Clinton's Powell Problem

Bill Clinton's political advisers try to affect a brisk indifference toward the enigmatic Colin Powell. Until his plans are finally clear, there are "too many x factors," says George Stephanopoulos. But the White House has been watching carefully. Aides can recall with uncanny detail the positions Powell's staked out in network interviews. Some have carried videotapes of the sessions home for closer study. The White House has been polling on Powell for months, and the results are depressing for the Democrats-the general beats Clinton in a two-way race. One senior strategist concedes that if powell rims, the time is coming "to figure out how to push people off of him." ...

Firing Up The Politics Of Teen Smoking

Bill Clinton likes his cigars. He smokes only a half dozen or so a year, although he chews on them frequently. That's enough to make him an outlaw in the White House, where First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton banned smoking in 1993. When the president wanted to celebrate the safe return of air force Capt. Scott O'Grady from Bosnia last June, he retreated to the Truman Balcony to light up. Daughter Chelsea is even tougher. "She's the most militant person in our house," Clinton told MTV's Tabitha Soren last week. "She and Hillary are always on me." As a gift for Chelsea's 8th birthday in 1988, her grandmother Virginia Kelley gave up cigarettes. Clinton, too, worried about his mother's smoking. A senior aide says the president "still to this day believes" that it contributed to her death from breast cancer last year.Clinton believes that a war against tobacco will be a political winner--not just in his family but in millions of households. Last week he laid down the biggest government...

'The War Room' Stars Fade Out

The 1992 campaign produced a band of bright young celebrities. In a single election cycle, a group of hip political operatives won the White House, starred in a movie ("The War Room") and came to Washington to run the world. The dating and workout habits of the boyish George Stephanopoulos became regular fare for gossip columnists. The eccentric James Carville got a $1 million book deal to detail his romance with Bush aide Mary Matalin. Consultants Paul Begala and Stanley Greenberg landed lucrative contracts with the Democratic Party and enjoyed regular "face time" with President Clinton. Media expert Mandy Grunwald opened a new firm and was named by NEWSWEEK as one of 1992's "Women of the Year"--a "fearsomely smart woman who is not afraid to be tough--and not afraid of success."But success is as ephemeral in politics as it is in showbiz, and now the fickle president has replaced most of the War Room gang with a new crew of political talent (chart). Grunwald has closed her company...

It's Back To School At Bill U

This is Bill Clinton's idea of a fun evening at the White House: cocktails, the sounds of a harpist, gourmet Szechuan wonton and lamb--and a three-and-a-half-hour discussion about juvenile crime. At the president's request, a dozen academic crime experts recently dropped by for a marathon seminar. Clinton attentively scribbled notes as each professor gave a five-minute talk. He then peppered them with questions: Do young offenders lose their propensity for violent crime after the age of 25? Yes. Have other periods in American history been as violent as this one? Yes. Before aides shooed out the guests at 11:30, they had explored everything from the Menendez brothers to the nature of masculinity. "With most politicians, you see their eyes glaze over after 10 minutes," said sociologist Amitai Etzioni. Clinton would have gone on for hours.Every president gets to indulge a personal hobby. George Bush set up a horseshoe pit. Gerald Ford built a swimming pool on the South Lawn. Rhodes...

Harold The Enforcer

White House: Can the acid-tongued--and liberal son of a New Deal titan bring order to President Clinton's re-election campaign?White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes showed up in the Oval Office one day last month wearing a bright orange sport coat. Ickes is notorious for his defiantly unstylish wardrobe, with its ill-fitting suits, ankle-length pants and belt buckle worn above the left hip. "Harold," said President Clinton, "you look more like a Southern tobacco dealer than a New York corporate lawyer." Ickes, the irascible son of FDR's legendary Interior secretary, doesn't mind the razzing he gets about his clothes, the Skippy peanut butter and Ritz crackers he keeps in his West Wing office for meals or the way he clumsily switches between red and black pens while taking notes during meetings (red for urgent matters, black for routine). But no one in the White House laughs about the seriousness of his mission over the next 17 months: getting Bill Clinton re-elected.Clinton...

