The most interesting tidbits from the Clinton document dump (Part 4)

The National Archives posted the biggest batch of previously unseen documents from President Bill Clinton's White House years Friday, the fourth installment of its every-other-week deluge of Clinton administration e-mails, speeches and internal memos. This group includes several documents related to then-first lady Hillary Clinton's work on health care and other issues. The papers are of particular interest right now because they provide a window into Hillary Clinton's thinking and priorities as she ponders a second presidential run.

We're reading through the 7,500 or so documents to find the most interesting parts and will update as we do:

1. Clintons needed Chelsea's future mother-in-law on health care

In 1993, the Clintons were analyzing the priority Democratic votes they needed to secure on health-care reform, who were either on key committees, had a difficulty supporting the president on tough votes, or who were in tough districts. Included on that list was Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky (D-Pa.), with who they would – more than 20 years later – share some happy news about an expected grandchild.

They also counted then-Rep. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) as a possible get on health care because he is "occasionally independent but don't hold your breath." In a later document, Clinton identified Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) as a "possible but difficult" get, which is humorous because Specter counted himself as the 60th vote on the Affordable Care Act after he switched parties in 2009.

2. Clinton crime bill overshadowed by Whitewater and O.J. Simpson

In August 1994, with President Clinton’s popularity falling and the midterm elections approaching, the president’s political advisers prepared him for a prime-time news conference. They urged him to highlight the House passage of a crime bill to show that “the Clinton agenda – the American people’s agenda – can work,” and then to pivot into advocacy for his health-care legislation.

One adviser urged Clinton to project confidence and show the American people, “You're calm, you're just out here doing your job.”

But Clinton was frustrated over his political standing and the Whitewater scandal overshadowing his administration’s accomplishments.

“We assume people know about things,” Clinton said. “There’s been nowhere near the publicity of the crime bill there was on Whitewater, for example. You can see that…”

“Or O.J.,” an aide interjected.

“Or O.J. Simpson,” Clinton responded.

3. Boxer or briefs?

In April 1993, President Clinton met with adviser Paul Begala in the Oval Office. They joked with each other and Begala presented Clinton with “Texas” boxer shorts. White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty was present.

4. Hastert "tool" of Republicans

In a written memo describing various communications with members of Congress on the health-care law, Rep. Dennis Hastert is described as "tool of Rep. leadership which wants to kill admin. plan."

5. Ira Magaziner held back in interview with Haynes Johnson and David Broder for their book about health-care initiative

In a 1995 memo to Hillary Clinton, Magaziner describes how he reflected on their health-care efforts when interviewed by Washington reporters Haynes Johnson and David Broder for their book, "The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point." He wanted to throw some colleagues under the bus, but held back because of the upcoming 1996 presidential campaign.

"Although I seethe inside when I think of how disloyal some Administration officials have been to you and the President and how hurtful they have been to me in their private discussions with the press, I decided to stick to the principle of not being critical of other Administration officials and I withheld materials which would cast our colleagues in a bad light. Although it is tempting, I just don't feel it's right to do and it could sew discord in 1996 when the book appears, which would not be helpful to the campaign."

6. Magaziner described delicacy of tasking Hillary Clinton with health care

In his interviews with Johnson and Broder for the book, Magaziner was asked how the first lady was put in charge of such a large domestic policy job. Magaziner said he didn't know when the final decision was made, but that, "Everyone wanted to use the tremendous talent she has. And yet, to have the public accept her policy role was very complex. And so there was a lot of debate about that."

Magaziner said that for Hillary Clinton to take on the job was "a tremendously gutsy thing for her to do" because "traditional Washington" advisers didn't think the Clintons should take on health care reform all at once.

7. Hotels problems in Russia

In a Nov. 30, 1993, memo, Anne M. Edwards, director of press advance, laid out some of the troubles that the administration was having with a trip to Russia. The White House had said it wanted to stay at an American-owned hotel, but only 10 percent of the money involved in it was American.

“I really need you two to focus on this and brainstorm with me a little and decide whether this damn hotel is worth the aggravation,” she wrote to Michael Lufrano and Anne Walley.

Another problem? Not all of the media could fit into the hotel, and NBC wouldn't budge on staying there.

“You two get it, I know, about what that means to the President's, oh, shall we say, 'not swell' press relationships, if one network is in that hotel and I can't fit the others all in. And I CAN'T,” she wrote.

