(CNSNews.com) - From his office in a high rise Washington building, with its view of Democratic National Committee headquarters, former House Appropriations Committee Chairman and Speaker-Designate Bob Livingston savors life A.C. - after Congress.
"I think that this is probably the very best time of my life," Livingston told CNSNews.com in an exclusive interview last week, reflecting on the past twelve months.
It was on a Saturday morning, December 19th, 1998, during the acrimonious debate on the impeachment of President Clinton that Livingston stepped to the well of the House and said he was resigning his congressional seat and taking himself out of the running for Speaker of the House. There were cries of "No! No!" from the House floor.
Livingston, who called on President Clinton to resign that day as well, told CNSNews.com he has never regretted it.
President Clinton didn't take him up on the challenge, though, despite four articles of impeachment approved later that day, making him the second president to be impeached. Clinton was later acquitted by the Senate.
Livingston told CNSNews.com his life has improved "very favorably" since leaving the House of Representatives and the powerful chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee.
He now runs his own firm, The Livingston Group. Now headquartered in a Capitol Hill office building after starting out in cramped quarters in downtown Washington, firm is doing well, and Livingston doesn't miss life in Congress.
"I don't have the bells that we had to respond to within 15 minutes (indicating members must report to the House floor to cast votes), I don't have the late nights, I don't have the weekends and I don't have the pressure. All of which I had while I was in Congress. But I do have a little bit more money, so that's not a bad combination."
Saying he is a "reinvigorated and recovering lawyer from Louisiana," Livingston explained that his new venture "provides lobbying, government relations and government services for our clients, which are an eclectic group...We have a wide array of clients."
Several employees of The Livingston Group worked with him for many years on Capitol Hill. However, laws governing former members of Congress have prevented Livingston from yet engaging in full-fledged lobbying.
"I've been under an embargo for a year and will continue to be embargoed from lobbying my colleagues or Congressional staff in House or Senate until March 1st. But after that time, I am a free person. It enabled me to use this last year to contact clients, develop business and also do a lot of marketing for clients that doesn't involve personal relations with members of Congress," Livingston told CNSNews.com.
One factor leading to Livingston's resignation was the Republican showing during the 1998 congressional elections, when Republicans expected a scandal-ridden White House to drag down Democratic congressional candidates. Instead, the Democrats actually made gains, though the Republicans continued to hold the House by a slim margin.
"I woke up one day and realized that our campaign was based on anti-Clinton sentiment rather than pro-Republican accomplishments," said Livingston.
"I don't know what hit me, but I was just infuriated that we had taken all that money - I personally was responsible for raising about two million dollars out of my own campaign chest and $600,000 for Republican candidates - for a campaign crusade that should have talked about the fact that we balanced the budget for the first time in 30 years, cut taxes for the first time in 16 years, rolled back the IRS, promoted telecommunications reform, and generally contributed to the greatest economy in world history. And instead of talking about that, we were talking about Clinton! And the American people didn't appreciate it, and we had our lunch handed to us."
Reflecting further on the 1998 elections and the Clinton factor, Livingston said, "I was perfectly willing to let the Judiciary Committee do their job. I just couldn't accept the fact that we had made such a terrible, strategic mistake at the end."
Those election results forced then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, to step down from both the speakership and his congressional seat.
Following Gingrich bowing out, Livingston, his staff and staffers from other congressional offices, spent six weeks working as much as 17 hours a day, seven days a week, to present a "package" designed to elect Livingston as Speaker of the House.
The impeachment of President Clinton, though, added an unprecedented dimension to the ordinary politicking of electing a new Speaker. Livingston said he had assured Members that he would abide by the House Judiciary Committee's findings on the impeachment investigation of President Clinton, and agreed that censure should not be an option.
"Censure... did not play a role under the Constitution. That was something for the Senate to consider and I agreed with that," Livingston said.
But events changed during the early part of the last week.