Hillary Shores Up A Shaky Base For '96

To large numbers of voters, Hillary Clinton is political poison. Blamed --fairly or not--for devising a bloated health-reform plan and suspected of wielding undue influence over her husband, Mrs. Clinton is this White House's Dan Quayle: unpopular with many but appealing to her party's faithful. As the 1996 campaign opens, the First Lady is playing to the one audience that unabashedly welcomes her: traditional Democrats. Her mission for the next year and a half is to energize the women, blacks and elderly the president must have to win re-election. "She's the ambassador to the base," says a white House official. ...

Peering Over The Cliff

The republicans were doing what they've always promised to do. They were reducing taxes and cutting back "the welfare state." The Democrats were reacting the way Democrats traditionally react. They were protecting social programs and accusing Republicans of shafting the poor. The rhetoric all sounded familiar, yet somehow the feeling last week in Washington was totally different. Lawmakers were simultaneously giddy and terrified that, for once, their words were being taken seriously. ...

Why Clinton Won't Play Class War

THE DEMOCRATS HAVE HAD SOME success picturing the GOP as the Rich Man's Friend. Republicans, they charge, want to take lunch out of the mouths of schoolchildren to fund tax breaks for the wealthy. The public, or a good portion of it, seems to be paying attention: polls show that many voters believe House Republicans led by Speaker Newt Gingrich have gone too far in their efforts to unravel the social safety net. There are only two problems with this strategy. One is that it is not likely to make the Democrats the majority party in 1996. The other is that President Clinton, the party leader, doesn't really believe in it. ...

Foster Follies

Robert Bork, John Tower, Clarence Thomas, Zoe Baird, Lani Guinier. They belong to a special branch of Washingtonology: the presidential appointment turned fiasco. Henry Foster, President Bill Clinton's nominee for surgeon general, joined the list last week. Every troubled nomination comes with its own blend of miscommunication, miscalculation, cynicism and ideological strife. In the end, Foster'smerits as a physician and educator were unfairly eclipsed by the White House's inept handling of a politically incendiary issue -- abortion. Here's the diary of a Washington disaster:It began, like most Washington tales, with a leak. On Jan. 27, Foster's name surfaced in The Washington Post as a "leading contender" to replace Joycelyn Elders, fired by Clinton last December for musing publicly about the virtues of teaching masturbation to schoolchildren. A soft-spoken obstetrician-gynecologist and acting director of Nashville's Meharry Medical College, Foster looked like a sure thing...

Peso Bill's Bailout

On big days like last Tuesday, White House aides often congregate in chief of staff Leon Panetta's office to watch the network news. A few hours earlier, President Clinton had announced that he was abandoning attempts to win congressional approval for a plan to bolster the Mexican peso with $40 billion in loan guarantees. He would put together his own Mexican economy -- and finds a bold way to circumvent Congress package instead, drawing in part on a currency fund he controlled. Advisers worried that the move would only underscore the notion of a diminished presidency, and a chief executive unable to assert himself with a Republican-controlled Congress. But the network treatment was surprisingly upbeat, punctuated by tough sound bites from his announcement and references to a rugged, go-it-alone gambit. The aides looked at each other as if they'd discovered a new trick. Said one: "He hasn't looked this presidential in a long time." ...

Can Clinton Bounce Back?

FEW PRESIDENTS HAVE dropped from sight as completely as Bill Clinton in the weeks leading up to his State of the Union Message. Last Friday, to squeeze a few seconds of air time on the evening news, he was reduced to inviting television cameras in as he recorded his weekly radio speech. In the new Republican order, it takes nothing less than the State of the Union to seize the foreground from Newt Gingrich. The spotlight is still likely to seem merely borrowed: Gingrich will be right there, hovering over the president's shoulder in the speaker's chair, a stark reminder of Clinton's repudiation at the polls last Nov. 8. Still, the address marks the beginning of what may be his last best opportunity to salvage his presidency. Clinton's handlers did nothing in last week's run-up to moderate expectations. "There's no question that this State of the Union speech is the most important speech this president will give," said chief of staff Leon Panetta. ...

