'Much Ado About Not Much New'
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 23, 1998; Page A10
APPLETON, Wis., Sept. 22Vice President Gore dismissed today the airing of President Clinton's grand jury testimony as "much ado about not much new," and said his role in the presidential rescue effort is to stay the course.
"My energies have been devoted to helping the president on the decisions he is facing on foreign policy and domestic policy" and to campaign for Democrats, Gore said in a brief session with reporters aboard Air Force Two.
In these tumultuous times at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Gore maneuvers in a tiny netherworld between distance and disloyalty, simultaneously standing by his beleaguered friend but staying far away from the sex scandal and White House efforts to recover from it.
Asked specifically if he is contacting lawmakers about the Clinton scandal and possible impeachment proceedings, Gore replied: "I have not been involved in an outreach effort to members of the Judiciary Committee."
"He is not part of any organized outreach strategy, but he has been in dialogue with members of the House and Senate extensively on this issue," said one top adviser traveling with the vice president. "He has been asked to focus on helping Democrats in the fall and he is uniquely positioned to do that."
Vice presidents have always been confronted with the dual roles of loyal teammate and prospective president. But the Clinton sex scandal has given new meaning to the challenge, forcing Gore into a spotlight where his every word is analyzed.
In his public appearances, Gore is unwavering in his support of administration policies, crediting Clinton with the sound economy, safer streets and greater educational opportunities.
"There is one person who is at the heart of all progress we see in the United States of America today and that's President Bill Clinton," he said today at a reception that raised $70,000 for Rep. Jay Johnson (D-Wis.). When Clinton and Gore appear together, as they did at two fund-raisers last week, the vice president delivers hearty introductions of his friend.
At the same time, Gore has said repeatedly that Clinton's affair with Monica S. Lewinsky was "indefensible." Today, he took care to be precise in his remarks about the president's testimony.
Asked why he did not use the more standard phrase "much ado about nothing," Gore paused and reiterated his earlier observations: "The videotaped testimony was not particularly new in light of the report that had previously been released and the report does not serve as the basis for impeachment."
Gore and Clinton continue to have their weekly lunches and talk often, aides say. But their staffs, once closely intertwined, have become more distinct units with sharply different roles. Part of the reason is that many of the Gore aides who had a shared history with Clinton have left. But circumstances -- the 2000 campaign and the recent scandal -- also have contributed to the new dynamic.
"Both staffs, especially Gore's, thinks of this as a Clinton problem," said one Washington consultant close to the vice president. "What can he do to help? Not much except go around the country, shore up support and show this hasn't crippled us."
When Democratic lawmakers ask Gore about the Clinton scandal in private, aides say the remarkably disciplined vice president offers the same assessment he gives in public. "He puts it in perspective," said one aide. "He reminds people why we are here -- and that's not a hard sell."
The plan for the fall had always called for Gore to travel extensively, helping raise money and generate some favorable press for Democratic candidates. But the vice president and his aides appear visibly relieved to put some physical -- and psychological -- distance between their operation and the White House damage control effort.
"The vice president is doing what he has to do, not only for the president but for himself," said Ginny Terzano, a former Gore spokeswoman. "He doesn't have the luxury to call a time out."
Campaigning an average of three days a week now, Gore plans to hit virtually every competitive House and Senate race in the country, and to stay on message. "Almost without exception, I find people anxious to hear a discussion of the issues that are at stake in this election," he said today.
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