Presidency of Bill Clinton
The nation experienced an extended period of economic prosperity
during the Clinton presidency. While the economy remained strong, his presidency oscillated dramatically from high to low and back again, which historian Gil Troy
characterized in six Acts. Act I in early 1993 was "Bush League" with amateurish distractions. By mid-1993 Clinton had recovered to Act II, passing a balanced budget and the NAFTA trade deal. Act III, 1994, saw the Republicans mobilizing under Newt Gingrich, defeating his healthcare reforms, and taking control of the House of Representatives for the first time in forty years. 1995-1997 saw the comeback in Act IV, with a triumphant reelection landslide. However Act V, the Lewinsky scandal and impeachment made 1998 a lost year. Clinton concluded happily with Act VI by deregulating the banking system in 1999.
Clinton left office with high approval ratings, though his preferred successor, Vice President Al Gore
, was narrowly defeated in the Electoral College by George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. Historians and political scientists have tended to rank
Clinton as an above-average president.
President George H. W. Bush
's popularity in the aftermath of the successful 1991 Gulf War
convinced many prominent Democrats to sit out the 1992 presidential election. With party leaders like Mario Cuomo
and Dick Gephardt
staying 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 overcame opposition from more liberal
Democrats like Brown and clinched the Democratic nomination in April 1992.
The 1992 electioral college vote
Bush defeated a challenge from conservative commentator Pat Buchanan
to win his party's nomination. Meanwhile, independent candidate Ross Perot
, a billionaire businessman from Texas, emerged as a major factor in the race. Perot ran a populist campaign that focused on voters disillusioned with both parties, and he 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 the successful convention helped unify 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
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
By far voters' disappointment with the economy was the major favor in voting against the incumbent, with abortion a lesser factor.
In the concurrent congressional elections, Democrats retained control of both houses of Congress.
Clinton used his inaugural address to deal with his uncertain mandate from the voters and lack of national experience. He drew heavily upon his lifelong study of the Protestant Bible, his education at Catholic Georgetown University, and the inaugural addresses of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Woodrow Wilson.
, 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 undocumented immigrants
, to work in her home.
Baird withdrew her nomination and Clinton next chose Kimba Wood
, who was quickly forced to withdraw due to somewhat similar problems. Janet Reno
, a Florida state's attorney
, was nominated for Attorney General a few weeks later, and she won confirmation in March 1993.
After experiencing difficulty with these nominations, as well as that of Lani Guinier
, Clinton brought in David Gergen
, who had previously served in Republican administrations, to serve as Counselor to the President
Secretary of Defense Les Aspin
resigned in the aftermath of the Battle of Mogadishu
and was succeeded by William Perry
Bentsen and McLarty also left office in 1994, and they were replaced by Rubin and Panetta, respectively.
After Clinton's re-election, Panetta stepped down and was replaced by former deputy chief of staff Erskine Bowles
. 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.
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
. John Podesta
assumed the position of Chief of Staff in 1998, while Lawrence Summers
replaced Rubin as Treasury Secretary in 1999.
President Clinton's Cabinet, 1993. The President is seated front right, with Vice President Al Gore
seated front left.
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
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 alongside Sandra Day O'Connor
. Harry Blackmun
retired in 1994, and Clinton successfully nominated Breyer to succeed Blackmun. The appointments did not greatly affect the ideological balance of the Rehnquist Court
, as conservatives continued to hold a narrow majority on the Supreme Court.
Clinton proposed a $16 billion stimulus package primarily to aid inner-city programs desired by liberals, but it was defeated by a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993
Clinton inherited major budget deficits left over from the Reagan
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. Some of Clinton's advisers also believed that a focus on cutting the deficit would be politically beneficial since it would potentially help Democrats shed their supposed "tax and spend" reputation.
Though Secretary of Labor Robert Reich
argued that stagnant earnings represented a bigger economic issue than the deficits, Clinton decided to pursue deficit reduction as the major economic priority of his first year in office.
In doing so, he reluctantly abandoned a middle-class tax cut that he had championed during the campaign.
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.