Reinventing The President

It was a month after the democrats' November disaster, but Bill Clinton's emotions were still raw. He was communing in the Oval Office with a half-dozen moderate Democrats when one of them, Oklahoma Rep. Dave McCurdy, bluntly questioned his convictions. "People don't know who you are. Who is Bill Clinton?" said McCurdy, chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a group Clinton once led. The president apologized. "I know I've made mistakes," he said quietly. Soon others were piling on, urging him to find new ideas andfire liberal appointees like Ira Magaziner and Joycelyn Elders. Finally, Clinton snapped. "I don't like being judged by your political correctness," he shouted. "I'm with you guys 85 percent of the time. You ought to be with me 85 percent of the time." A few minutes later, as the delegation filed out, Clinton's anger melted into a plea for reassurance. He collared Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and asked: "Joe, do you think I can turn it around?"...

'I Know What I Believe'

Bill Clinton was in a feisty mood, jabbing his finger and rocking forward in his chair, when he met last week in the Oval Office with Newsweek White House correspondents Bob Cohn and Bill Turque. Excerpts: NEWSWEEK: One rap against you is that you're not sure what you stand for. David Gergen has said there's a struggle for the soul of Bill Clinton. You disagree with that? CLINTON: Absolutely. I believe the purpose of government is not to expand bureaucracy, but to expand opportunity. I do not believe government is inherently good or bad. I believe there are some things we need government to do, because private markets, as good as they are, do not solve all the problems of a free society. And I find it amazing that anybody could question whether I have core beliefs. Who is the last president, while sitting in office, who took on the National Rifle Association? Who is the last person who took on the array of health-care interests, who could spend $200 million or $300 million to...

Goodbye To The 'Condom Queen'

When surgeon general Joycelyn Elders suggested last week that schools might teach masturbation as safe sex, President Clinton fired her. But he can't say he was surprised. In 1987, after Governor Clinton appointed Elders to be director of the Arkansas Health Department, she was asked at her first press conference whether she favored giving condoms to public-school children. ""Well, I'm not going to put them on their lunch trays, but yes,'' she answered. On her desk in Little Rock, she put an ""Ozark Rubber Plant'' that sprouted curled condoms. She told an abortion-rights rally that abortion foes needed to get over ""their love affair with fetuses.'' She badgered state legislators for money to pay for sex education and contraception. She did pause to ask, ""Governor, should I back off?'' But Clinton just replied, ""No, no, Joycelyn, I love it. Keep it up.'' ...

Merge Right, With Caution

The itinerary said Indonesia and Hawaii, but at the trade summit that ended last week Bill Clinton seemed to be in the state of denial. The Republican rout had left him in a mood that drifted, according to aides, from gloom to professorial reflection. During one three-hour conversation aboard Air Force One, he methodically discussed each president since Lincoln, focusing on how they were treated by the public. Republicans have it easy, he observed, because they don't govern as activists. He also lamented ""the slaughter of the innocents'' -- Democratic House freshmen who lost their seats after voting for his economic program. In Jakarta, he commiserated with another Democrat trampled in a GOP stampede, Ambassador to Japan Walter Mondale. But as he began a brief Hawaiian vacation, it was clear he had only begun to grapple with the question of how he would survive in the Age of Gingrich. ...

Hunkering Down For Battle

Clarence Thomas lives in a conservative cocoon. For a daily paper, he reads only the right-wing Washington Times. He hires the most conservative law clerks and speaks primarily before groups like the National Association of Evangelicals and at schools like Virginia's Christendom College. He even officiated at the wedding of Rush Limbaugh, whose tapes he listens to each morning while lifting weights in the court's gym. ...

Al Gore: Talk A Lot, And Carry A Big Stick

Warren Christopher had been unable, despite repeated attempts, to schedule regular meetings with Bill Clinton. He understood that his chances of getting on the president's calendar for anything short of a crisis were slim. So Christopher arranged to meet with Vice President Al Gore every Friday. ""I know he'll be a very influential figure if we talk something through,'' said Christopher. The secretary of state recognizes where the power lies. Gore, he says, ""is relied on more heavily than any vice president has ever been in the past. Not just in foreign policy,'' he adds, ""but as far as I can tell, across the board.'' ...

