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Notes from the Clinton White House

The National Archives made public Friday 7,500 pages of previously unseen documents from former President Bill Clinton’s administration. Like earlier releases, the internal e-mails, speech drafts and memos provide interesting vignettes at a time when the Clintons may be hoping to return to the White House.

1. Hillary’s positive press strategy — “doing it all.”

Hillary Clinton press aide Lisa Caputo warned in a memo to the first lady that positive press would likely be met with media attempts to knock her down. Caputo proposed a lengthy ­media strategy for Clinton to “take steps to counter the knocks.”

Among a long list of interview ideas, Caputo suggested Clinton do a “television magazine” show and offered Maria Shriver as interviewer. She said the segment should show Clinton “doing it all” — working on health care, picking out flowers for a state dinner — and include film footage of “you attending one of Chelsea’s soccer games or making a run to the local supermarket.”

2. Ira Magaziner described delicacy of tasking Hillary with health care.

In interviews with The Washington Post’s Haynes Johnson and David Broder for their book about the Clinton health-care initiative, Magaziner, a top policy development adviser to the president, was asked how the first lady was put in charge of such a large domestic policy job. Magaziner said he didn’t know when the final decision was made but added, “Everyone wanted to use the tremendous talent she has. And yet, to have the public accept her policy role was very complex. And so there was a lot of debate about that.”

He said that for Clinton to take on the job was “a tremendously gutsy thing for her to do” because “traditional Washington” advisers didn’t think the Clintons should take on health-care reform all at once.

3. The Clintons needed Chelsea’s future mother-in-law on health care.

In 1993, the Clintons were analyzing the priority Democratic votes they needed to secure for health-care reform. These were people who were either on key committees, had a difficulty supporting the president on tough votes or were in tough districts. Included on that list was Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky (D-Pa.), with whom they would — more than 20 years later — share some happy news about an expected grandchild.

The White House also counted then-Rep. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) as a possible get on health care because he is “occasionally independent but don’t hold your breath.” In a later document, Clinton identified Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) as a “possible but difficult” get. (Two decades later, Specter cast the 60th Senate vote for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.)

4. Clinton crime bill overshadowed by Whitewater and O.J. Simpson.

In August 1994, with the president’s popularity falling and the midterm elections approaching, political advisers prepared Clinton for a prime-time news conference. They urged him to highlight the House passage of a crime bill to show that “the Clinton agenda — the American people’s agenda — can work.”

But Clinton was frustrated over his political standing and the Whitewater scandal overshadowing his administration’s accomplishments.

“We assume people know about things,” Clinton said. “There’s been nowhere near the publicity of the crime bill there was on Whitewater, for example. You can see that . . .

“Or O.J.,” an aide interjected.

“Or O.J. Simpson,” Clinton responded.

5. Lee Iacocca “obligated” to Clinton over NAFTA push.

On Sept. 2, 1993, Trade Representative Michael Kantor wrote a memo to Clinton saying that he and Howard Paster, the White House’s chief liaison to Congress, believed Clinton should call Lee Iacocca about being a spokesman for the North American Free Trade Agreement. Iacocca had resigned from the Chrysler board earlier that day

“Iacocca has the time. I believe he is willing to give you the help and, given your phone conversation with him early in the Fall of 1992, he is somewhat obligated to help you win what he got you into,” Kantor wrote.

He also suggested that Clinton call former presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter and invite them to the NAFTA “roll-out.” “We believe Bush, Ford and Carter will accept. Nixon will probably send a statement of support.”

6. Gore sought a little White House love.

With Vice President Al Gore under a cloud of controversy in fall 1997, his chief of staff, Ron Klain, sought help to bolster the floundering veep’s public image. In a memo to White House aide Jonathan Prince, Klain suggested the administration portray Gore as “one of the guys” and rally behind him “at his time of need.”

“I am trying to knock down the idea that the Clinton White House’s support for Gore is based on legacy-notions, and build up the idea that it is based on respect, relationships, and in-the-foxhole commaradarie [sic],” Klain wrote.

Klain suggested highlighting Gore’s role in placing an anecdote about an Oklahoma City bombing victim in Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union address. Klain wrote, “This anecdote rebuts the charge that Gore lacks a Clinton-type of feel for political rhetoric.”

Katie Zezima contributed to this report.

Colby Itkowitz is the lead anchor of the Inspired Life blog. She previously covered the quirks of national politics and the federal government.
Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

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