Republican leaders strongly opposed any tax increase, and they pressured congressional Republicans to unite in opposition to Clinton's budget,
and not a single Republican would vote in favor of Clinton's proposed bill.
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
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. 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.
The bill provided for $255 billion in spending cuts over a five-year period, with much of those cuts affecting Medicare and the military. It also provided for $241 billion in new revenue over five years; most of that revenue came from an increased gasoline tax or from higher taxes on those who made over $100,000 per year.
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.
Gingrich failed to deliver major conservative reforms in the first hundred days of the 104th Congress
, but many observers continued to wonder if the Speaker would seize stewardship over domestic policy from the office of the president.
Meanwhile, 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.
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.
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 until Congress enacted a stopgap measure.
The government shut down again on December 16 after Clinton vetoed a Republican budget proposal that would have extended tax cuts to the wealthy, cut spending on social programs, and shifted control of Medicaid to the states. After a 21-day government shutdown, Republicans, in danger of being seen as extremists by many in the public, accepted Clinton's budget.
Line item veto
Gross US Federal Debt as a Percentage of GDP, by political party of President
Combined with a strong economy, the 1993 deficit reduction plan produced smaller budget deficits each year. 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. 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."
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.
In 1997, Clinton agreed to a deal with Republicans that lowered the tax rate on capital gains to 18 percent, implemented a $500 child tax credit, increased funding for children's health care, and raised the federal cigarette tax
from 24 cents per pack to 39 cents per pack.
Republicans did, however, block some of Clinton's favored policies, including an increase of the federal minimum wage
and legislation designed to provide free prescription drugs to seniors.
1993 health care plan
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
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.
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
. Assigning a major policy role to the First Lady was unprecedented and sparked controversy.
Rejecting calls for a single-payer system, She proposed a health care plan based on the extension of employer-based health insurance. Individuals not insured by employers would be insured by the government.
The plan would also expand 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, the plan would prevent insurers from charging different rates to customers based on age and pre-existing conditions
After winning the passage of OBRA–93 and the ratification of NAFTA in 1993, the President made health care his major area of legislative focus in 1994.
Though many corporations supported Clinton's health care 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.
The Health Insurance Association of America
's "Harry and Louise
" ad campaign proved especially important in influencing the public against the Clinton health care bill.
Meanwhile, Congressmen Newt Gingrich
and columnist Bill Kristol
convinced 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, further damaged any hope of passing a major health care bill. With Republicans unified against his plan, and with his own party divided, Clinton decided to abandon health care reform in September 1994.
Other health care legislation
Within a month of taking office, Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993
. The act, which had been vetoed twice by Bush, guaranteed workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave for certain medical and family reasons, including pregnancy.
The successful passage of welfare reform in the 1990s was President Clinton's strategy of "triangulation"-purposely positioning himself midway between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, thereby building a majority coalition and enabling him to take full credit for the results. The strategy was called "triangulation
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.
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.
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.
Due in part to the improving economy and the expansion of the earned income tax credit, the number of Americans receiving cash public assistance declined from 12.2 million in 1996 to 5.3 million in 2001.
Federal finances and GDP during Clinton's presidency
Budget deficits and surpluses in billions of dollars, 1971–2001
Clinton presided over a "Goldilocks economy
," a period of low inflation and low unemployment.
During the 1990s, the Dow Jones Industrial Average
quadrupled, and the share of families with investments in stocks rose from 32 percent in 1989 to 51 percent in 2001. Income inequality
also grew, as the richest households earned a higher proportion of the total income.
Nonetheless, median household income, adjusted for inflation to 2000 dollars, grew from $38,262 in 1995 to $42,151 in 2000. By 2000, the unemployment rate had declined to four percent, while the poverty rate had declined to 11.3 percent.
David Greenberg, a professor of history and media studies at Rutgers University
, argued 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.
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, 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 especially prominent public figure as the economy improved in mid-to-late 1990s.
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.
