First Lady, Moynihan Discuss Senate Race
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 20, 1999; Page A10
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton met yesterday with retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) as speculation turned to frenzy over the possibility that she will run for Moynihan's seat in 2000.
By afternoon, President Clinton was trying to dampen the flames. While saying he will support his wife whatever she decides – "just as she's helped me for the last 20-plus years" – he added that he does not think a decision is imminent.
"I think that it's important to remember this is an election which occurs in November of 2000, and she has just been through a very exhausting year," the president said. "And there are circumstances which have to be considered, and I think some time needs to be taken here."
The president's remarks came at a joint news conference with French President Jacques Chirac in the East Room. It was Clinton's first news conference since he was acquitted by the Senate on two articles of impeachment and was limited to just six questions – three each from American and French reporters.
Asked about the lessons and legacy of the impeachment, Clinton was quietly upbeat. "I think the Constitution has been, in effect, re-ratified," he said. "And I hope that the presidency has not been harmed. I don't believe it has been."
The president said he expects "to have two good years here" and promised to work cooperatively with the Congress that impeached and tried him.
Friends and advisers to Hillary Clinton have put out a blizzard of phone calls in recent days to donors and strategists to determine exactly what would be needed to launch a campaign. Some of the calls have her blessing – including those by former White House deputy chief of staff and New York insider Harold Ickes. But in other cases, "lots of people are way ahead of her on this," according to a senior aide to the first lady.
Although the first lady apparently is not close to a decision, she is scheduling more face-to-face meetings with key figures, including Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.) and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo, whose decision not to run for the seat helped start the Clinton-for-Senate movement.
No first lady has ever run for high office – let alone doing so while still in the White House. The television talk shows so recently devoted to impeachment have filled with chatter over her intentions.
But one after another yesterday, voices joined the president in urging that everyone take a deep breath.
The details of running for Senate in New York are "more complex than you might think," Moynihan said after his meeting with Hillary Clinton. He did not give her any advice, he said, but added that early polls showing her beating all potential rivals – including New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) – mask the large and diverse political riddle that is New York.
Several confidants of the first lady said she had never considered running for Senate until her name was lobbed into play after Moynihan's announcement. "Her starting point is that she's willing to consider it," said one. "But by no means does she know where she'll come out on this."
Two presidential advisers said the first lady was at first amused by the idea of a Senate campaign and has over time become strongly intrigued by it. They said after the president's remarks that he was not trying to cool the idea of a Senate bid but merely trying to buy some time for his wife.
But the president believes his wife should not be pushed into an early decision by comments from many New York Democrats that she must decide quickly out of fairness to other potential candidates. As he sees it, there is plenty of time.
This was the same message coming yesterday from Giuliani, the early Republican favorite. "I've got time" before deciding whether to run, he said. "I'm going to make the decision based on my own needs and the needs of the city of New York most importantly."
But the mayor professed to be warming to the idea of a race against the first lady. "I think she's a very nice person and she's somebody that I have a great deal of respect for because she's the first lady of the United States," he said.
"I believe – although it would be presumptuous of me to say this because I don't know her philosophy – but I think, should we run against each other, there would be some very, very big differences in terms of issues and positions. But I'd have to leave that for a campaign to develop."
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company