“You two understand the real world well enough to know that the President pays a real price when there is a serious imbalance in the competitive position of the networks, and the White House is at fault. Even though we're not at fault, we'll be blamed,” she wrote.

Edwards wondered if the hassle of staying in a U.S.-run hotel – or at least one that seemed to be U.S.-run – was worth it.

“This hotel is more trouble than it's god damn worth. If I truly believed Wall Street would get shivers of joy and send stocks to record highs because the President is showing his support by staying in a hotel with 10% American money, I might feel differently about this. HELP. Anne E”

8. Lee Iacocca "obligated" to Clinton over NAFTA push

On Sept. 2, 1993, Ambassador Michael Kantor wrote a memo to Clinton saying how he and Howard Paster believe Clinton should call Lee Iacocca about being a spokesman for NAFTA. Iacocca resigned from the Chrysler board earlier that day

“Iacocca has the time. I believe he is willing to give you the help and, given your phone conversation with him early in the Fall of 1992, he is somewhat obligated to help you win what he got you into,” Kantor wrote.

Kantor also suggested that Clinton call Bush, Reagan, Nixon, Ford and Carter and invite them to the NAFTA “roll-out.”

“We believe Bush, Ford and Carter will accept. Nixon will probably send a statement of support.”

9. Address Lewinsky scandal in 1999 SOTU?

As President Clinton prepared to deliver his 1999 State of the Union address, his advisers contemplated he might use the speech to regain political strength in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Sidney Blumenthal, in a memo to Clinton and other White House officials, said the speech must “dramatize and highlight the President's higher political purposes.”

But, Blumenthal warned, “the scandal is an unavoidable subject. Indeed, the entire address will be viewed in its shadow and should dealt with -- by inference. Through the speech, the President can establish, without ever explicitly saying so, the larger political reasons his presidency has been under unprecedented attack. He can do so without ever saying a cross word. On the contrary, his tone can be completely positive.”

Blumenthal suggested Clinton make only one reference to the Lewinsky scandal – and not by talking about “the politics of personal destruction.” Rather, in the address to a joint session of Congress, Blumenthal advised Clinton to raise the question of “social division.”

“It is here that he can evoke history, explaining how the nation has been torn apart in the past and its costs,” Blumenthal wrote. “Without ever pointing at them, his opponents will be put on a continuum with those firebrands who have pushed the country toward civil war, racial terror and class warfare.”

10. Hillary positive press strategy - "doing it all"

Hillary Clinton press aide Lisa Caputo warned in a memo to the first lady that positive press would likely be met with media attempts to knock her down. She presented a lengthy media strategy for Clinton to "take steps to counter the knocks."

Among a long list of interview ideas, Caputo suggested Clinton do a "television magazine" show and offered Maria Shriver as interviewer. She said the segment should show Clinton "doing it all" - working on health care, picking out flowers for state dinner and include b-roll of "you attending one of Chelsea's soccer games or making a run to the local supermarket."

11. Bill Clinton: If you like your plan you can keep it.

In the same conversation prepping for a 1994 prime time press conference referenced in item #2 above, President Clinton discussed how best to explain and defend his health care plan to the American people.

"A lot of them want to know they can keep their own plan if they like it," Clinton said.

12. Gore sought a little White House love

With Vice President Gore under a cloud of controversy in fall 1997, his chief of staff, Ron Klain, appealed to White House colleagues to help bolster the floundering veep’s public image.

In a memo to White House aide Jonathan Prince, Klain suggested the administration portray Gore as “one of the guys” and rally behind him “at his time of need.”

“I am trying to knock down the idea that the Clinton White House’s support for Gore is based on legacy-notions, and build up the idea that it is based on respect, relationships, and in-the-foxhole commaradarie(sic),” Klain wrote.

Klain suggested highlighting  Gore’s role in placing an anecdote about an Oklahoma City bombing victim in Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union address. Klain wrote, “This anecdote rebuts the charge that Gore lacks a Clinton-type of feel for political rhetoric.”

Klain said White House staff should emphasize Gore’s “relentless – perhaps even numbling-steadfast – push for his issues in Presidential speeches and events,” citing the environment, science and technology, urban empowerment and wiring schools. “Gore was Mr. Faithful in pushing these concerns.”

Lastly, Klain playfully tooted his own horn, too: “Some kind words about his very competent staff are always welcome…”

 

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
Katie Zezima covers the White House for Post Politics and The Fix.
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