The Lost Chance

The Clintons were euphoric. The president had scored a huge success with his nationally televised speech laying out his vision of national health reform. Now, in October 1993, the time had come to brief the president's economic advisers on the specifics of the plan. Hillary Clinton was, as usual, articulate and commanding as she walked through the massive and detailed blueprint. But when she finished, she was greeted by silence. Somewhat gingerly, fearful of offending the First Lady, a few senior officials began raising concerns. Gradually, the questioning grew more aggressive, challenging the basic assumptions and approach of the proposal upon which the president had staked his political future. The plan was too bureaucratic, one official argued. The numbers didn't hold up, the financing was unrealistic, pressed another. Almost everyone present in the Roosevelt Room that day agreed that the plan was too complex to sell to Congress. ...

Death Rattle For Health Reform

Republican Sen. Bob Packwood was home a week ago Monday night at around 10 o'clock reading "Fathers and Sons" when the telephone rang. It was President Clinton. They talked about the novel -- "Oh yeah, Turgenev," Clinton said -- and the crime bill for a few minutes. Then the president broached the subject of health-care reform. "Is there a chance for a health bill?" he asked. Packwood said bluntly: "Yes. But . . . it won't be one you'd like." ...

Health Care Trouble

WHEN HE THINKS OF Congress and health reform, Sen. Harris Wofford likes to quote Winston Churchill in 1941 on the question of whether America would join the fight against the Nazis. ""I have confidence that the American people, in their good common sense, will, in the end, do the right thing,'' said Churchill, with a wink, ""after they have tried every other alternative.'' ...

A Head For Diplomacy?

ISRAEL'S PRIME MINISTER YITZHAK Rabin came to Washington last week, seeking Bill Clinton's help in a crisis where America's interests are deeply involved. But before they got down to Mideast business, Rabin and Clinton compared notes on health-care reform. It figures. When Clinton was in Moscow last January he treated Boris Yeltsin to an exegesis on health care before grilling him on Russia's economy. Italy's Prime Minister Carlo Ciampi came to Washington last year to talk about NATO but found that Clinton first wanted to discuss Italian unemployment. It's a wonder that the leaders of Bosnia and Croatia. at the White House last week to sign a peace accord, didn't get a lecture on community policing. ...

Clinton's Bleak House

ANGRY AND DRAINED BY Whitewater. Bill Clinton looked hard last week for an emotional elixir. He found it in the Hogs. By making the NCAA basketball tournament, the University of Arkansas Razorbacks enabled Clinton to fulfill every American boy's fantasy: not winning the presidency, but appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He carried the magazine around like a trophy, proud of the picture that shows him gripping a basketball in one hand. "Can you believe I made the cover?" he said to a friend staying in the White House. "I palmed the ball myself-that's not a trick photo!" ...

The Power Of Sin

When health spending hits $1 trillion next year, about one quarter of it--$250 billion--will go to treat diseases caused by stance abuse. Some 50 million Americans still smoke, and smoking kills an estimated 435,000 people a year-one out of every five deaths. About 18.5 million Americans abuse alcohol, which makes it the leading cause of chronic liver disease and--along with drug addiction--a major contributor to social pathologies ranging from drunken-driving accidents to wife-beating. ...

But What Does It Mean For Me?

Each state would establish one or more health alliances to buy insurance on behalf of thousands of consumers. The alliance would use the leverage of its large membership to negotiate the best deals with groups of doctors and hospitals. Every American would belong to an alliance, and once a year your alliance would ask you to choose from among half a dozen or more health plans. Some would be HMO-style plans that charge a flat price for the year and a small fee for each doctor's visit; some would be "fee for service plans" that require patients to pay a bigger share of the bill but allow them to choose their own doctors; and some would be a blend of both.The administration s standard benefit package is designed to be as good as or better than what most Americans have now, though it could become less generous if Congress trims it back to save money. Still, it will be "portable"--guaranteed even if you changed jobs, lost your job or came down with a serious disease requiring costly...

The Ghost Of Vince Foster

With Deputy Counsel Vince Foster's apparent suicide still looming like a shroud over the Clinton administration, White House officials are eager to put the episode behind them by disclosing the note found in pieces in Foster's briefcase. Barring unexpected revelations, Clinton aides insist the note dispels any mystery over the death. It indicates that Foster took his life out of depression over his job, they say, not because of some impending scandal over finances or a person peccadillo or, say, was it (as some reports have suggested) a draft of a resignation letter. "People are being too generous to Vince," says a senior White House official. "This is a man who clearly lost his balance and perspective." ...