Clinton presided over a period of deregulation in the telecommunications and financial industries. In 1999, Clinton signed into law the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act
(GLBA). The act repealed a provision of the New Deal's Glass–Steagall Act of 1933
that had required banks to either classify themselves as either commercial bank
, which were subject to federal oversight and protections like deposit insurance
, or as investment banks
, which faced less regulations but did not benefit from federal protections. The financial services industry had attempted to repeal this provision of the GLBA since the 1980s, and they were finally successful due to cooperation from Secretary of the Treasury Rubin and Clintonians, who believed that the financial industry needed looser regulation in order for it to remain competitive globally.
The bill passed both houses of Congress with only minimal resistance. Opposition to the plan came primarily from liberals like Senator Paul Wellstone
, who feared that looser banking regulations would lead to financial crises.
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.
In response, 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.
Clinton ultimately accepted the don't ask, don't tell policy, and over the ensuing ten years approximately 10,000 people were discharged from the military after they revealed their homosexuality.
In September 1996, Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act
, which denied federal recognition to same-sex marriages
though it had passed with a veto-proof majority and he called the law unnecessary and divisive.
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.
Clinton also signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act
, which made it a federal crime to obstruct abortion clinics
and places of worship.
I April 1996 Clinton vetoed a bill to prohibit late or partial birth abortion calling the procedure potentially life-saving and arguing that the small group of women likely to be affected should not become pawns. Catholic bishops condemned his move.
Clinton vetoed another such law in 1997.
Republicans in 2003 finally passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act
, which was signed by President George W. Bush.
Liberal Democrats gave environmentalism a higher priority than the economy-focused Clinton did.
The Clinton administration responded to public demand for environmental protection.
Clinton created 17 national monuments by executive order, prohibiting commercial activities such as logging, mining, and drilling for oil or gas.
Clinton also imposed a permanent freeze on drilling in maritime sanctuaries.
Other presidential and departmental orders protected various wetlands and coastal resources and extended the existing moratorium on new oil leases off the coast line through 2013.
After the Republican victory in the 1994 elections, Clinton vetoed a series of budget bills that contained amendments designed to scale back environmental restrictions.
Clinton boasted that his administration "adopted the strongest air-quality protections ever, improved the safety of our drinking water and food, cleaned up about three times as many toxic waste sites as the two previous administrations combined, [and] helped to promote a new generation of fuel-efficient vehicles and vehicles that run on alternative fuels".
Vice President Gore was keenly concerned with global climate change, and Clinton created the President's Council on Sustainable Development. In November 1998, Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol
, an international agreement in which developed countries
committed to reducing carbon emissions
. However, the Senate refused to ratify it since the agreement did not apply to the rapidly growing emissions of developing countries
, such as China, India, and Indonesia.
His most remembered legacies will likely be his advocacy of environmental restoration, his efforts to safeguard and build support for the ESA (Endangered Species Act of 1973
) and the biodiversity that it helps protect., And the public land conservation measures that flowered on his watch.
A major issue involved low fees charged ranchers who grazed cattle on public lands. The "animal unit month" (AUM) fee was only $1.35 and was far below the 1983 market value. The argument was that the federal government in effect was subsidizing ranchers, with a few major corporations controlling millions of acres of grazing land. Babbitt and Oklahoma Congressman Mike Synar
tried to rally environmentalists and raise fees, but senators from the Western United States
successfully blocked their proposals.
Although Governor Clinton had a large farm base in Arkansas; as president he sharply cut support for farmers and raised taxes on tobacco.
At one high level policy meeting budget expert Alice Rivlin
told the president she had a new slogan for his reelection campaign: "I’m going to end welfare as we know it for farmers.” Clinton was annoyed and retorted, “Farmers are good people. I know we have to do these things. We’re going to make these cuts. But we don’t have to feel good about it.”
With exports accounting for more than a fourth of farm output, farm organizations joined business interests to defeat human rights activists regarding Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status for China. They took the position that major tariff increases would hurt importers and consumers. They warned that China would retaliate to hurt American exporters. They wanted more liberal trade policies and less attention to Chinese human rights abuses.
