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Congressional Quarterly







Hillary Clinton's Foreign Trip Ups
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, November 19, 1999

Question: Can Hillary Rodham Clinton recover politically from her recent abominable performance in Israel? Some have been speculating that she will ultimately decide not to run. Could this happen? It seems to me that Clinton can't withdraw now as she has scared off all the other potential Democratic candidates. Were she to bail out now she would be in effect handing Senator Moynihan's seat to the Republicans. – Earl W. Williams, Elm Springs, Ark.

Answer: As the criticism over Clinton's visit to the West Bank continues, more and more people are wondering whether she will decide that she's had enough and announce her withdrawal from the race. For someone who has long been regarded to have political smarts, Clinton has been fumbling on the campaign trail (oops, exploratory campaign trail).

In the months since she signaled her interest in a run for the New York Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Clinton has either backtracked on a number of major issues or strained the listener's credulity with some of her statements:

  • She flip-flopped on the granting of clemency for Puerto Rican nationalists, first supporting her husband's decision to pardon them, then opposing it as it grew into a political furor, all the while insisting that she never spoke with the president about it.

  • The first lady sided with congressional Democrats in the acrimonious debate on campaign finance reform, in which her party railed against Republicans for their reliance on soft money. Now the New York state Democratic Party is running a new TV ad campaign boosting Hillary, paid for with soft money.

  • The first family, still smarting over allegations of campaign-finance irregularities in 1996, accepted a $1.35 million loan guarantee offer from Democratic fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe for the financing of their new home in Westchester County. The resulting widespread criticism caused them to ultimately turn down the offer, seeking bank financing instead - but under terms that are far more friendly than would be offered to an average person.

  • Hillary Clinton, queried as to whether the president would live in the house in Chappaqua once his term is over, said she never asked him.

  • After years of blaming a "vast right-wing conspiracy" for stories about her husband's womanizing, she acknowledged in a magazine interview his past indiscretions and said it stemmed from his dysfunctional family while growing up.

Having said all that, I agree with you. I can't see how Clinton could pull out of the race, now that New York Democrats have bet the farm on her candidacy. Some dismiss her problems as the expected travails of a first-time candidate. But the party poobahs, many of whom saw her as the smarter Clinton, expected more.

Question: What do you think of the criticism that Hillary Clinton has waffled on the Mideast peace process? She first supported the national aspirations of the Palestinians for statehood, then advocated that Jerusalem be unified under Israeli sovereignty. Both her positions are a departure from official U.S. policy, which is that these issues should be left for the parties to negotiate. How will this play out in the Senate race? – Nadeem Waeen, New York, N.Y.

Answer: Mideast foreign policy has always been an issue in New York politics, where 12 percent of the electorate is Jewish. Scoop Jackson, seeking the 1972 and 1976 Democratic presidential nomination, campaigned in the Empire State with brochures featuring pictures of him next to former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Both Gary Hart, in 1984, and Al Gore, in 1988, emphasized strong support of Israel during the New York primary. In his successful 1976 Senate race, Daniel Patrick Moynihan stressed his opposition to a U.N. resolution that equated Zionism with racism while he was U.S. ambassador to the organization. And what may have undone Sen. Al D'Amato in 1998 was not so much his views on Israel but his calling Democratic rival Chuck Schumer a "putzhead." The use of the derogatory Yiddish term offended Jews and eroded D'Amato's strength in the Jewish community.

It is obvious that Hillary Clinton waded into the waters of New York's ethnic politics, particularly in matters relating to the Middle East, without sufficient preparation. You have chronicled her seemingly contradictory intrusions into the region. First, she calls for a Palestinian state. Then, months later and this time as a likely New York Senate candidate, she declares Jerusalem as "the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel." After each time the White House was at pains to say that she was speaking as a private citizen. This month, she went to the West Bank in her official role as first lady and stood silently next to the wife of Yasir Arafat as Mrs. Arafat accused Israel of using poison gas against the Palestinians, which she claimed resulted in cancer among women and children. After a day of unabating criticism, Hillary Clinton called Mrs. Arafat's remarks "inflammatory."

All of this is hurting Clinton's numbers. A Quinnipiac College poll conducted earlier this month showed Clinton leading her likely Republican opponent, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, by only 46-43 percent among Jews. This is a startling showing for a Republican among Jewish voters.

Question: What's the future look like for Republican Governor John Rowland of Connecticut? He looked like he was going places for a while (youngest governor, great economic record, cutting taxes, first Connecticut statewide GOP candidate to win reelection in ages). But then the New England Patriots' deal fell through, and some wonder if he is finished. I know he is close to Bush and have heard his name mentioned for a Cabinet position, but where is he going? – Matthew Bailey, Washington, D.C.

Answer: Wherever he winds up, it won't be on the Republican ticket. A year ago Rowland was on the would-be V.P. list. But he was hurt by his expensive courting of, and ultimate rejection by, the Patriots football team to move to Hartford. Then, in September, Paul Silvester, whom Rowland had appointed as state treasurer, pleaded guilty to accepting cash kickbacks in exchange for placing $500 million in state pension funds with firms that paid Silvester's allies large fees, some of which found their way into Silvester's pockets.

Silvester was defeated in his 1998 election bid despite running as part of what he called the "Rowland Team;" his honorary campaign chairman was Jonathan Bush, a brother of former president George Bush. Silvester has been cooperating with Federal authorities and is said to have tied Rowland and/or some of his allies to any wrongdoing. One of the people said to be under investigation is Wayne Berman, a key national fundraiser for Texas Gov. George W. Bush until his involvement with Silvester became known and he was forced to resign. For his part, Rowland says he was "betrayed" by Silvester but professes not to be worried about any fallout. Silvester will be sentenced on March 20; no doubt more information will come out before then. Whatever ultimately happens, it seems clear that Rowland's once bright future is no longer.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

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