Sunday, February 14, 1999

Bury hatchet? Perhaps, but in whose back?

Reconciliation talk cheap

The New York Times

        WASHINGTON — The official word from President Clinton and congressional leaders in the aftermath of Friday's impeachment vote was that the time had come to bury the hatchet and work together on important policy issues.

        But out of camera range, many in the White House and the Capitol said the bad blood was so pervasive, the ideological divisions so vast and the political interests so disparate that they doubted productive bridges could be built between Mr. Clinton and the Republican Congress.

        Republicans were stung by the report last week that Mr. Clinton planned to seek political retribution in the next elections against those who impeached him and tried to drive him from office.

        “That doesn't sound like reconciliation and progress to me,” said Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Republican leader. “That sounds like revenge and politics. Then he says, "You can trust me on Social Security.' Yeah! Uh-huh!”

        A top Republican legislative strategist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: “I don't think the president has any interest in achieving solutions in the next two years. Electing Gore president and a Democratic House would be vindication for him, and that's what he will focus on.”

        A White House official who also insisted on anonymity said that while some of the president's advisers thought he should seek compromises this year with Republicans on divisive issues like Social Security, Medicare, taxes and education, many other advisers were arguing that a better course would be to wait until after the next election, when they expect Al Gore will be president and Democrats will control the House.

        “Bipartisan cooperation isn't the reflex response right now,” the official said.

        But for all the naysayers, another school of thought holds that it is to the advantage of both the president and the Republicans to strike compromises on the big issues so that both can rise above impeachment.

        “The president's been badly damaged by this,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. “He has to be aware of that. We have to realize that we were badly hurt by impeachment and we have to show we're a governing party.”

        Paul Begala, the president's counselor, offered a similar view. Asked whether Mr. Clinton's efforts to promote a Democratic sweep in the 2000 elections would pose a risk to legislative compromise, he replied: “That's a false choice. Getting things done and prospering politically go hand in hand.”

        The political atmosphere in Congress may have been improved by the Republicans' election this year of Dennis Hastert of Illinois as speaker of the House and by a newfound camaraderie in the Senate.

        “At this point, we need to show we're not something to be scared of,” Mr. King said.

        On the other side of the Capitol, senators from both parties said that the long hours they spent together during the impeachment trial could have positive effects. “This may actually help us work together,” Mr. Lott said.


Impeachment vote may follow DeWine
- Bury hatchet? Perhaps, but in whose back?
Polls support acquittal
Pundits debate fallout
Clinton Under Fire page