise of technology and global commerce and declares his intention to face the new challenges of the post-Cold War world. "There is nothing wrong with America that can not be cured by what is right with America," he declares.
In his first days in office, Clinton signs an order overturning Reagan and Bush-era restrictions on abortions, names First Lady Hillary Clinton to head the Task Force on National Health Care Reform, and signs the Family and Medical Leave Act allowing workers at large companies to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to attend to family concerns.
Clinton delivers his first prime time address from the Oval Office on the country's economic situation. In the speech, Clinton indicates his intention to raise taxes on the wealthy in order to lower the deficit. Some critics deride the speech for its partisan tone, and the next day the stock market drops 83 points.
Two days later, Clinton outlines his economic program to Congress, spelling out the need for deficit reduction. He proposes a $30 billion stimulus program and a tax increase on the top 1.2 percent of earners. Polls show a rise his approval rating.
A car bomb detonates at the World Trade Center, killing six and injuring more than 1,000 people. Radical Kuwaiti religious leader Ramzi Yousef takes responsibility for the plot. Yousef will later develop ties to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.
After a standoff that began on February 28, FBI agents attack the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, using tear gas to try and expel the occupants. The compound burns to the ground, killing 86 men, women and children in the fire. Attorney General Janet Reno takes responsibility, but Clinton makes only a written statement. Many Americans blame the Clinton Administration for the use of military tactics on civilians.
In retaliation for an alleged attempt to assassinate former president Bush during an April visit to Kuwait, Clinton launches a cruise missile strike against an Iraqi Intelligence Service building in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein's Command Council vows to respond to the act of "cowardly aggression." The events reinvigorate tensions between the U.S. and Iraq lingering after the 1990 Gulf War, and hope for reconciliation between the two countries diminishes.
Clinton announces the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in a speech at the National Defense University at Fort McNair. A compromise reached after Congress had threatened to override Clinton's attempt to lift the ban against homosexuals in the military altogether, the policy forbids the military to ask a recruit about his or her sexual orientation or the recruit to talk about it.
Clinton's deficit reduction budget passes Congress. Initially unable to secure critical votes, Clinton had feared failure to pass the bill could derail his entire presidency and he instigated an intensive congressional lobbying effort.
Vice President Al Gore casts the deciding vote, and four days later, on August 10, Clinton signs the budget bill into law.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat sign the Oslo Accords, a framework for future peace negotiations between the two countries. In a ceremony on the White House lawn, Rabin and Arafat shake hands. Although Clinton presides over the ceremony, his administration had little to do with brokering the agreement.
Clinton signs legislation establishing the AmeriCorps program, which allows people to volunteer for national service and earn money for college.
Clinton addresses a joint session of Congress on the subject of reshaping the nation's health care. He holds up a card and says, "Every American would receive a health care security card that will guarantee a comprehensive package of benefits over the course of an entire lifetime." Clinton also stresses the need to contain health care costs as a way to bring down the deficit.
U.S. Special Forces stage a raid on a hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia in an effort to capture local warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid and his top lieutenants. The raid was part of "Operation Restore Hope," a U.N.-sanctioned humanitarian effort in Somalia. During the course of the mission two Blackhawk helicopters are shot down and a firefight ensues, killing 18 Americans and wounding at least 74. It is the largest firefight involving Americans since the Vietnam War. Afterward, Somali citizens drag the body of a dead American soldier through the streets of Mogadishu. Clinton will withdraw U.S. troops from Somalia in March 1994.
Clinton signs the Brady Bill, imposing a five-day waiting period and mandatory background checks for Americans purchasing handguns.
Clinton signs the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) into law; it is designed to remove tariff barriers between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. Despite a huge congressional lobbying campaign by the administration, many politicians fear that NAFTA will lower wages and encourage foreign job replacement. The issue divides the Democratic party, and ultimately only 102 of the 258 Democrats in the House vote for the bill.
Clinton delivers his first State of the Union address. In the speech he brandishes a pen and tells Congress, "If you send me legislation that does not guarantee every American private health insurance that can never be taken away, you will force me to take this pen, veto the legislation, and we'll come right back here and start all over again."
