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The president and his aides want to make Clinton a symbol of national unity.

Clinton held private talks with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer.

In contrast to 1995, the Republicans begin the new year with little consensus.

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With New Pledge of Bipartisanship, Clinton Hints at Themes for Second Term

By John F. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 12, 1996; Page A26

President Clinton pledged a renewed spirit of bipartisanship in his dealings with the Republican-led Congress yesterday, and declared that on issues from a balanced budget to campaign finance reform, "This is an irreplaceable moment for breaking new ground in America."

In an address to the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, which he once chaired, the president offered his first extended remarks on domestic policy since winning a second term. White House aides said the speech foreshadowed some themes Clinton wants to strike in next year's State of the Union speech.

Among the strongest hints Clinton offered were about his plans on education: He appealed to states to implement more rigorous standards for public schools and said while he does not advocate more federal control of curricula, "I am for national standards of excellence and a means of measuring it so we know what children are learning."

He promised to become a kind of national lobbyist for education reform, saying, "When parents and state legislators work to establish and uphold the toughest standards for our schools, I will be there."

That was a veiled reference to a plan some aides say Clinton is considering — traveling across the country in 1997, speaking to state legislatures and proselytizing on behalf of school reform.

More federal support for education was a favorite Clinton theme in the reelection campaign, and aides said their polls showed it was one of his most effective areas of contrast with GOP nominee Robert J. Dole. Even so, the standards issue is a contentious one. Conservatives have stood adamantly against attempts to impose a federal curriculum.

Clinton took pains yesterday to say "I am for local control" of schools. But he also has directed aides to consider ways the Education Department can assist states in devising standards and testing students to see if the standards are being met.

The promotion of issues not directly under presidential control was a signature of the Clinton campaign, when he spoke out for youth curfews and school uniforms. Clinton said he intends to make vigorous use of the bully pulpit in a second term.

"My job does not end in Washington, it only begins here," he said.

The most pressing business Clinton will face when Congress returns next month, however, involves emphatically Washington issues.

"Our first task is to finish the job of balancing the budget," he noted.

Clinton expressed optimism that he can work with GOP leaders on Capitol Hill.

"Both parties now agree that we must balance the budget," he said, "and both parties now agree that we can only do it in a way that reflects our deepest values and garners support from members of both parties."

On campaign finance reform, Clinton reiterated that he and Congress should strike a deal quickly, and that his preference is a version modeled on bipartisan legislation offered by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.).

"We know from bitter experience that delay is the enemy of reform," Clinton said.

Clinton characterized the brand of centrism he fashioned in the election as more creative than simply splitting the difference between the two parties.

"We have clearly created a new center — not the lukewarm midpoint between overheated liberalism and chilly conservatism," he said, "but instead a place where throughout our history, people of goodwill have tried to forge new approaches to new challenges."

Aides said Clinton is nearing more decisions on his Cabinet, which he hopes to announce at a news conference Friday. After leaving Attorney General Janet Reno, who wants to stay in her job, in limbo for the past five weeks, Clinton is scheduled to meet with her today. Several administration officials have said they expect Clinton to let her stay in her job.

Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) is being considered by Clinton for commerce secretary as well as ambassador to the United Nations. Richardson acknowledged on NBC's "Today" show that he spoke with Clinton Tuesday night and "he's mulling over several options."

Meanwhile, White House counsel Jack Quinn informed Clinton yesterday that he is resigning, citing family considerations. He told Clinton he would stay on until a new counsel is selected but said he hoped to leave by the middle of February.

A senior official said Clinton and incoming chief of staff Erskine B. Bowles asked Quinn to oversee the search for a successor. One candidate is Quinn's deputy, Kathy Wallman.

Staff writer Ruth Marcus contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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