Wednesday, January 20, 1999

Clinton cites first lady's 'historic role'

The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON — President Clinton praised his wife Tuesday night for “her historic role” in serving the country. For her part, the first lady rose to her feet repeatedly to applaud her husband's State of the Union address.

        Mrs. Clinton took her customary front-row seat in the visitors' gallery overlooking the floor of the House several minutes before the president was led into the chamber. Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa, Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb, civil rights stalwart Rosa Parks and Tipper Gore were among those seated with her.

        Wearing a black pantsuit brightened by a gold-toned American eagle pinned to her left shoulder, Mrs. Clinton smiled, applauded and stood when members of Congress, led by Democrats, stood repeatedly to applaud the president.

        Mr. Clinton singled his wife out for special recognition after he noted that “the bridge into the new millennium” was less than 400 days away.

        Mrs. Clinton has spearheaded a project celebrating the nation's past and its future with the approach of the year 2000.

        “I'd like to take just a minute to honor her, for leading our millennium project, for all she's done for our children, for all she has done in her historic role to serve our nation and our best ideals at home and abroad, I honor her,” Mr. Clinton said, slowly emphasizing his last three words. Mrs. Clinton smiled, rose from her seat in the gallery and mouthed “Thank you” to the applauding crowd below.

        It was the second straight year that Mr. Clinton delivered his showcase speech against the backdrop of the Monica Lewinsky investigation.

        Last year, news of his relationship with the former White House intern became public just a few days before his 1998 address, and Mrs. Clinton quickly stepped into the role of chief presidential defender.

        Since then, her public comments have been limited to expression of love, support and admiration for her husband.

        Mr. Clinton's tribute to his wife Tuesday night was the second in less than a week.

        He moved her to tears last Friday at the annual Democratic National Committee fund-raising gala with an unscripted tribute for her accomplishments and unwavering support through difficult times.

        “I love her for it, but our country should love her for it as well,” he said.


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