Tutsi rebels shoot down the plane of Rwandan president, Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, killing him. The Hutus go on a systematic rampage, killing some 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates — 1/10 of Rwanda's population — and forcing over 1.2 million to take refuge in the nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The massive scale of the violence overwhelms U.N. peacekeeping forces who flee the country after two weeks, abandoning thousands of Rwandan citizens. The White House, hesitant to repeat the disastrous events in Somalia, refuses to intervene or publicly label the murders as genocide.
Ethnic violence persists until July when a Tutsi group claims military victory, ending the massacre and the four-year civil war that had preceded it.
Arkansas state employee Paula Jones files a sexual harassment suit against Clinton for his actions while serving as Governor.
Congress holds hearings into the allegation that Bill and Hillary Clinton had illegally profited from investments with a failed Arkansas savings and loan company in a real estate deal called Whitewater.
Kenneth Starr replaces Robert Fiske as the independent council investigating charges against the Clintons after the Whitewater hearings.
Clinton signs a bill banning assault weapons and funding police hiring and state anti-crime efforts. The bill is in line with Clinton's previous legislative efforts, which the administration said helped reduce the number of firearm-related homicides by 36 percent in the 1990s.
Clinton appears on national television to argue for using force to overthrow a military junta in Haiti. He describes the brutality of the regime and, speaking directly to the junta's leaders, says, "Leave now, or we will force you from power."
With Clinton threatening imminent military force, former president Carter, along with former Joint Chiefs chairman Colin Powell and Senator Sam Nunn get the Hatian regime to voluntarily step down.
On September 19, the U.S. military arrives in Haiti to peaceably facilitate ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return to power. He will return to Haiti on October 15.
The National Health Security Act, Clinton's universal health care initiative led by Hillary Rodham Clinton, fails in Congress. While Democrats hold a majority in both houses, the party cannot agree on several defining issues, and politicians lack enthusiasm about the overwhelmingly long and complicated plan.
North Korea agrees to shut down nuclear plants in exchange for American assistance setting up alternative power sources. The agreement comes four months after former president Jimmy Carter brokered a deal with North Korea in which the Communist country agreed to freeze their nuclear development program pending negotiations with the U.S.
In mid-term elections Republicans pick up eight seats in the Senate and 54 seats in the House, putting them in the majority for the first time in 40 years. New Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich announces a "Contract with America," which aims to bring an end to big government.
Clinton signs the global trade agreement that creates the World Trade Organization. Despite unease over the NAFTA agreement only a year before, Clinton opens the United States much more widely to free international trade. American opponents of the agreement fear an even greater loss of American jobs and control over safety, health, environmental regulations, and the economy.
Right-wing Army veteran Timothy McVeigh detonates a truck filled with racing fuel and 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, OK. One hundred sixty eight people are killed, including 19 children in a day care center, making it the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. On the two-year anniversary of the assault on Waco, TX, McVeigh claims he intends to call attention to the attack on the Branch Davidians as well as other government raids.
In a war that had been going on for three years in Bosnia, Serb forces target Muslims in the town of Srebrenica on July 6, 1995. Some 23,000 women and children are transported on trains to territory near Tuzla, and more than 8,000 men and boys are executed and buried in mass graves in what will be known as the Srebrenica massacre.
On August 28, mortar shells launched by Bosnian Serb forces land in a crowded Sarajevo marketplace killing over 35 civilians. In response, NATO warplanes barrage Serb forces in "Operation Deliberate Force."
The military action stems from an "endgame strategy" of enforced diplomacy, approved by Clinton in early August, in which the United States would act as a mediator between the Serbs, Muslims, and Croats in Bosnia to divvy up territory and governing authority under the banner of a single state.
On November 21 in Dayton, Ohio, the three Bosnia ethnic groups will reach a peace agreement. The Dayton Accords will be formally signed in Paris on December 14.
Clinton begins an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
At a peace rally, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated by a right-wing extremist opposed to the peace process. Rabin's death shocks Israelis and produces some resentment against far-right Orthodox Jews. Clinton's words at Rabin's funeral, "Shalom, Haver" (Goodbye Friend), become a symbol of the assassination, and Rabin emerges as an icon of the peace movement. While attempts to maintain peace continue, the assassination exposes holes in Arab-Israeli peace talks.