The Hidden Anger Of Vince Foster

A White House lawyer was packing Vince Foster's belongings into a box when a few dozen small slips of yellow legal paper fluttered to the floor from between the folds of his briefcase. They had been wedged there out of sight in the days after Foster's suicide. Pieced together, they offered some clues to the despondency that had driven Bill Clinton's childhood friend to take his life. These "jottings," as described by aides, were clearly not meant as a suicide note, but they revealed the frustration Foster felt working in the White House. "I can't believe I gave up a life to put up with this crap...I can't believe I left Little Rock for this bullshit" is how aides paraphrased Foster's scribblngs. It sounded like someone contemplating resigning. It was also the kind of note, a top aide said grimly, that could have been written by a lot of White House aides. "On any given day, half the people here have serious doubts about whether they're effective. He's not alone." ...

Health-Lobby Mania

Kevin Forth is a card-carrying member of Beer Drinkers of America. He's a regular reader of Heads Up magazine, which carries articles like "Al Bundy says, 'Don't tax my beer'." His beer-distributing company in Orange County, Calif., is responsible for giving liquor stores the red and white Bud blimps that hang over the suds section. ...

Clinton's 1,100 Decisions

You think you have trouble figuring out the options in your health-benefits plan--"Should we get the extra dental care? Or the dismemberment benefit?" Pity President Clinton who over the next few weeks will sit down and, in effect, choose America's health-care plan. Aides say he will make 1,100 decisions, each affecting another, each angering someone and each touching the most intimate choices of 248 million Americans, not to mention the entire health of the economy. He will be deciding how much your doctor gets paid, whether you can afford to visit a psychologist after your spouse dies, whether to tax your beer to pay for reform and whether you can afford to put Mama in a nursing home. ...

Clinton Gets A Supreme Chance

The library of the Yale Law School may not seem like the most romantic place in the world, but Bill and Hillary Clinton fell in love there, and not just with each other. At Yale, young idealists are supposed to learn to love the law. In a speech at the New Haven campus a month before the presidential election, Hillary thanked the school for showing her "that law can be a tool for positive change and for uplifting the human spirit." At Yale, they believe that boring commercial law is for mere trade schools like Harvard. The Yale Law ethos is instilled by professors like Owen Fiss, who inspires his students by picking up the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and literally throwing them out the window. ...

Pure And Patient--Or Obsessed?

As the special prosecutor running the Iran-contra investigation in Washington, Lawrence Walsh would frequently caution his less-grizzled staff lawyers not to take on matters that might consume them. Walsh liked to quote the legendary trial lawyer John W. Davis, founder of Walsh's old Wall Street firm. "It is far easier to get your fingers into a machine than it is to get them out," Davis warned. ...

The Strange Tales of Mr. Barnes

Among the hucksters, mercenaries and information peddlers who people the shadowy world of Vietnam POW investigations, Scott Barnes may be the biggest tale spinner of them all. Discharged from the U.S. Army in 1974, the Arizona dress-shop owner and conspiracy theorist has spent the last 18 years peddling espionage stories and derring-do accounts of rescue missions to forgotten corners of Indochina. Many government officials and reporters have dismissed him as a crank, but Barnes has his following. Now he's bagged his biggest prize yet: Ross Perot, a man with a predilection for conspiracy theories himself. In a recent "60 Minutes" interview, Perot said that he dropped out of the race this summer not solely because he didn't want to be a spoiler but also to foil GOP dirty tricksters. His sources, said Perot, were two unnamed, high-placed Republicans-and one Scott Barnes. ...

A Chicken on Every Altar?

When Ernesto Pichardo leased a Hialeah, Fla., used-car lot in 1987 and announced plans for a church, the townsfolk mobilized. They signed petitions, they mobbed city hall, they cheered as legislators unanimously passed a string of ordinances aimed at driving Pichardo's parish out. "The neighborhood went ape," boasts Alden Tarte, who led the opposition. "He's not the kind of guy you'd want next door." ...

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