Environmentalists began taking a keen interest in agricultural policies. The feared that farming had a growing negative impact on the environment in terms of soil erosion and the destruction of wetlands. The expanding use of pesticides and fertilizers polluted soil and water not just on each farm but downstream into rivers and lakes and urban areas as well.
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.
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.
That same month, Clinton also signed the Copyright Term Extension Act
, which retroactively extended copyright protection and stopped copyrighted works entering into the public domain for an extra twenty years.
Responding to declining home-ownership rates
for low-income families, Clinton sought to reform the Community Reinvestment Act
(CRA) to encourage banks to make loans to inhabitants of low-income areas. The administration implemented new rules that would prevent banks from expanding if they failed to meet benchmarks for loans to low-income areas. Between 1993 and 1998, CRA lending increased at a faster rate than other loans, and home values in many CRA areas rose. Banks implemented new strategies designed to cater to lower-income borrowers, including the adjustable-rate mortgage
This effort was part of a broader initiative, the National Homeownership Strategy, which helped increase the share of Americans who owned their own homes from 64 percent to 67.4 percent during Clinton's presidency. Many of the sub-prime mortgages
that allowed Americans to purchase homes would later play a role in sparking the Financial crisis of 2007–2008
"Pardongate" was the Bill Clinton pardon controversy
when critics attacked his manner of giving out 450 pardons, a third of them on his last day in office.
Scholars use two different models to describe the pardons process. Clinton used the presidential model, viewing the pardon power as a convenient resource to be used to help party activists or to advance specific policy goals. Critics favored the agency model, which views the pardons process as a nonpolitical matter for legal experts in the Department of Justice. An investigation found that he was legally within his rights.
Critics agree that foreign policy was not a high priority for Clinton and his administration. According to Harvard Professor Stephen Walt
Critics on the right argue that he is too eager to accommodate a rising China, too blind to Russia's corruption and cronyism, and too slow to use force against states like Yugoslavia or Iraq. On the left, liberals bemoan Clinton's failure to prevent the genocide in Rwanda, his tardy response to the bloodletting in the Balkans, and his abandonment of his early pledge to build a multilateral world order grounded in stronger international institutions. Even pragmatic centrists find him wanting, deriding his foreign policy as "social work" that is too easily swayed by ethnic lobbies, public opinion polls, and media buzz.
Walt, however, gives two cheers for Clinton's realism and his accomplishments:
Under Clinton, the United States consolidated its Cold War victory by bringing three former Warsaw Pact members into its own alliance. It shored up its alliances in East Asia and readied itself for a possible competition with a rising China while encouraging Beijing to accept a status quo that favored the United States....It forced its allies to bear a greater share of the burden in Europe and East Asia while insisting on leading both alliances. And together with its NATO allies, it asserted the right to intervene in the sovereign territory of other states, even without Security Council authorization. Clinton may cloak U.S. policy in the rhetoric of "world order" and general global interests, but its defining essence remains the unilateral exercise of sovereign power.
With the end of the Cold War, 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.
President Bush had signed the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA) 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.
With the fate of NAFTA still uncertain in the House of Representatives, Vice President Gore met Ross Perot in a televised debate. Gore's strong performance in the debate, as well as the Clinton administration's effective lobbying campaign, helped NAFTA win ratification in November 1993.
The administration negotiated approximately 300 trade agreements with other countries.
By granting China temporary most favoured nation
status in 1993, his administration minimized tariff levels in Chinese imports.
In 2000, Clinton signed a bill granting permanent normal trade relations
to China, and American imports from China massively increased in the subsequent years.
Unrest in Somalia
had escalated into a full-scale civil war
in 1991. President Bush had dispatched 25,000 soldiers to the country to join a United Nations peacekeeping mission. By the late 1993, Somalia remained in a state of civil war, and 4,000 American soldiers still served in the UN peacekeeping mission. In October 1993, U.S. special forces
launched a raid
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 deaths of eighteen Americans. The humiliating incident led Americans to questioned the presence of U.S. soldiers in Somalia. After Somali leaders signed a peace agreement in early 1994, Clinton removed U.S. forces from the country.