"Non-essential" government services shut down after Clinton vetoes two emergency spending bills which would have raised Medicare premiums and cut federal programs.
A week later, the president signs a continuing resolution allowing the government to remain open while the budget negotiations continue. But the partisan groups cannot reach an agreement; Clinton describes "extreme Republican efforts to balance the budget through wrongheaded cuts," which could eliminate previous tax increases on the wealthy and place deep cuts on Medicare, Medicaid, education, and environmental protection.
On December 16, a second shutdown will last until January 6, 1996 -- the longest government shutdown in history.
In his annual State of the Union address Clinton famously declares, "The era of big government is over."
Clinton signs a telecommunications deregulation bill intended to stimulate competition in the emerging information technology industry by playing a role in providing internet access and cable for schools, libraries, and nonprofits.
Monica Lewinsky is transferred from her White House internship to the Pentagon, where she meets Linda Tripp in the Public Affairs office.
After a lengthy trial, Clinton's former Arkansas business partner in the Whitewater deal, Jim McDougal, is found guilty of 18 felony counts and his ex-wife Susan McDougal is convicted on four counts. Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker is also found guilty, of conspiracy and mail fraud.
Kenneth Starr will continue his Whitewater investigation until 1997, but he will never find proof of the Clintons’ participation or knowledge of the scandal.
A truck bomb explodes outside the Khobar Towers, a U.S. military housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. airmen and wounding hundreds more. The 14 men ultimately indicted for the attack are alleged to be members of the Islamic militant group Hezbollah.
There is initial speculation that the militants were supported by Iran (Iranian officials were implicated in the indictment) although, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, it will be increasingly believed that the attacks were the work of Al-Qaeda.
Clinton signs amendments strengthening the Safe Drinking Water Act. The act compliments Clinton's Common Sense Initiative and the Northwest Forest Plan, which, in 1994, sought respectively to decrease health protection costs and provide more effective environmental regulations and to protect forests in the Pacific Northwest while creating jobs for local communities.
Clinton signs a welfare reform bill, ending the 61-year-old guarantee of federal aid to all families with dependent children. Under the new bill, welfare recipients would have to find work within two years and were limited to a lifetime total of five years of welfare.
Clinton directs cruise missile strikes on Iraq in retaliation for Saddam Hussein's assault on the Kurdish city of Irbil, and amid growing concerns that Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction. The 34-hour "Operation Desert Strike" successfully punishes Hussein's actions but fails to act as a deterrent for future acts of aggression.
Clinton is reelected president with 49 percent of the popular vote and 379 electoral votes. Bob Dole finishes second with 41 percent, and Independent Ross Perot finishes third with eight percent. Clinton and FDR become the only Democratic presidents in the 20th century to win reelection.
In his second inaugural address Clinton speaks of unity and transcending party differences. He says, "Nothing big ever came from being small."
After nearly two years of negotiations, Clinton finally reaches an acceptable compromise with the Republicans in Congress and signs the balanced budget act. Nearly a quarter of House Democrats, including minority leader Dick Gephardt, had voted against the bill, which includes tax cuts and trims on the growth of Medicare spending. The bill promises to balance the federal budget by 2002. Clinton also signs a bill providing $152 billion in tax cuts for college students, investors, and families with children.
Clinton announces a plan to propose a balanced budget for 1999, three years ahead of schedule. The New York Times calls the elimination of the deficit "The fiscal equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall."
During his disposition for the Paula Jones lawsuit, Clinton is questioned about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. In carefully constructed replies, Clinton denies having sexual relations with Lewinsky. To bolster Jones' case, lawyers had already subpoenaed women they suspected Clinton had affairs with, including Monica Lewinsky, who had denied the affair in an affidavit.
Amidst the revelations about Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Clinton delivers his State of the Union address. After internal debate, Clinton elects not to mention the controversy. The catchphrase of the speech was Clinton's admonishment to use forthcoming budget surpluses to "Save Social Security First," rather than enact tax cuts.
Simultaneous truck bombs explode outside U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, killing over 200 people (including a dozen Americans) and wounding more than 4,000. The attack is subsequently determined to be the work of Osama bin Laden.
