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Clinton Touts His Economic Record

Clinton,AP President Clinton embraces Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer as he arrived to address the Detroit Economic Club, Friday. (AP)

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  • By Edward Walsh
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, January 9, 1999; Page A9

    DETROIT, Jan. 8—The day after the Senate opened his impeachment trial, President Clinton traveled to this automotive center today to extol his administration's economic record and warn that prosperity now should not lead to complacency about the future.

    In a speech to the Economic Club of Detroit, a favorite forum for politicians, Clinton did not make even a glancing reference to the political crisis he left behind in Washington. Instead, he celebrated today's release of figures showing that the unemployment rate in December was 4.3 percent, the lowest since February 1970, and claimed credit for "the longest economic expansion in peacetime in the history of the United States."

    Clinton told an audience of almost 2,000 that included much of Detroit's economic elite that "it has been a generation since we have had the combination of economic and social circumstances which gives us the emotional and financial space to think about the future."

    But, he added, "the temptation to rest on our laurels and relax because times are good must be resisted. Every business here subject to competition knows that good times today can become bad times tomorrow if you don't stay ahead of the curve. The same is true for a nation. We will never have, in all probability, in the lifetime of the people in this room a better opportunity to take the long view, to imagine how our children will live when they're our age."

    Clinton's trip and the release of the unemployment figures were not timed to coincide with the start of the Senate impeachment trial, but they still served a useful purpose for him, underscoring a key reason for his continued high job approval rating. Introducing the president, Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer (D) referred to this, saying that in the Detroit area, where the unemployment rate has declined from more than 16 percent in the early 1990s to 6.3 percent, Clinton's popularity is "no mystery."

    Clinton also enjoyed a show of solid Democratic support. Eight of Michigan's 10 House Democrats joined him here, including Rep. John Conyers Jr., ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, which last month set the impeachment process in motion.

    In the lobby of cavernous Cobo Center, Clinton supporters could choose from a stack of hand-painted signs with slogans such as "Support the President" and "Stop the Insanity." Outside the building as a light snow fell, a small group of Clinton critics held other signs proclaiming "Clinton Must Go" and "It's the Perjury, Stupid."

    For the White House, today's trip was another opportunity to project an image of business as usual in the midst of only the second presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. En route aboard Air Force One, White House press secretary Joe Lockhart was asked about Clinton's mood. "At the risk of repeating myself, it's the same," Lockhart replied. "The president obviously understands what's going on in the Senate. It's in the hands of the Senate. He's focusing on his agenda."

    In a speech that was interrupted several times by applause, Clinton said that in his State of the Union address later this month he will propose "further reforms and improvements in our public schools" and "a new training agenda" to equip Americans to operate in the competitive global economy. He did not elaborate.

    To deal with the nation's economic future, Clinton invoked familiar themes. He called for continued "fiscal discipline," arguing that new tax cuts or spending programs should not be allowed to "put our prosperity at risk by driving us back into deficits," and said that the budget surplus should be used to stabilize the future of the Social Security system "right now, this year, with no excuses."

    Clinton also reiterated his support for free-trade policies, but citing a flood of cheap steel imports from Japan and other countries, he warned that if the imports are not soon reduced "my administration is willing to take forceful action. . . . If we expect the American people to support open trade, we must be prepared to bring the full force of our trade laws to bear upon any and all unfair trade practices," he said.

    Before his speech, Clinton became the first president to visit the North American International Auto Show, which opens to the public Saturday. With a small entourage that included John Conyers III, the congressman's 8-year-old son, he inspected several exhibits and later told the Economic Club audience that his tour "made me feel like a kid again. I wanted to leave with 10 of the cars myself."

    At the auto show Clinton recalled that his first car was a 1952 Henry J. that "ran pretty well." He added, in what could be a metaphor for the impeachment process that began in September with a preliminary House inquiry, that the car had hydraulic brakes and "didn't stop very well."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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