The experience in Somalia exacerbated internal debates around the role of American military power in the Post–Cold War era
. In a victory for those who favored non-intervention, Clinton placed new limits on the deployment of his troops, especially as part of U.N. peacekeeping missions. In April 1994, the Hutu
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. Clinton would later describe the non-intervention in Rwanda as the worst mistake of his administration.
A military junta in Haiti
had ousted the country's democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide
, in 1991. Clinton was inclined to restore Aristide, in part due to stem the flow of Haitians fleeing to the U.S. However many Americans opposed a military intervention in a nation which posed no threat to the United States. Despite congressional and public opposition, Clinton announced in September 1994 that he would remove the junta if it did not voluntarily relinquish power.
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 and no combat took place.
Balkans: Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo
Map of the six Yugoslav republics and autonomous provinces in 1991
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
, 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. 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.
General Colin Powell initially 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.
In May 1994, after Serb forces invaded safe zones established by the United Nations Protection Force
, Clinton authorized air strikes against Serb positions.
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.
Clinton sponsored the talks in Dayton Ohio, putting Richard Holbrooke
The subsequent Dayton Agreement
ended the Bosnian War and divided Bosnia into two autonomous regions.
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.
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.
NATO and Russia
Clinton presided over the admission of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic into NATO
One of Clinton's major priorities was the expansion of NATO into former Eastern Bloc
countries in Eastern Europe
, as Clinton believed that NATO would provide a stabilizing influence on these countries. Russian leaders felt threatened as NATO approached its border. Clinton cultivated a close relationship with Russian President Boris Yeltsin
, and in 1997, Clinton won Yeltsin's reluctant assent to the expansion of NATO, clearing the way for the accession of Hungary
, and the Czech Republic
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. The French pushed for the addition of Romania
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.
Clinton tried to help Yeltsin avoid an economic depression, reform the Russian economy, and prevent a resurgence of Communism. Clinton quietly helped Yeltsin win reelection in 1996, and played a major role in Russia's entrance into the Group of Eight
(G8), a conference of the countries with the largest economies.
In 1994, North Korea blocked international inspectors from verifying the regime's adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
. The administration believed that the North Koreans were processing plutonium from a reactor to build two atomic bombs.
President Clinton recalled that "I was determined to prevent North Korea from developing a nuclear arsenal, even at the risk of war".
Declassified Clinton-era documents illustrate that the administration had planned for a possible war during the 1994 nuclear crisis.
The Pentagon had hypothetical plans to strike the North Korea nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, but the order was never given.
Other issues and events
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 from collapsing was important to U.S. interests, Congress refused to authorize an aid package.
The Clinton administration also helped limit the effects of the 1997 Asian financial crisis
by keeping U.S. markets open.
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 visit Vietnam. Clinton was also the first president to visit Botswana
, and South Africa
Impeachment and acquittal
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 Clintons' 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 controversy. Starr's investigation expanded beyond Whitewater, in part because of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Clinton by Paula Jones
, a former Arkansas employee.
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.
Clinton was able to squash rumors of the affair until July 1998, when Starr reached an immunity
deal with Lewinsky and obtained her confession of the affair. Clinton publicly apologized for having an affair with Lewinsky in September 1998.
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.
The controversy over Lewinsky enveloped Congress and the presidency, derailing the administration's hopes for reforming Medicare and Social Security.
Individuals from both parties were outraged by Clinton's affair with an intern, but many Democrats were mollified by Clinton's repeated public apologies and viewed the reaction from the media and Republicans as disproportionate to the gravity of the affair.
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. Clinton was acquitted of the first article by a vote of 45 to convict to 55 to acquit, and acquitted of the second by a vote of 50-50. 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. Clinton would later publicly acknowledge that he "knowingly gave evasive and misleading answers" in the Jones deposition.
Elections during the Clinton presidency
1994 mid-term elections
A series of controversies, including the debate over gays in the military, contentious confirmation battles, and "Travelgate
," sank Clinton's approval ratings to just 37 percent in mid-1993.
Further setbacks related to health care and foreign policy left Clinton in a weak position in the lead-up to the 1994 elections
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.