"On Monday morning, the Secretary of Defense (William Cohen) called me up and said we were going to war against Iraq... On Tuesday, the President called me and said we were going to war and I said I understand that. But this impeachment effort that we were engaged in was probably going to go ahead, one way or another, sooner or later. Clinton said, 'Yeah, I kind of figured that.' Then that night I got a call from home saying that I had a problem with an old relationship and so all in one week, I had a war, an impeachment and a scandal brewing," Livingston told CNSNews.com.
"By Friday," Livingston said, "I had decided that if I was going to be Speaker that I had to speak on this impeachment issue."
After rejecting several draft speeches, Livingston felt his remarks needed a "punch line" for that Saturday.
He said, "I was convinced that A, that I had to speak; B, that I believed that the President had disgraced himself and his office; C, that he should be impeached; and D, that he should step down. Well, by two o'clock the next morning, I woke up and knew what the punch line was going to be. Because I decided in my mind that I couldn't very well call on him Clinton to step down, if I was going to be in a position of leading a very, very narrow majority and was going to have a difficult time under any circumstances with the new problems that had cropped up. I just decided that it would be better that if I showed the president that it wasn't hard to step down, that he could do it and I could show him how to do it. And I did."
The "new problems" that Livingston referred to, of course, were widespread rumors that Hustler publisher - and Clinton supporter - Larry Flynt was planning to disclose several extramarital affairs in Livingston's past.
Before announcing his resignation on the House floor that Saturday, many House Democrats hollered at Livingston to resign. But Livingston wasn't surprised at the outburst by members of the opposition party.
"The trauma that I had faced really didn't take place at that moment. It took place when I decided to do what I was going to do. Once I decided to do it, I got into the office that morning and called in Tom DeLay and told him what I was going to do. . . . That was the hard time. By the time I made the speech, I already knew what I was going to do. So, it was anything other than a dramatic moment," according to Livingston.
Livingston believes the House Democrats reaction to his announcement that morning showed "they were prepared to do anything to defend the incumbent president. It was an emotional time, they were very troubled, they felt very beleaguered. As a matter of fact, some of the very people that screamed out 'You resign!' came up to me afterward and gave me a big bear hug. It was an emotional moment and people came up to me just crying their eyes out. It was a time to play the cards that are dealt and that's what I did."
Livingston believes his life took a turn for the better after resigning from Congress.
"I've moved on. Life is good. . . . We've had an exceptionally good year. The fish are jumpin' and my mama's good lookin'," Livingston said, lapsing in a Cajun drawl.
Reflecting on his past marital problems, including an affair, Livingston had nothing but high praise for his wife. "She's stood by me. The problems we had were not something that we hadn't crossed a long time ago, we just didn't think we would read about it in every newspaper in the world. But I've got a great wife of 34 years, she's stood by me and we've probably have had a greater relationship this last year than at any time in our 34 years. I've got great kids. I've got a new grandchild, another one on the way and I think that this is probably the very best time of my life."
Reflecting on his years in public life, Livingston said, "You've got to play it as you see it. You can't look back, you can't do any wishful thinking or 'what ifs.' All you can do is use your best judgment as you go along. I did and I don't lose an ounce of sleep on any night, regretting anything that I did in the performance of my responsibilities and my duties as a United States Congressman. I think I did my people, my constituents, proud."
Still, Livingston admitted he made "some big mistakes and my family has paid heavily for those. I do have regrets about that but we have overcome them and I feel very good about that."
But Livingston intends to remain active in Republican politics, especially during next year's presidential election.
"I've endorsed George W. Bush. I'm working to raise money for him. I think he'll be a great president."
Livingston can now look back philosophically about coming so close to the Speakership, before seeing old mistakes ruin the chance.
"That's the system. It's all transient. Nobody owns the office that they hold. A year and a month from now, Clinton will be gone. Five years from now, I bet I have more friends than he has."