On August 20, Clinton orders missile strikes on an Al-Qaeda affiliated pharmaceutical company in Sudan and training camps in Afghanistan where a leadership meeting was taking place. Many members of the public are skeptical of the attack's timing, claiming that Clinton is using it to distract from the Lewinsky scandal.
Clinton is the first president to testify before a grand jury in his own defense. During the four-hour testimony he admits for the first time that he had "inappropriate intimate contact" with Lewinsky. Clinton's testimony is most famous for his saying "it depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."
That night on national television, Clinton admits to the American public that he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. The media panned the president's unremorseful tone; during the four-minute speech, Clinton never says the words "apologize" or "sorry."
On September 11, Kenneth Starr releases his 453-page report to Congress. The "Starr Report" outlines the 11 counts of impeachable offenses against the President.
Clinton announces that the 1998 fiscal year resulted in the first budget surplus in nearly 30 years.
Despite the Lewinsky scandal, Democrats pick up five House seats in the midterm elections, the first time since the Civil War that the opposing party failed to pick up seats in the sixth year of a presidency.
In response to Saddam Hussein's refusal to continue allowing weapons inspectors, Clinton directs a three-day strike against suspected weapons of mass destruction facilities and other military targets in Iraq. The attack raises accusations that Clinton is attempting to divert public attention from impeachment hearings, which are currently underway.
The House impeaches Clinton on perjury and obstruction of justice -- two of the four articles of impeachment. Democratic Congressional leaders assemble on the White House lawn as a show of support.
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces break a ceasefire agreement and massacre 45 Albanians, including women and children, in a small Kosovo village.
The U.N. attempts to forge a new peace agreement between the Serbs and the Albanians but it fails. On March 20, Milosevic's forces attack ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, prompting NATO to launch a 78-day bombing campaign against Serbia.
On June 10, Milosevic signs NATO's agreement to withdraw his forces from Kosovo, but still refuses to give up power.
After a month-long trial, the Senate acquits Clinton of impeachment on both charges; 45 out of the 100 Senators vote "guilty" on the perjury charge, and 50 of the 100 Senators vote "guilty" on the obstruction of justice charge -- both falling short of the two-thirds majority needed for conviction.
Clinton accepts the verdict and calls on the nation to begin a period of "reconciliation and renewal."
Two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, go on a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing 13 people and then themselves. The tragedy opens a new debate on gun control.
U.S. Senate refuses to ratify the Clinton-signed Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which would forbid nuclear weapons testing. The Senate argued that the action protected national security, as ratification by the U.S. would not prevent others from going nuclear. The Senate's decision, however, was seen as an act of aggression by other nations. The U.S. remains one of six major U.N. States who have signed but not ratified the Treaty.
Federal agents seize Elian Gonzalez, a six-year-old Cuban refugee, in a raid on the Miami home of his relatives. Public anxiety over immigration and historically tense Cuban-American relations help turn the family dispute over Elian into a custody battle between nations. Using the boy as a symbol for his communist party, Cuban leader Fidel Castro leads the battle to get Elian back into Cuba, while Vice President Gore asks for the matter to be settled in Florida courts. Ultimately, U.S. officials return Elian to his father's custody in Cuba, angering many U.S.-based Cubans.
Amid concerns over the stalled Middle East peace process, Clinton convenes a summit at Camp David to come up with an ambitious "final status" solution. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offers significant concessions, including a return of 90 percent of the West Bank territory seized in 1967 and shared control of Jerusalem, but Arafat refuses the deal.
Overcoming strong opposition by many Republicans leaders, Clinton signs a bill extending permanent normal trade status to China. A critical foreign policy goal for Clinton, the bill solidifies the trade partnership between China and the United States and will help facilitate China's entry into the World Trade Organization.
Suicide bombers attack the USS Cole while it is refueling at the port of Aden in Yemen. Seventeen sailors are killed. Al-Qaeda is believed to be responsible for the attack.
Clinton begins a four-day visit of Vietnam, becoming the first sitting president to visit the country since the end of the war.
Clinton leaves office after issuing 176 last-minute pardons and sentence commutations. Most notably, Clinton pardons millionaire tax fugitive Marc Rich and Susan McDougal, who had been convicted of fraud in the Whitewater investigation.
My American Experience
Who is your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Reagan? Clinton? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?