Bill Richardson on ending the stalemate, fallout with Clinton

October 15, 2013
The beginning of the end: Richardson and Clinton watch the Super Bowl at the Governor's Mansion in 2008. (AP Photo/The Santa Fe New Mexican, Rebecca Craig)
The beginning of the end: Richardson and Clinton watch the Super Bowl at the Governor’s Mansion in 2008. (Rebecca Craig/The Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)

Not that we’re likening the folks on Capitol Hill to evil dictators — or even hungry sharks. But when we spotted former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s new book,  “How to Sweet Talk a Shark: Strategies and Stories from a Master Negotiator,” we couldn’t help but think there might be some parallels to the current stalemate.

Richardson’s book offers lessons from the longtime political hand’s dealings with baddies ranging from “Castro, Saddam, the Taliban, two generations of North Korean leadership, and many more of the world’s most infamous dictators,” according to the tome’s description.

So these relatively reasonable lawmakers in suits should be a piece of cake, right?

We asked Richardson for his advice to his former colleagues on ways to negotiate their way out of the current impasse. Richardson at first laughed off our request, saying he didn’t expect them to follow his counsel. But when we assured him these were truly desperate times (so much so that we even recently asked a marriage counselor for tips on resolving the dispute), he offered these four ideas, some of which he discussed in a piece in Outlook last weekend:

Bring in a mediator — “It’s gotten so personal” that a third party, maybe a former Treasury Secretary, could prove useful in defusing some of the emotion, Richardson suggests.

Get comfortable — Richardson recalls a particularly tough budget negotiation that prompted President George H. W. Bush to hold a summit at Andrews Air Force Base, essentially forcing folks to come to the table. In today’s debate, lawmakers shuttling back and forth between talks and caucus meetings have made things worse, he says. “They just get more and more wound up and inflexible.”

Test the Tea Party’s spine — Richardson says House Speaker John Boehner could find out just how serious the Tea Party wing of his caucus is by taking a test vote. “They have a lot of bluster, but they’ve never been called on to vote,” he says.

Pray — This one’s pretty simple.  “I’ve just never seen anything like this,” he says.

As for any other secrets revealed in the book, Richardson discloses that it was the 2008 Super Bowl that ended his close friendship with  former president Bill Clinton.

It wasn’t a fight over the game itself or even a heated accusation of double-dipping the chips. Rather, it was the fact that the then-governor hosted Clinton to watch the game with him in the governor’s mansion, where the press snapped photos of the two casually  dressed pols cheering the game and swigging Diet Cokes.

Which would have been fine … if Richardson hadn’t been planning all along to endorse Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential primary. That ultimately made things downright chilly for the two, he admits in the book.

“It set up expectations,” he tells the Loop.

And though he’s attempted to mend the relationship, he says, it just hasn’t worked, and the two now share cordial greetings — but no more than that — when they occasionally bump into one another.

As for what might happen if Hillary Clinton makes a presidential run, lets just say Richardson isn’t making any plans for a 2016 Super Bowl party with the Clintons (or anyone else). “I’m a private citizen, so I don’t anticipate playing any political role,” he tells us.

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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Emily Heil | October 15, 2013