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 campaign
Clinton defeated Republican 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.
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
as his running mate and announced that he favored a 15% across-the-board income tax cut. Perot ran for president again, this time as a member of the Reform Party
Clinton made a four-day whistle-stop train tour in route to the Democratic convention in Chicago in August. The main theme was centrism. In his acceptance speech Clinton called on the American people to, "help build that bridge to the 21st century for all our children," and avoid Bob Dole's "bridge to the past." He promised more tax cuts and benefits "for the hard-working citizen who plays by the rules." Promising the best is yet to come, he reaffirmed his belief "in a place called Hope, a place called America."
Clinton continued to position himself as a centrist, stating in early 1996 that "the era of Big Government is over." Meanwhile, Dole, one of the oldest major party presidential nominees in history, proved to be an ineffective campaigner. Clinton won by landslides in the popular vote and the Electoral College.
Dole performed poorly outside the Mountain states and the South. 
Clinton built his landslide on the votes of women, African-Americans, Hispanics, younger voters, and retired voters. Dole conceded defeat gracefully and with good humor after nearly a half-century in public office. Turnout was low, at 49%..
Despite Clinton's victory, Republican retained control of the House and the Senate in the 1996 congressional elections
With Republicans in control of Congress, Clinton refrained from proposing major domestic initiatives in his second term.
He made a few changes to important positions including Erskine Bowles
as his new Chief of Staff. Madeleine Albright
became Secretary of State; William Cohen
, a Republican, became Secretary of Defense; Anthony Lake
became director of the CIA; and Sandy Berger
became National Security Advisor.
1998 mid-term elections
Congressional party leaders
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.
The election represented the first time since 1934
that the party holding the presidency picked up seats in a mid-term election.
Gingrich resigned from office after the elections, and he was succeeded as Speaker of the House by Dennis Hastert
2000 elections and transition period
Vice President Al Gore
dispatched a challenge from Senator Bill Bradley
of New Jersey early in the 2000 Democratic primaries
Gore chose Senator Joe Lieberman
of Connecticut, a prominent intra-party critic of Clinton and the affair with Lewinsky, as his running mate.
Texas Governor George W. Bush
, the son of former President Bush, won the Republican nomination after defeating Senator John McCain
of Arizona in the 2000 Republican primaries
. For his running mate, Bush selected Dick Cheney
, who had served as Secretary of Defense under George H. W. Bush. Pat Buchanan ran as the Reform Party nominee, and he called for a reduction in immigration. Ralph Nader
ran as the Green Party
candidate, winning support from many liberals who were disappointed by the centrist tendencies of Clinton and Gore.
Bush called for major tax cuts, a partial privatization of Social Security, and school vouchers
. He also criticized Clinton for "nation building" in Haiti and other countries, and attacked Clinton's sexual indiscretions.
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.
In the election, Gore won a narrow plurality of the popular vote, taking 48.4 percent to Bush's 47.9 percent and Nader's 2.7 percent. Gore won much of the Northeast, the Midwest, and the Pacific Coast, while Bush dominated the South and the Interior West. However, the winner of the election was unclear on election night, as neither candidate had definitively secured a majority of the electoral vote.
The outcome of the election hinged on Florida, which had endured an extremely close presidential election. Over the ensuing five weeks, both campaigns waged an intense legal battle over election law as Florida conducted a recount
. The Supreme Court of Florida
unanimously upheld the recount, but the Bush team appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. On December 12, in a 5–4 decision
, the Supreme Court ordered an end to the recount, leaving Bush as the winner of Florida and the winner of the election.
Bush became the fourth individual in U.S. history, and the first since 1888
, to win the election despite losing the popular vote
Republicans also retained control of the House and the Senate, giving the party unified control of Congress and the presidency for the first time since the 1954 election
Despite the best looking and strong economy in years, Clinton's legacy was overshadowed by Gore's election loss in 2000, however Clinton still left office with 66% approval rating.
Evaluation and legacy
Graph of Clinton's approval ratings in Gallup
Polls of historians and political scientists have generally ranked
Clinton as an above-average president. A 2017 C-Span
poll of historians ranked Clinton as the 15th best president.
