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Clinton Plans Post-Vote Statement

Clinton on Trial

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  • By John F. Harris
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, February 10, 1999; Page A11

    President Clinton plans to inaugurate the post-impeachment phase of his presidency later this week with an immediate statement on the day the Senate takes the expected vote to acquit him. Just one problem, aides said yesterday, is left to be solved: How does Clinton mark victory in a battle he had hoped never to wage?

    An Oval Office speech to the nation has been pushed by some advisers. But others warned that such a somber format might lend more gravity to the occasion than Clinton wants -- putting the emphasis on the ordeal just ended rather than on Clinton's message that the nation should turn its focus to the future.

    Some in Clinton's circle have even suggested having the president limit himself to a brief written statement released once the Senate trial ends, though some aides said Clinton must go before the cameras to bring closure.

    More likely, various advisers said, Clinton will make a brief public appearance at the White House expressing gratitude for acquittal, quickly pivoting for the exit after a few brief words. "In terms of closing this chapter," one senior adviser said, "less is more."

    The White House debate about what Clinton should say and how he should say it has implications beyond a single day's news cycle. The larger issue facing his presidency is how does he convey the proper mood of humility for a scandal of his own making while setting a tone that will allow Washington to return to something approaching life as normal.

    While aides have promised the White House will be a "gloat-free" zone, even some allies worry that Clinton -- despite the succession of humiliations visited upon him over the past year -- will not be able to resist flashes of glee or hubris at having bested his antagonists. "He's going to be like a spring uncoiled," said one outside adviser who consults with the White House on political strategy.

    There is general White House consensus that the pep-rally tone set when Clinton assembled some House Democrats on the South Lawn after he was impeached in December sent the wrong message politically. In any event, uncorking champagne will hardly help Clinton in what aides say is the most important project of his remaining two years in office: reaching out to Republicans to craft deals on overhauling Social Security and other domestic policies.

    It was this agenda that Clinton highlighted at a closed-door appearance yesterday before House Democrats at a Virginia resort. Clinton flew by helicopter to Wintergreen, delivering a speech that struck several lawmakers with its upbeat, even casual tone at a time when the Senate is deliberating on the impeachment verdict.

    Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) noted that Clinton, just hours after returning from a 36-hour Middle East trip to attend King Hussein's funeral in Jordan, spoke in personal terms with legislators as he outlined plans for education and managed health care reform. He even mocked the casual dress of Democrats, including freshman Rep. Rush D. Holt (N.J.), saying his attire was "confirming people's impression of folks from Princeton."

    "It was Clinton at his best," Blumenauer said. "It was general, but it was particular. . . . It combined the light and the serious."

    "Democrats are feeling very good about themselves and their prospects, and I think rightfully so," said Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.), who has been one of the toughest Democratic critics of Clinton's misconduct in the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal.

    But as Democrats enjoy renewed prospects, they said Clinton should restrain his enjoyment. The appropriate response to acquittal, Moran said, is "no gloating, but he understands that."

    Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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