President Clinton accused Republican presidential front-runner George W. Bush today of having little to say on major issues such as gun control, and he predicted that Vice President Gore will rise in the polls when voters start demanding more details from candidates.
In his most extensive public comments to date on Bush, Clinton said the Texas governor has been largely silent while congressional Republicans blocked the administration's efforts to tighten restrictions on gun sales. Clinton also said the first lady may obtain a home in New York and run for the open Senate seat there like "an incumbent member of Congress running for reelection," a notion contrary to Republican characterizations of Hillary Rodham Clinton as an opportunistic outsider.
The president made the remarks in a CNN interview in Germany, where he met with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and six other leaders at the wrap-up of the four-day summit of the group of seven major industrial democracies and Russia.
Asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer about Bush, who is well ahead of Gore in opinion polls, Clinton said: "We've got to see where he stands on the issues. So far we know almost nothing of that except what we know from his record as governor." He said Bush's announcement speech "was very well-crafted and was strikingly reminiscent of what those of us who call ourselves `New Democrats' have been saying since 1991."
But Bush has offered few specifics, Clinton said. "For example, he said nothing about this gun battle going on in the House. He signed the concealed weapons bill in his Texas legislature, but that's just been one example."
Clinton praised Gore's experience, saying the vice president has detailed his position on many key issues. Playing down the significance of the early polling data, Clinton said he was encouraged that two-thirds of American voters say they "want to know more about all the candidates, including the vice president. I believe when they look at experience, proven success and the program for the future . . . he's going to do very well."
Clinton said he took "no offense" when Gore declared the president's behavior in the Monica S. Lewinsky affair "indefensible."
"He didn't say anything that I hadn't said in much starker terms a long time ago, so there was nothing inappropriate about it," he said.
As for his wife's likely Senate bid, Clinton denied a magazine report that the first lady would leave Washington this fall and move to New York.
"It's not true that she's going to move out of the White House," he said. "If she runs for the Senate, she'll obviously have to spend a lot more time there. But it will be more like an incumbent member of Congress running for reelection. That is, she's not going to stop being first lady and doing her other responsibilities."
Clinton's comments on domestic politics were sandwiched into a day devoted mainly to international economics and diplomacy. His hour-long meeting with Yeltsin -- the 17th such event of his presidency -- was "quite a good meeting," he said, and he predicted closer U.S.-Russia cooperation on arms control and other issues.
Turning to the Balkans, Clinton said, "It's a very happy day," because all Serbian forces reportedly had left Kosovo on schedule.
Later in Bonn, the president said the United States and Russia are "committed to implementing this peace together in a way that will strengthen our relationship, reassure the security of innocent civilians -- both ethnic Serb and Albanian -- in Kosovo, and preserve the unity of NATO."
In the CNN interview, Clinton said that when he approved the airstrikes on Yugoslavia on March 24, "I thought that there was maybe a 50 percent chance it would be over in a week because once he knew we would do it, I thought [Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic] would remember Bosnia, and I thought he would understand what we could do. But I knew that if he decided to take the punishment of the air campaign, it could go on quite a long while."
Clinton travels Monday to Slovenia, then to Macedonia and Italy's Aviano Air Base on Tuesday. He returns to Washington early Wednesday.