A 2018 poll of the American Political Science Association
’s Presidents and Executive Politics section ranked Clinton as the 13th best president.
Clinton's "third way" of moderate liberalism built up the nation's fiscal health, resisted Republican attacks, and put the nation on a firm footing abroad amid globalization and the development of anti-American terrorist organizations.
Addressing Clinton's legacy, Russell L. Riley writes:
Clinton managed to remake the image and operations of the Democratic Party in ways that effectively undermined the so-called Reagan Revolution. His "New Democrat" Party co-opted the Reagan appeal to law and order, individualism, and welfare reform, and made the party more attractive to white middle-class Americans. At the same time, the reborn party retained traditional Democratic commitments to providing for the disadvantaged, regulating the excesses of the private market place, supporting minorities and women, and using government to stimulate economic growth. Moreover, Clinton capitalized on growing dissatisfaction with far right-wing extremism within the Republican Party. Nevertheless, Clinton's claims to a lasting, positive legacy for the Democratic Party have been severely undermined by two realities: the shift in control of Congress to the Republican Party on his watch and the loss by his would-be successor, Vice President Al Gore, in the 2000 presidential election. Thus, Clinton's partisan legacy remains complex and uncertain.
- ^ 17 days of the 103th Congress (January 3, 1993 – January 19, 1993) took place under President Bush, and 17 days of the 107th Congress (January 3, 2001 – January 19, 2001) took place during Clinton's second term.
- ^ Trent Lott succeeded Bob Dole as Senate Majority Leader in June 1996.
- ^ Gil Troy, The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s (2015) pp 8–9.
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- ^ a b Wilentz 2008, pp. 365–367.
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- ^ All figures, except for debt percentage, are presented in billions of dollars. The receipt, outlay, deficit, GDP, and debt figures are calculated for the fiscal year, which ends on September 30. For example, fiscal year 2020 ended on September 30, 2020.
- ^ Represents the national debt held by the public as a percentage of GDP
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- ^ https://www.nytimes.com/1996/07/13/us/house-passes-bar-to-us-sanction-of-gay-marriage.html
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- ^ Maureen L. Rurka, "The vagueness of partial-birth abortion bans: deconstruction or destruction?." Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 89.4 (1999): 1233-1268. Online
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- ^ Byron Daynes, "Bill Clinton: Environmental President" in Dennis L. Soden, ed., The Environmental Presidency, (1999.)
- ^ Martin A. Nie, "'It's the Environment, Stupid!] Clinton and the Environment." Presidential Studies Quarterly 27.1 (1997): 39–51. Online
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- ^ Clinton, William J. (2000). Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton, 2000–2001. p. 721. ISBN 9781623768171.
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- ^ Julie Andersen Hill, "Public Lands Council v. Babbitt: Herding Ranchers Off Public Land." BYU Law Review (2000): 1273+ online.
- ^ For his farm policies see Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: A Review of Government and Politics. 1993-1996 (1998) pp 479-508; Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: Volume 10: 1997-2001 (2002) pp 417-428.
- ^ Bob Woodward, The Agenda (2002) pp. 127–128.
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- ^ CQ, Congress and the Nation: 1989–1992 (1993) p. 536.
- ^ Alfred, Randy (October 27, 2008). "OCT. 28, 1998: PRESIDENT SIGNS NEW COPYRIGHT LAW". Wired. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
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- ^ H. Abbie Erler, "Executive Clemency or Bureaucratic Discretion? Two Models of the Pardons Process." Presidential Studies Quarterly 37.3 (2007): 427-448.
- ^ Stephen M. Walt, "Two Cheers for Clinton's Foreign Policy," Foreign Affairs 79#2 (2000), pp. 63-79 online.
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- ^ "Serbia and Kosovo reach EU-brokered landmark accord". BBC. April 19, 2013. Retrieved December 13, 2014.
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- ^ Strobe Talbott, "Clinton and Yeltsin," Diplomatic History (2018). 42#4 pp 568–71.
- ^ Strobe Talbott, The Russian Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy (2002).
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- ^ Chin-Kuei Tsui, Clinton, New Terrorism and the Origins of the War on Terror (Routledge, 2016).
- ^ a b Carpenter, Ted Galen (April 19, 2017). "The 1994 North Korea Crisis: Military Force a Bad Idea Then (and a Worse One Now)". The National Interest. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
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- ^ Gormley, pp. 572–575
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- ^ Troy 2015, pp. 222–223.
- ^ Troy 2015, pp. 229–230.
- ^ Gormley, pp. 579–581
- ^ Wilentz 2008, p. 335–336.
- ^ Wilentz 2008, p. 347–350.
- ^ a b c Wilentz 2008, p. 368–370.
- ^ Day, ed., The Annual Register: 1996 (1997) p. 147.
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- ^ Day, ed., The Annual Register: 1996 (1997) pp. 148–49.
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- ^ a b Patterson 2005, pp. 404–405.
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- Palmer, David. "'What Might Have Been'--Bill Clinton and American Political Power." Australasian Journal of American Studies (2005): 38-58. online, summarizes scholarly studies
- Patterson, James (2005). Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195122169.
- Stephanopoulos, George (1999). All Too Human: A Political Education. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-92919-0.
- Troy, Gil (2015). The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s. Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 9781250063724.
- Wilentz, Sean (2008). The Age of Reagan. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-074480-9.
- Woodward, Bob (2000). Maestro. New York: Simon & Schuster.
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- Andelic, Patrick. Donkey Work: Congressional Democrats in Conservative America, 1974-1994 (2019) excerpt
- Baker, Peter. The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton (2000) ISBN 0-684-86813-X
- Conley, Richard Steven. Historical dictionary of the Clinton era (2012) online
- Congressional Quarterly. Congress and the Nation: A Review of Government and Politics. 1993-1996 (1998) 1275pp. online
- Congressional Quarterly. Congress and the Nation: Volume 10: 1997-2001 (CQ Press, 2002) online
- Dumbrell, John. Clinton's Foreign Policy: Between the Bushes, 1992-2000 (Routledge, 2009) 228pp excerpt
- Frankel, Jeffrey A. and Peter R. Orszag, eds. American Economic Policy in the 1990s (2002) introduction
- Graff, Henry F., ed. The Presidents: A Reference History (3rd ed. 2002)
- Hamilton, Nigel (2007). Bill Clinton: Mastering the Presidency. PublicAffairs.
- Halberstam, David. War in a time of peace: Bush, Clinton, and the generals (Simon and Schuster, 2001).
- Harris, John F. The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House (2006). online
- Herrnson, Paul S., and Dilys Hill. The Clinton presidency : the first term, 1992-96 (1999) online
- Klein, Joe (2002). The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton. Doubleday. ISBN 0-7679-1412-0.
- Maney, Patrick J. (2016). Bill Clinton: New Gilded Age President. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0700621941.
- Nelson, Michael, et al. eds. 42: Inside the Presidency of Bill Clinton (Miller Center of Public Affairs Books, 2016) excerpt; also online, an analysis of interviews with insiders on Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East.
- Nelson, Michael. Clinton's Elections: 1992, 1996, and the Birth of a New Era of Governance (2020) excerpt
- Perotti, Rosanna, ed. Foreign Policy in the Clinton Administration (2019)
- Power, Samantha. A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (2002) covers Bosnia, Kosovo, Srebenica, and Rwanda; Pulitzer Prize.online free to borrow
- Renshon, Stanley, ed. The Clinton Presidency: Campaigning, Governing, And The Psychology Of Leadership (2019) excerpt
- Riley, Russell L. ed. Inside the Clinton White House: An Oral History (2016) excerpt
- Walt, Stephen M. "Two Cheers for Clinton's Foreign Policy" Foreign Affairs 79#2 (2000), pp. 63-79 online.
- White, Mark J., ed. (2012). The Presidency of Bill Clinton: The Legacy of a New Domestic and Foreign Policy. I.B. Tauris.
- Woodward, Bob. The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House (1994) on economic policy-making in 1993. excerpt
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